Coronavirus

Endemic Times, Get Ready For Our Forever COVID Future

As the 5 million death toll has been passed, signs abound that the virus is not going away any time soon. We need to accept that we can return to normalcy even without eradicating COVID — though we must do it right and keep re-learning the right lessons.

Photo of people walking in the streets of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, some wearing a facemask

Walking in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Carl-Johan Karlsson

-Analysis-

Heading toward Year 2, the stream of COVID headlines continues to flow: vaccine hesitancy and breakthrough infections, lurking new variants, overrun hospitals and, yes, yet another lockdown somewhere in the world. The grim milestone this week of five million deaths adds to the creeping feeling that, unprecedented scientific breakthroughs aside, we are simply outmatched in our collective battle against the pandemic.

There is a growing consensus among experts that the virus, the whole of humanity's microscopic nemesis, is here to stay.


Already a year ago, herd-immunity skeptics suggested that the COVID-19 endgame might in fact not be eradication but endemicity — where the virus lives among us like the common flu.


A return to normalcy? 

And today, those still betting on a clean break with the virus in the near future have become a minority of wishful thinking. So with the end station receding into the future, should we expect several more years of the cumulative angst of illness, death, masks and curfews that has hovered over our lives in the last 18 months?

While part of the answer remains shrouded by the same questions (Will future mutations bypass the vaccine? How enduring is immunity after infection?), the prevailing belief is that the combination of acquired immunity and annual vaccines will allow a return to normality, with infections remaining fairly constant across years with occasional smaller outbreaks.

This is what happens with common cold coronaviruses.

"With time, scientists predict COVID will become more prevalent among unvaccinated youths or those without prior exposure to the virus," writes research leader in virology and infectious disease at Griffith University Lara Herrero in a recent article for the World Economic Forum. "This is what happens with common cold coronaviruses. Despite periodical spikes in caseloads each season or immediately after relaxation of economic, social, and travel restrictions, COVID will eventually become more manageable."

Handwashing in Kampala

A photo of students lining up to wash their hands from a green water tank

Students line up to wash their hands in Kampala, Uganda

Nicholas Kajoba/Xinhua via ZUMA

Bulgaria, unvaccinated chaos

As such, the time of lockdowns, masks and social distancing will most likely come to an end; the question today is rather how fast we will get to restoring a sense of public health normality, and how it will play out in different countries.

With billions still unvaccinated, the pandemic continues unabated in many places around the world. In Bulgaria, where more than 75% of the population is refusing the jab, the government is negotiating with Greece to send coronavirus patients for treatment as a fourth wave overwhelms its healthcare system. But the real policy question in Sofia is whether another lockdown will be imposed, which initially will only apply to the unvaccinated — an unprecedented move that would likely fuel the ongoing anti-restriction protests in the country.

Flatten the curve to buy time.

Another place where vaccine-hesitancy is halting the return to normal is Uganda, where unvaccinated lawmakers will be denied access to the country's parliament building starting Monday. The move is meant to sway the Ugandans still refusing the jab, with President Yoweri Museveni expressing hopes last week that some 12 million people will be vaccinated by the end of December — a big leap from the three million doses administered so far.

Keep flattening the curves

Indeed, the coming months will look very different for countries that are currently suffering their highest rates of hospitalization and death, and those that are merely filling the gaps in their vaccination program. The latter category includes the UK, where the NHS has started to roll out the COVID-19 jab to school children aged 12 to 15, with almost three million children expected to receive one dose of the Pfizer vaccine during the fall.

Still, with the transition from pandemic to endemic increasingly becoming our new global goal, the overarching strategy remains: Flatten the curve to buy time. Even in countries with high vaccination rates, we know by now that new variants can still overload the healthcare system, and researchers and public health officials need to play catch up.

The more time we buy to ramp up immunity, the lower the death rate will be once we finally reach that end station. If we must continue to count COVID deaths in the millions, we must do all we can to spread that out over years, not months.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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