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Covid will return ‘like the flu’ after Omicron, but won’t be a pandemic: US researcher in Lancet

New Delhi: Nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population is likely to be infected by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus by March, and while the pandemic should end soon, Covid-19 is expected to become a recurrent viral disease like the flu, according to a recent article published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal based in the UK.

The 19 January article, authored by Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a research centre at the University of Washington, USA, further said that after the Omicron wave, “Covid-19 will return, but the pandemic will not”.

“The unprecedented level of infection suggests that more than 50 per cent of the world will have been infected with Omicron between the end of November 2021 and end of March 2022,” Murray wrote. 

Since the proportion of cases that are asymptomatic or mild has increased, compared to previous coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) variants, the infection-detection rate has declined globally to 5 per cent from 20 per cent, he added. 

Moreover, Murray noted that increasing mask use, expanding vaccination coverage or booster doses of Covid vaccines taken at this stage of the pandemic will have a limited impact on the course of the Omicron wave. 

Also Read: Omicron cases less severe than other waves, hospitalisation rate lower, shows study in Lancet

‘Impact of future transmission on health will be less’

According to IHME estimates, increasing use of masks to 80 per cent of the population will only reduce cumulative infections over the next four months by 10 per cent. 

Moreover, increasing administration of vaccine boosters or vaccinating people who have not yet been vaccinated is unlikely to have any substantial impact on the Omicron wave because by the time these interventions are scaled up, the wave will be largely over, the article said. 

Only in countries where the Omicron wave has not yet started can expanding mask use have a more substantial effect, it added.

Murray clarified that while these interventions still work to protect individuals from Covid-19, the speed of the Omicron wave is so fast that policy actions will have little effect on its course globally in the next 4-6 weeks. 

“The impacts of future SARS-CoV-2 transmission on health, however, will be less because of broad previous exposure to the virus, regularly adapted vaccines to new antigens or variants, the advent of antivirals, and the knowledge that the vulnerable can protect themselves during future waves when needed by using high-quality masks and physical distancing,” he wrote. 

Murray added that Covid-19 will become another recurrent disease that health systems and societies will have to manage: “For example, the death toll from Omicron seems to be similar in most countries to the level of a bad influenza season in northern hemisphere countries.” 

“After the Omicron wave, Covid-19 will return, but the pandemic will not,” he concluded. 

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Covid isn’t behind us, but the world’s next big health emergency is already here

Source: The Print

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