Will the pandemic become endemic in 2023?
With the number of Covid infections rising again in several countries, especially in China which recorded more than 250 million cases in just 20 days in December, fears of a new wave of Covid persist across the world, including India.
While the BF.7 variant of the Omicron virus is a cause for concern in China and India, the Omicron XBB subvariant is responsible for 18.3 percent of Covid-19 cases in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This marks an 11.2 percent increase as the XBB variant continues to increase the number of cases in Singapore.
Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 accounted for about 70 percent of new cases in the US.
The total number of confirmed cases of Covid in the US has exceeded 100 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, since the pandemic broke out almost three years ago, with a total of more than 1 million deaths.
Japan is facing the ongoing eighth wave of the pandemic and the country has registered 206,943 new cases.
South Korea’s new Covid cases remained below 70,000 for the second straight day on Saturday, while new coronavirus-related deaths hit their highest level in three months.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said he hopes Covid-19 will no longer be a global health emergency sometime next year.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO’s Committee on Covid-19 Emergencies will discuss criteria for declaring the end of the Covid-19 emergency next month.
“We hope that at some point next year we will be able to say that Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency,” he said, adding that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the culprit behind the Covid-19 pandemic, will not disappear.
Kirti Sabnis, an infectious disease specialist at Fortis Hospital in Kalyan, Mumbai, told IANS that when a pandemic becomes endemic, it means that the disease is present in a particular community or globally, and that there is enough immunity among the population to control the outbreak.
“Also, infections may continue to affect vulnerable members of the community. While an endemic disease may not experience large outbreaks, this also means it will not be completely eradicated,” she said.
Health experts say it is more difficult to predict whether Covid-19 will become endemic in 2023 because it is a respiratory virus that tends to mutate, similar to other flu viruses.
“If multiple mutations change the protein structure of the virus or its ability to bind to cells, this could lead to new strains. However, if current immune protection against the virus is sufficient to prevent serious disease or reduce transmission, then definitely Covid can become endemic Sabnis said.
It is uncertain when and if Covid-19 will become endemic, but it is unlikely that we will be able to eliminate it completely.
Experts say we could see occasional outbreaks, especially during flu season or if new mutations emerge, as is currently happening in China.
“The transmission of the virus in India and the level of immunity acquired through previous vaccination and community transmission will also affect its potential to become endemic. However, it seems unlikely that there will be significant new outbreaks or that the virus will become endemic in the next 2-3 months Sabnis said.