Will the pandemic become endemic in 2023? Experts hedge their bets

While the BF.7 variant of Omicron virus is a cause of concern in China and India, the Omicron subvariant XBB accounts for 18.3 per cent of the Covid-19 cases in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This marks an increase of 11.2 per cent as the XBB variant continues to drive up cases in Singapore.

With Covid infections once again surging in several countries, especially in China which saw over 250 million cases in just 20 days in December, fresh Covid wave fears linger across the world, including in India.

While the BF.7 variant of Omicron virus is a cause of concern in China and India, the Omicron subvariant XBB accounts for 18.3 per cent of the Covid-19 cases in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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This marks an increase of 11.2 per cent as the XBB variant continues to drive up cases in Singapore.

Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 accounted for about 70 per cent of new cases in the US.

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The total number of confirmed Covid cases in the US have surpassed 100 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, since the pandemic broke out almost three years ago, with a total of more than 1 million deaths.

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Japan is facing an ongoing eighth wave of the pandemic and the country registered 206,943 new cases.

South Korea's new Covid cases remained below 70,000 for the second straight day on Saturday, while new coronavirus-related deaths hit a three-month high.

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The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that he hopes that Covid-19 will no longer be a global health emergency sometime next year.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO Covid-19 Emergency Committee will discuss next month the criteria for declaring an end to the Covid-19 emergency.

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"We're hopeful that at some point next year, we will be able to say that Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency," he said, adding that however, SARS-CoV-2 virus, the culprit behind the Covid-19 pandemic, will not go away.

Kirti Sabnis, Infectious Disease Specialist at Fortis Hospital in Kalyan, Mumbai, told IANS that when a pandemic becomes endemic, it means that the disease is present in a particular community or globally, and there is enough immunity among the population to control outbreaks.

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"Also, the infections can continue to affect vulnerable members of the community. While an endemic may not experience large outbreaks, it also means that it will not be completely eradicated," she said.

Health experts said that it is harder to predict if Covid-19 will become endemic in 2023 because it is a respiratory virus that tends to mutate, similar to other Influenza viruses.

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"If multiple mutations change the virus's protein structure or its ability to attach to cells, it could give rise to new strains. However, if the current protection of the immunity to the virus is sufficient to prevent severe disease or reduce transmission, then definitely Covid can become endemic," Sabnis said.

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It is uncertain when or if Covid-19 will become endemic, but it is unlikely that we will be able to completely eliminate it.

Experts said that we may see occasional outbreaks, particularly during flu season or if new mutations emerge, as is currently happening in China.

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"The transmission of the virus in India and the level of immunity acquired through previous vaccination and community transmission will also influence its potential to become endemic. However, it seems unlikely that there will be significant new outbreaks or that the virus will become endemic in the next 2-3 months," Sabnis said.

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