Will Omicron bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s what experts have to say

The coronavirus variant, first detected in South Africa, has caused a massive spike in cases across the world, forcing governments to impose new restrictions

A man wearing a face mask walks past a graffitti of a coronavirus in Mumbai. AFP

The Omicron variant is everywhere, pushing up COVID-19 numbers to records we had not seen before.

Across the world, the caseload of coronavirus has shattered previous records, forcing governments to rethink their strategy and impose new curbs and restrictions to battle the spread of the infections.

However, some experts also believe that the COVID-19 variant, first detected in South Africa in November last year, could also be a ‘harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the COVID pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase’.

What does this mean? Are we heading to the end of the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what we know so far.

Omicron in India

As of Monday, India logged 4,461 cases of the Omicron variant. This after the country first recorded its first two cases of the variant in Karnataka on 5 November 2021.

Maharashtra recorded the maximum number of 1,247 cases followed by Rajasthan at 645, Delhi 546, Karnataka 479 and Kerala 350. The data from the Union health ministry also said that of the 4,461 cases of the COVID-19 variant, 1,711 people have recovered or migrated so far.

The Omicron variant has also led to an explosion of COVID cases in India. On Monday, the nation logged 1,68,063 new coronavirus infections, the highest in 208 days, while the death toll climbed to 4,84,213 with 277 fresh fatalities.

Experts react

There have been studies and experts who have noted that this variant could spell the beginning of the end for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many have noted that Omicron generally causes mild illness and hence the low death and hospitalisation rates. As the new variant appears to affect the upper respiratory tract and spares the lungs, there is little demand for oxygen and intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

The top infectious diseases specialist of California University, Dr Monica Gandhi is of the opinion that if things continue as they are, that Omicron will help end the pandemic.

She was quoted by Bloomberg as saying, “The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic.”

She added that unless a more virulent or variant that evades immunity emerges, the COVID-19 pandemic could turn into an endemic.

To explain in lay terms, endemic means the disease is there along with the population, nobody is very much concerned about the disease, but it is there. The disease is affecting a very small proportion of the society, neither growing nor shrinking at a faster rate.

A South African study from the epicenter of the world’s omicron surge also offered hints if this was the beginning of the end.

The infection wave moved with “unprecedented speed” and caused much milder illness than earlier strains, a study of patients infected with COVID-19 at a large hospital in the South African city where the first outbreak of the Omicron variant was recorded showed.

“If this pattern continues and is repeated globally, we are likely to see a complete decoupling of the case and death rates,” the researchers said.

Dr Manoon Leechawengongs, a respiratory expert with Bangkok’s Vichaiyut Hospital, was also of the same opinion.

He wrote in a Facebook post, “Omicron is proof of a virus’ nature, in that it adapts itself by producing milder symptoms so it does not kill the host and can live inside them for as long as it can.

“Sooner or later, most people will be infected with the Omicron variant regardless of their ethnicity, sex or age.

“Dr Wasan [Chantrathit, chief of Ramathibodi Hospital’s Centre for Medical Genomics] and I agree that as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, we will achieve herd immunity against the virus, causing the pandemic to come to an end this year.”

“Thanks to Omicron, COVID-19 will eventually become an endemic infection, with young children getting it every year.”

But not all are so optimistic.

Pune’s Dr Vineeta Bal, a noted immunologist, was quoted as telling News18 that until there was a large number of people with immunity to coronavirus, it wasn’t going anywhere. “Children haven’t been vaccinated. Hence, it’s short-sighted to predict that the pandemic is going away soon.”

With inputs from agencies

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