Fauci says Omicron may not be end of Covid pandemic: ‘It’s an open question’

‘But one new normal I would hope for is greater solidarity with each other’

Namita Singh
Tuesday 18 January 2022 12:25
<p>Dr Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser and director of the NIAID during a hearing on 11 January</p>

Dr Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser and director of the NIAID during a hearing on 11 January

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It is too soon to predict if the Omicron variant of Covid-19 signifies the end of the coronavirus pandemic, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said on Monday.

“It is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for, because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging,” Dr Fauci said on the first day of the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda summit.

“I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant,” he added.

He said that even if Omicron emerges as the final variant, it is unlikely to be the endgame for the virus. He added that the virus is likely to remain in society at an endemic level.

“It’s not going to be that you’ll eliminate this disease completely. But hopefully, it will be at such a low level that it doesn’t disrupt our normal social, economic and other interactions with each other. To me, that’s what the new normal is,” Dr Fauci said.

He added that people were unlikely to wear masks forever.

“It is very difficult to predict what the new normal would be like. I do not think the people would be walking around with masks on forever, but one new normal I would hope for is greater solidarity with each other,” he said. “I also hope the new normal would include a strong memory about what a pandemic can do to us.”

The infectious disease expert also lamented the reluctance of many Americans to follow basic measures. “We have such a degree of pushback against regular, normal, easy-to-understand public health measures,” he said. “A reluctance to wear masks, to promote vaccination, to do the kinds of measures we know if we all pull together as a society we’d be much, much better off.”

While research has indicated that the highly transmissible Omicron strain has largely shown milder symptoms, experts have warned that the question of long Covid is still open.

Akiko Iwasaki, who studies viral immunology at Yale, told Reuters news agency: “We have no data yet on what proportion of infections with omicron... end up with long Covid”.

She said that people who underestimate Omicron as mild are putting themselves at “risk of debilitating disease that can linger for months or years”.

Meanwhile, Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious disease at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned against calling it endemic, reported CNBC. “It is too early…,” she said, adding that “there is a high probability that we will have a new variant”.

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