COVID-19 is far from becoming an endemic disease and could still trigger large outbreaks around the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
WHO Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan said on Thursday that it was wrong to think that if COVID-19 settles down and becomes endemic, it will mean the end of the problem.
“I certainly do not believe we’ve reached anything close to an endemic situation with this virus,” Ryan told a question-and-answer session on the WHO’s social media channels.
“That is not an endemic disease yet,” he said.
Ryan said the coronavirus has not yet settled into any seasonal or transmission pattern, and remained capable of causing huge epidemics.
“Don’t believe that endemic equals it’s over, it’s mild or not a problem. That’s not the case at all,” Ryan said, citing tuberculosis and malaria as endemic diseases that still killed millions of people per year.
WHO’s COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove, who herself has caught the disease and is isolating in the United States, said the virus continued to circulate at a high level, causing “huge amounts of death and devastation”.
“We’re still in the middle of this pandemic. We all wish that we weren’t. But we are not in an endemic stage,” she said.
Last week saw the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths recorded since the first days of the pandemic in early 2020.
However, more than 20,000 deaths were reported, which Ryan said was “still too many… we should be happy but we shouldn’t be satisfied”.
He explained that once epidemic diseases settle down into an endemic pattern, they can often become childhood diseases, such as measles and diphtheria, because “as new children are born, they are susceptible”.
But if vaccination levels drop, as has happened with measles, epidemics can break out again.