The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a warning on Tuesday against treating COVID-19 as an endemic illness, like the flu, rather than as a pandemic.
Touting how the spread of the Omicron variant has not yet stabilised, the warning follows comments by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last Monday.
Sanchez had stated that it may be time to change how it tracks COVID-19’s evolution to a method more similar to how it follows the flu. This is because ‘lethality has fallen’ said the PM, implying the switch to endemic treatment.
He said that it would be a gradual, cautious process but said that it is time to open the debate ‘at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level.’
However, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe Catherine Smallwood said that ‘we still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a. Virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.’
The US National Institutes of Health says that a virus (like COVID-19) transitions from pandemic to endemic when a virus does not go extinct but merely drops in prevalence and severity over a long period of time.
It remains to be seen what approaches Spain will take to make this transition from pandemic to endemic treatment. The question also arises whether other countries which have low hospitalisation and death rates as well as high vaccination rates, like Malta, will follow suit.