The emergence of SARS Cov-2 sub-variant, Omicron, is now stated to push Covid pandemic worldwide. According to the battlefront virologists and epidemiologists it is highly probable that rise of this variant of Covid-19 would most likely mark the pandemic going to end the Covid scourge by transforming it in to endemic form in most parts of the affected communities.
Omicron (B.1.1.529) is a variant of SARS-COV-2 identified initially in Covid-19 patients in Botswana and South Africa. The WHO Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) discovered this virus to have undergone several mutations of which Omicron could swiftly spread globally causing a spike in Covid cases.
Omicron is spreading at a very fast pace in India and the scale of infections in the UK and France could translate to lakhs of cases a day in the country, the government’s Covid task force chief has said. India now has 101 Omicron cases across 11 states and Union Territories as reported till now. France is reporting 65,000 cases.
Europe is passing through a serious phase despite 80 percent partial vaccinations and despite the fact that they also went through a Delta wave previously.
The dissemination of Omicron variant could most likely be a precipitating key factor in the transformation of Covid-19 pandemic to an endemic disease.
Researchers and virus geneticists believe that if the present projections of the spread of the Omicron virus hold up, then in the coming years, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could become an endemic disease just like flu and common cold.
When viruses become highly transmissible but at the same time less severe, then epidemiologists believe it’s heading from an epidemic level to an endemic form.
In case of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, there are clear indications that the virus is more transmissible than the earlier Delta variant and at the same time, early data has indicated that it is less severe, which are ideal conditions for any virus to transform from an epidemic to endemic. If the news is so, does the advent of Omicron variant offer a clear indication of the Covid-19 becoming endemic in India?
“Because Omicron variant is highly transmissible and initial reports have indicated that it is less severe than Delta, there could be a possibility that eventually, the impact of the virus becomes less and even lesser over a period of time,” according to Former Director and an Eminent Scientist, Dr. Mohan Rao at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).Eventually, this is the ideal road map for any virulent pathogen to become endemic or even a seasonal disease, he pointed out. “If the current projections and predictions based on extrapolating past experiences hold, then Omicron could be the end of pandemic scourge and beginning of an endemic disease.
Every year people might have to deal with it just like cough and cold and flu. At least this is what the hope is especially when optimum herd immunity is attained among world populations. Still, these are presumed to be initial stages and need for more data generation is called for. However, it is emphasized that because of its high transmissibility, people must be rather overcautious and need to realize that there was no need to panic.
Based on the early data, the burden on healthcare facilities it is anticipated should be less, when compared to the second wave. Some research scholars anticipate even less dependence on medical oxygen and ICU support when compared to the second wave.
This is, however, greatly acknowledged that vaccine evasion and reinfection by the Omicron variant could pose a challenge like there were many instances of reinfection and breakthrough infections during the Delta variant wave.
However, this time around, the breakthrough infections and reinfection seems to be a bit more than the second wave, which could be a matter of concern as revealed by global health experts. It is well asserted that a zoonotic disease with foreign origins eventually becoming an endemic disease is not new of its kind.
Swine flu disease, which was first reported from many places in the world way back in 2009, eventually became seasonal influenza, as people in the community developed optimum herd immunity. Endemic diseases are described as outbreak of diseases that are often limited to a particular region with high rates of case morbidity but least mortality. For instance, diseases like dengue, malaria, chikungunya and seasonal influenza are now endemic to many parts in India of which some are reported in Kashmir too off and on..
Endemic diseases often have stable number of cases in a particular season with very rare instances of surges and fade away with the onset of medical treatment over a small duration. The US virology expert Anthony Faucit had predicted the end of Covid- 19 pandemic in 2022 in the US, prior to advent of Omicron variant, however, post Omicron scenario as suggested by world renowned drug and vaccine manufacturing Pfizer scientists that Covid-19 would be endemic by 2024.
Dr. Muzaffar Shaheen is Professor and Head Clinical Medicine SKUAST-K.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.