Most people are wondering when and how the pandemic will end, and there are still no easy answers.
Pandemics are a widespread, rapid spread of disease with exponentially rising cases over a large area. Endemic viruses, meanwhile, are constantly present and have a predictable spread. That predictability allows health care systems and doctors to prepare and adapt, reducing loss of life.
Scientists predict COVID-19 will become endemic over time, but there will still be sporadic outbreaks where it gets out of control. The transition from pandemic to endemic will likely play out differently in different locations around the world.
The main misconception about the word ‘endemic’ is that it means the virus becomes mild. That is absolutely not true. Smallpox was endemic. Malaria is endemic in many parts of the world as are Dengue and Japanese Encephalitis. None of those are mild. Severity is separate from how the virus spreads.
Are we shifting from a pandemic to endemic in Australia?
Many experts are hesitant to say that a country has entered an endemic phase, as only time will tell if a new variant will arise and cause similar upheaval.
What data will be used to determine if we have transitioned from pandemic to endemic?
- Case numbers
- Death rates
- Wastewater samples
- Outbreak clusters
Endemic doesn’t mean we drop our guard
It’s important to emphasise an endemic doesn’t mean we drop our guard, surrender to the virus or downgrade the threat the virus poses to individuals and the community.
We must remain vigilant and respond to surges in cases when they occur, doing what’s needed to keep transmission as low as possible.
It’s crucial we understand living with the virus isn’t the same thing as ignoring the virus. Instead, it represents an adjustment in the way in which we respond to the disease.
It’s also important to highlight this transition may not necessarily be smooth and there will no doubt be challenges along the way, especially in the colder months.