Towards endemic: Omicron could herald beginning of the end
January 19 2022 12:10 AM

After two-plus years of across-the-world suffering – contagion, death, social devastation and economic carnage – here’s the slowly emerging narrative: The world is set for the gradual beginning of the end of “pandemic.”
Omicron is spreading faster than any previous variant, but it’s also proving less virulent. There’s growing talk that the worst pandemic may slowly be known in as endemic.
Endemic would mean the disease is still circulating, but at a lower, more predictable rate — and with fewer people landing in hospitals. The term could mean the disease is limited to a specific region.
The emerging narrative started with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez saying last week it’s time to think about new ways of living with Covid long term, such as the world does with the flu.
Other countries joined the call, looking to move toward a new chapter of the disease.
For sure, the appetite for economically damaging lockdowns is long gone. Vaccines are protecting peoples across the world, and there’s even hope that Omicron, with its frenetic spread and less powerful hit, may be hastening the path to the pandemic’s exit.
It’s not just governments hoping 2022 is the year Covid can finally move to the back burner of public discourse. A weary public is also desperate to escape, and Internet searches for the term “endemic” have jumped in recent weeks.
The pandemic did bring the global economy to its knees and it may take long years to fully recover.
The global economy was expected to lose nearly $8.5tn in output in the two years due to the pandemic, wiping out nearly all gains of the previous four years, the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report predicted in 2020.
The global economy is on track to grow by 4.1% in 2022, down 0.2 percentage point from a previous projection, the World Bank Group has said. “The global recovery is set to decelerate markedly amid continued Covid-19 flare-ups, diminished policy support, and lingering supply bottlenecks,” it said last week.
The global job market will take longer to recover than previously thought, with unemployment set to remain above pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023 due to uncertainty about the pandemic’s course and duration, the International Labour Organisation has said.
In 2021, the ILO estimates there were some 125mn fewer jobs than pre-pandemic levels and in 2020, 258mn fewer. Overall, around 207mn people are estimated to be unemployed in 2022.
For sure, the world now has more tools than before to tame the pandemic. But don’t jump in, warn health experts.  There’s too much uncertainty about how the virus will evolve, how much immunity society has built up and potential damage if people stop being careful.
The World Health Organisation is urging caution. Despite the global vaccine push — now approaching 10bn doses administered — there are massive gaps. More than 85% of the population of Africa hasn’t received any dose, while 36 WHO member states haven’t even reached 10% coverage.
Going forward, as governments pull back, the onus will increasingly fall on individuals, through self-testing, mask-wearing and calls to voluntarily limit social interactions.
Indeed, the WHO has called for the world to pull together and make the difficult decisions needed to end the coronavirus pandemic within the year. “2022 must be the year we end the pandemic,” says director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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