breath-of-fresh-air:-what-the-endemic-stage-of-covid-19-could-look-like
Spread the love

“This virus is well on its way to becoming endemic at a global level. We’re not there yet, but it’s well on its way.”

It’s the beginning of the endemic. Authorities are a step closer to downgrading COVID-19 from a pandemic to an endemic, but what does this even mean?

READ ALSO: What About Us: Europe Nears “Pandemic Endgame” While US Approaches “Right Direction”

Here’s how local and international health officials are defining and visualizing the next stage of the coronavirus.

Philippines

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that the endemic state means the virus is here to stay in our lives but with an acceptable number of cases, rise in infections, or incidence of death due to COVID-19—as society or Filipinos deem. She clarified that it doesn’t mean the coronavirus disappeared or became any milder.

Cases in the Philippines will eventually become predictable and manageable. Furthermore, the country’s high vaccinated population will balance off the level of COVID-19 transmission.

“Once we reach that point, we can already say that it’s endemic already. As of now, we have deescalated to Alert Level 1. But we are keeping our safeguards so we’re protected if ever cases rise, because the virus is still circulating among us,” Vergeire said in a February 28 press briefing.

Although the pandemic isn’t over and we haven’t reached the endemic level, the government is making the necessary preparations.

“We are currently at a level in our situation where we are transitioning toward our desired new normal. We are preparing. Just because it’s Alert Level 1 doesn’t mean we’re not preparing. When we say we haven’t reached an endemic state, it also doesn’t mean we won’t need to be urgent and have preparation across the different sectors of society. The endemic state doesn’t mean that the government won’t take any action to protect our citizens.”

She said the alert level system remains, but the government will only activate it if the signals are observed, like the rise of cases, specifically severe and critical, and the full capacity of our facilities.

Worldwide

COVID-19 might become endemic with decreased transmission as the virus circulates in certain countries and areas with occasional outbreaks. Attendees raised this scenario during the 2021 meeting of the Biregional Technical Advisory Group on the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that member states develop and operationalize their endemic COVID-19 plans. This involves strengthening their health systems and public health capacity.

An endemic disease can still and often does require a “robust” public health policy response, according to a Council on Foreign Relations website post.

Many countries, for instance, encourage individuals to get yearly flu vaccinations, as well as to wash their hands and cover themselves when coughing or sneezing.

In the context of COVID-19, WHO Representative to Thailand Dr. Jos Vandelaer recommends vaccination and maintaining the same measures we’ve grown accustomed to. These include wearing face masks, social distancing, regular handwashing, and testing when symptoms are observed.

“COVID-19 has shown us more than any other disease that prevention and cure is everyone’s business. We all must take up our responsibility by protecting ourselves and protecting others. Not just for COVID-19, but all diseases, both communicable and non-communicable. There is no other way,” Vandelaer wrote in a February 11 op-ed.

Making endemic happen

Meanwhile, WHO COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove thinks the world can be in a better place in the spring. However, she said it is up to us.

“We’re looking at several different scenarios going forward. In one of the scenarios, not mutually exclusive, but what we expect to see is that this virus, the transmission will significantly reduce. With the tools that we have, we can significantly reduce transmission, and this virus is well on its way to becoming endemic at a global level. We’re not there yet, but it’s well on its way,” the epidemiologist said in a February 8 Q&A.

Kerkhove, however, expects to continue seeing “flare-ups” or outbreaks in populations who are not well-protected, meaning those who haven’t received or refused the vaccine: “The virus is taking opportunities to spread and to thrive and we are providing it plenty of opportunities to do so.”

Moreover, the technical lead said the “wildcard” are the variants, to which she attributed the future’s uncertainty.

The solution is to drive transmission down in order to prevent future variants that could be more severe, according to Kerkhove.

“Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Continue to adhere to measures to reduce your exposure. And, we do need governments to have policies that make sense in their countries and we are there to support governments in implementing those and adjusting those as we enter this third year of the pandemic.”

Banner Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash