Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Imagine a future where you can book that summer trip to Italy or take a selfie without having to remember to take off your mask first.
After 25 months, forgetting the pandemic for a while may seem like a fantasy.
But infectious disease experts say there may be an end in sight.
“I think if we do it right, we’ll have 2022 where COVID-19 doesn’t take hold,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, who was director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Barack Obama and is now CEO and president of Resolve to Save Lives. 19 affects our lives a lot.”
Experts in federal agencies took a while to work out what the next part of the pandemic would look like, and there was a general consensus among experts about what would happen. “We really don’t know exactly,” said Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Stanford Medicine.
There are disease models and lessons from past epidemics, but the way the highly contagious omicron mutant emerged means that it is difficult for scientists to predict what will happen next.
Omicron caused a lot of damage, as states recorded more than a quarter of all “Covid-19” infections last month amid the Omicron outbreak, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The wave appears to have reached its peak in some areas where the Omicron mutant first appeared in the United States, such as Boston and New York. But it is still spiraling out of control in other parts of the country.
But infectious disease experts see hope in South Africa.
And South African scientists first discovered this mutant last November, and infections there peaked and then declined rapidly, and this is what experts believe will happen everywhere.
Dr. John Schwartzberg, an expert in infectious diseases and vaccinology and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, says: “It will be until about mid-February before we start to see the situation really improve.”
Many experts believe that if infection numbers rise surprisingly quickly, there may be a “lull period”.
Schwartzberg believes that the period from March until spring or summer will be like last year, as the number of cases continues to decline, adding: “There will be a sense of optimism, and then we will have the ability to do more with our lives.”
Part of his optimism stems from the fact that there will be a larger immunized population, between the growing number of vaccinated people and booster recipients, and those who contracted COVID-19 in the midst of an omicron outbreak.
He explains that “in general, the level of immunity in our population will be much higher than it was in the midst of the Omicron pandemic, and this will help us not only during the confrontation with Omicron or Delta, but also during the confrontation with any new mutant,” noting that the level of immunity depends on the availability of drugs for intervention, and that Because the coronavirus probably won’t go away completely.
On the other hand, Maldonado expects “the return of another version of the virus,” adding that “these are the scenarios that really bring uncertainty for what comes next.”
The next mutant can be equally or even more transmissible than an omicron, and it can cause people more severe symptoms — or no symptoms at all.
“It is not at all clear what will happen next,” says Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
He points out that the virus can mutate gradually, like what happened with the “alpha” and “beta” mutant, or it can make a really big jump, as is the case with “delta” and “omicron.”
For example, the H1N1 influenza virus was a new virus when one of the worst pandemics in history began in 1918, infecting a third of the world’s population and killing 50 million of them.
This epidemic eventually ended, but the virus is still present today.
“This was the start of all the H1N1 viruses that we see every year, and they have had a lot of mutations since then, so it’s possible that this virus will do something similar,” Maldonado says.
The United States still records an average of 35,000 deaths annually from influenza, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re going on with our lives, I don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was, exactly,” Schwartzberg says.
With this flu-like scenario, Maldonado explains, the world needs to focus on protecting those at risk of becoming seriously ill, making sure they get vaccinated, and get monoclonal antibodies and antivirals.