When will the Covid-19 pandemic be over? That’s the question many are asking as next week marks the third anniversary of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that the spread of the then-mystery killer coronavirus was a global crisis.
fter a December rise, the virus is back down again and 152 patients with Covid-19 were in hospital yesterday, one of the lowest figures for some time.
Vaccines and previous infection – as well as the so-far less severe offshoots of the Omicron variant – have left people at lower risk of severe disease. But 118 Covid-19-related deaths were notified in January.
So what is the view of the experts on where we are, and what to expect in the future?
Professor Luke O’Neill, immunologist, Trinity College Dublin
“On the question of the pandemic ending, strangely the view is it ends when we say it ends. It’s now at the stage of just being another virus that jumped from animals into humans and causes a respiratory disease – just like flu jumped hundreds of years ago.
“Our immune systems then get used to it and most have mild illness, although some will have severe disease, just like flu. Also like flu, we have vaccines and it’s likely there will be an annual shot for the vulnerable.
“As it’s still a new virus, though, it may have extra features that need to be watched out for, like increased risk of heart disease which has emerged as a feature, especially in severe cases, and of course the very real burden of long-Covid. In essence, it’s another disease that joins all the others that afflict us, adding extra pressure on our healthcare services.”
Professor Sam McConkey, infectious disease consultant
“We need to move on and get back to socialising, music, film and dancing. The Covid-19 disease in the form we were seeing early on, with that horrible pneumonia sickness, is now almost gone. We are hardly seeing it at all now, except in very immunocompromised people.
“The virus is still around but we have not seen any new variants coming out of the recent China surge, as has been feared.
“People who are vulnerable because of their medical condition should talk to their doctor and ask for an individualised risk analysis.
“We should not just be visiting grandmothers but hugging grandmothers. But if someone is sick, they should not visit. I think in the future we will need another vaccine booster, and I hope uptake improves.
“I still wear a face mask at work and also if the bus or train is crowded. The last few years have been very traumatic for people and all we could offer was hope. But it is the time to get back to celebrating life. Also, there needs to be planning for what new threat could hit us in the future.”
Professor Anthony Staines, professor of health systems, Dublin City University
“We are continuing to have significant levels of the virus and deaths. If there was one person in Cork dying each week from contaminated water, action would be taken. Covid-19 is not getting the attention it should.
“Recent new variants have not pushed up the numbers but there is no guarantee that will continue. That is a serious and significant concern from my point of view. The more cases there are, the greater the risk of a serious new variant.
“At the same time, the health service seems to be on its last legs. If there is another pandemic virus, we need to be more prepared than we were.”
Professor Gerald Barry, virologist, University College Dublin
“Covid-19 has not gone away but it has entered a pattern that is more predictable. There will continue to be peaks and troughs of it. It does not seem like it is going away and will be with us for the long term. Its impact has obviously changed.
“Like flu, it is important that it is tracked and that there is some early-warning system, in case a version of the virus evolves we did not expect (which) can cause more disease or death. Flu levels can drop dramatically during the summer. But Covid-19 infects more people and is more transmissible so it would not surprise me if we continue to see peaks, not as great as in winter, but also during the year.
“Multiple infections can increase your risk of bad outcomes. If there is a large surge, that is the time for people to consider changing their behaviour, checking symptoms, taking an antigen test and wearing a mask if visiting someone vulnerable.
Professor Kingston Mills, immunologist, Trinity College Dublin
“According to the World Health Organisation, the pandemic is not officially over but is in a transition phase.
“However, it is probably time for the pandemic status to end. The virus will continue to circulate and is likely to become endemic, requiring annual vaccination to contain it.”