Nearly two years since the coronavirus pandemic was officially declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), we're still no closer to knowing when it will end.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has swept the globe since it was first detected in South Africa in November. Cases in the United States are at a record high and continue to climb. From Australia to Germany, infections are leaping to never-before-seen levels, putting a significant strain on health care systems.
But the fact that it is less likely to cause severe disease than previous coronavirus variants has led to heavy speculation over whether it might mark a turning point — or a conclusion — to the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus poured cold water on that theory Tuesday, saying, "this pandemic is nowhere near over."
"Omicron may be less severe — on average, of course — but the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives," Tedros said. "Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities. The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable."
And yet some governments seem to be resigning themselves to the virus ripping through their populations indefinitely. According to their logic, "we need to learn to live with this virus."
But what exactly does that look like, and how long will it last?
In some European countries, pandemic strategy continues to down-shift toward fewer mitigation measures, reduced quarantine periods and fewer restrictions on travel. In fact, in places such as Spain, the thinking is to treat Omicron more like the flu — despite public health officials, including WHO, cautioning against that approach.
In Britain, an Omicron spike threatened to put the country's health service on a "war footing." But now that the wave seems to have crested — 93,890 new cases were reported on Tuesday compared to 129,544 on the same day last week — the restrictions imposed in December, which included masks on public transport, will be eased next week.
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Watch the moment WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says no country is "out of the woods" with Omicron: