Almost every Spanish person over eighty has been vaccinated against corona. And although the young people are less excitable, Spain thinks that due to the high vaccination rate it will soon be able to stop continuously monitoring the infection figures. Spain would thus become the first country in the world to treat the coronavirus as a normal flu.
“We have to learn to live with the virus, as we do with all other viruses,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said last week in a radio interview. “We see that the virus is no longer as deadly as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, when 13 percent of infected people died. Now it is only 1 percent.”
The government has been working since the summer to set up a system to monitor the coronavirus as it does with the flu, Sanchez announced. Under this new system, every corona case will no longer be counted and residents will no longer have to be tested for every symptom. The government will designate a number of health centers and hospitals that will monitor the number of cases on a random basis. If all goes according to plan, that system will be put into operation sometime after the current sixth wave.
Sánchez is not the first head of government to argue for an ‘endemic’ approach. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last summer that corona is a virus “with which we have to learn to live, as we already do with the flu”. That comment caused a lot of frowning at the time, not least at the World Health Organization (WHO), which still considers it much too early to label corona as endemic.
Last Tuesday, Catherine Smallwood of the WHO said during a press conference that the situation is still too unpredictable for that. “The virus is still evolving, which in turn creates new challenges. It is difficult to estimate whether the pandemic will turn into an endemism this year.” This is mainly due to the Omikron variant, which is still spreading rapidly among the world population.
A wide range of European doctors and researchers featured in medical journal last week The BMJ at that there is still an urgent need to ‘reduce infections to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed and to protect public life and the economy’. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, they wrote, “leaving Omikron unfettered could have devastating consequences.”
Anthropologist Ginny Mooy also warned, last weekend in NRC, against letting go of restrictions too easily: “Leaving Corona around sounds better in theory than it works out in practice. If there is a lot of virus going around, many people will get sick or die at the same time. […] If corona is allowed to circulate freely, it will lead to chaos.”
The governments that want to see corona as an ordinary endemic disease object that the Omikron variant has a milder disease course than before. The number of new daily corona infections is also falling in the United Kingdom without significant measures. Omikron is no longer corona 1.0, they say: unlike two years ago, the population is largely vaccinated and the number of hospital admissions is significantly lower.
However, they also find some scientists on their side. Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4 that corona is “not an emergency forever.” [kan] are”.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 17, 2022