Live updates: Covid Wave dampens New Year’s parties worldwide

Life should return to normal this year. Instead, 2021 became a kind of purgatory. But there is good reason to hope that 2022 will be better.

When this year is coming to an end, we would like to look back on the bow of the pandemic – and look forward to the new year that starts on Saturday.

The past year began with the escalation of a mass vaccination campaign, which many people celebrated by taking post-shot selfies of their bandaged arms. In February, new Covid-19 cases plunged, and in the spring, the virus appeared to be on permanent withdrawal. On June 2, President Biden delivered a speech with the prospect of “a summer of freedom, a summer of joy.”

But then came a turning point in 2021: the emergence of the Delta variant.

It began to spread in the United States in late spring and caused many more infections among those vaccinated than previous versions of the virus. The vast majority of these breakthrough infections were mild, but they had the potential to cause serious illness in the elderly and other vulnerable people.

Delta also triggered new outbreaks among the unvaccinated, and tens of thousands of them died. In the end is Death toll in the United States from Covid in 2021 – more than 475,000 – exceeded the 2020 tax. The increase is particularly tragic, epidemiologists say, because the availability of vaccines had made most of these deaths avoidable.

All in all, the year ending tonight has often been disappointing and gloomy.

In addition to the direct damage from Covid, the disruptions in daily life – intended to slow the spread of the virus – have led to their own costs. Children have fallen behind in school, and for many, isolation has worsened their mental health. Adults struggle too; of the Americans blood pressure has increased, and drug overdose has increased.

Even people who have avoided the worst damage from the pandemic often feel tired. And the latest variant, Omicron, has sent cases up in the air again, to their highest level yet, and raised the prospect that 2022 will be another year of pandemic purgatory.

At this point, it should be clear that there are no Covid warranties. Perhaps future variants will emerge, even more dangerous than Omicron or Delta. But the most likely scenario is more hopeful, many experts believe. When the new year comes, there is reason to hope that 2022 will be what people expected 2021 to be – the year Covid switched from being a pandemic to an endemic virus, not so different from the flu.

New evidence suggests that Omicron is really milder than previous versions of this coronavirus (either due to inherent biological causes or due to higher levels of population immunity). In South Africa and England as well as New York, San Francisco and other parts of the United States, the number of hospitalizations is lower than the doctors feared.

Omicron will continue to do terrible damage, especially among the millions of middle-aged and elderly Americans who remain unvaccinated, as well as the hundreds of millions of adults worldwide who remain unvaccinated, either due to vaccine skepticism or unavailability. Many hospitals risk being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

But when the current wave begins to subside, it will likely have left a few silver liners. Omicron is so contagious that it will infect a meaningful proportion of the population, increasing the amount of Covid immunity and helping to catch the virus.

Equally important, the world has more powerful weapons to fight Covid than it had just a few weeks ago: two new post-infection treatments, one from Merck and one more powerful from Pfizer that reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. With Pfizer’s treatment, the reduction is nearly 90 percent, according to early research trials.

All of this suggests that the United States could emerge from the Omicron wave significantly closer to the most realistic Covid future – one where it becomes an endemic disease that is a more normal part of everyday life. It will still cause sickness and death; a typical flu season kills approx 35,000 Americans, most of them older. In the foreseeable future, the fight against Covid – through vaccination, treatment and research – will remain important.

But endemic disease does not have to dominate life, as a pandemic does. It does not have to cause the kind of social isolation and public health problems that Covid has had over the last two years.

If the US reaches that point in 2022 – as it seems likely – the next New Year’s Eve will feel much more satisfying than this one.

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