The global public emergency caused by COVID-19 may be officially over but the pandemic will still be with us for many years. Nor is it clear that governments have learned enough from the outbreak to be prepared to fight newly emerging pathogens that could trigger worse disasters.
These are the stark conclusions of the responding scientists last week’s news That the World Health Organization (WHO) no longer considers COVID-19 – which has killed more than 7 million people in the last three years – a public health emergency of international concern.
Most researchers welcomed the decision as it reflects the fact that the acute phase of the COVID-19 outbreak is now over. At its peak, in January 2021, the global death toll reached more than 100,000 people a week. Last week it had come down to around 3,500.
However, health officials and scientists also pointed out that the immunity to the disease is short-lived, while restrictions previously imposed to prevent people from infecting each other have been significantly eased. So future waves of infections are inevitable, he warned.
Professor Stephen Griffin from the University of Leeds said, “Nobody just flips a switch and declares a pandemic over, especially one so damaging and on such a scale.”
Professor Susan Michie, director of the Center for Behavior Change at University College London, supported the idea. “Whether or not Covid-19 is called a global pandemic, many countries around the world are experiencing significant waves of infection, with thousands dying every week,” she said. “This will continue for the foreseeable future while there is no global effort to mitigate Covid-19, and therefore the potential for new variants to cause harm.”
Professor Benjamin Neumann of Texas A&M University was even more critical. “This sour-sweet announcement sounds more like a white flag than a celebration,” he said. “While profound progress has been made, this decision more clearly reflects the political reality of Covid than the medical situation.”
Many scientists told Observer That the legacy of the pandemic – though it is at its peak – will be deep and long-lasting. The cause, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is still killing one person every three minutes, while many survivors suffer the debilitating long-term effects of Covid, which can leave them incapacitated for months. The virus remains a continuing threat to elderly people and those with underlying health conditions, posing a new annual threat to seasonal diseases such as influenza and other winter-related respiratory illnesses.
“We now have a new human coronavirus that will continue to harm human populations in the future,” said Professor Andrew Lee from the University of Sheffield.
In short, the impact of the pandemic will be felt for a long time, both in terms of new cases and those already suffering from Covid for a long time.
“We will need to invest in our healthcare system to deal with all the extra people who need care every year,” said Professor Mark Jitt, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Above all, the world will need to work together so that we can be better prepared for such emergencies in the future – whether they are caused by a deadly new strain of the Covid virus, or by an entirely new microbe. Reasons we’ve never seen before.”
This latter point is of particular concern to many scientists. As habitat destruction continues across the planet and air travel opens up more and more parts of the globe, new emerging viruses are likely to appear – and in some cases they may spread to humans.
Prior to COVID-19, the Ebola virus, as well as the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), caused worrisome pandemics, although none of them had the global impact of COVID . However, this may not be the case with the next emerging virus. Unfortunately, some governments are ramping up their efforts to detect outbreaks of new diseases before they spread to large human populations.
“There is a range of ongoing inquiries to see how we can better respond to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Professor Mark Woolhouse, from Edinburgh University. “I hope that these will determine how we can mitigate not only the damage caused by the virus itself, but also the damage caused by the strategy of locking down so much of society in an effort to reduce transmission rates. can also be reduced. Lessons need to be learned given the ever-present threat of another pandemic.”
This argument was supported by psychologist Simon Williams of Swansea University. “It is time to reflect on what we have learned during the pandemic, and what happens next,” he said. “I think this emergency has taught us how adaptive and responsive people can be – how much people were willing to sacrifice to keep others safe – but how little many governments and institutions were willing to do.
“The past three years have taught us how resilient we can be as individuals, but how we need to build better institutional resilience. That is, we need to make sure we are better prepared for future health emergencies.”