The Economist’s modelling suggests that covid-19 has killed between 10.8m and 20m people, with a best estimate of 17.3m thus far. In most rich countries vaccines are breaking the link between infections and deaths, and restrictions have eased. In other places, such as eastern Europe, deaths are rising amid a new wave of infections. What should the world expect next year?
The virus will not be eradicated. Only one disease, smallpox, has ever been eliminated. Instead, global immunity will increase as more people are vaccinated or contract covid-19. Some 3.8bn have had at least one jab and 2.8bn are fully vaccinated. Together with those who have caught the disease, around half the world’s population has some level of immunity. Eventually, covid-19 will become endemic: transmission will remain at a steady rate, following seasonal patterns, with fewer spikes in infection. The harm caused may end up somewhere between that of influenza, which kills an estimated 300,000 to 650,000 people annually, and of other coronaviruses, such as the common cold. But endemicity is still a long way off for most countries. Deaths in eastern Europe show the risks in places where vaccination rates remain low. In a best-case scenario, covid-19 could begin to follow a seasonal pattern by 2025. But it will take decades for people to become as immune to it as they are to the common cold.
Source: The Economist
Number of COVID-19 Omicron variant cases in Europe as of November 29, 2021, by country
In late-November 2021, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19) was designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization due to fears about a higher transmissibility from the variant and a possible decrease in the effectiveness of vaccines against it.