Unlikely that people will move around with masks on forever: Fauci on ‘new normal’

PTI, Jan 18, 2022, 10:09 AM IST

Warning that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and Omicron would not be the last variant, global health experts on Monday said a lot would depend on transmissibility and severity of the next mutants of the deadly virus.

Speaking at a session on COVID-19 on the first day of the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda summit, famous American immunologist Anthony S Fauci said that while it was difficult to predict as yet what could be the new normal, he does not think that people will roam around with their masks on forever.

”Omicron is highly transmissible, but apparently not very pathogenic. While I hope that remains the case, but that would depend on what new variants emerge going forward,” he said.

He also said there is a great deal of ‘disinformation’ around and that is entirely destructive to a comprehensive public health endeavour.

He said endemicity means ‘a non-disruptive presence, without elimination’, but it cannot be said as yet whether an endemic stage is underway.

”It is very difficult to predict what the new normal would be like. I do not think the people would be walking around with masks on forever, but one new normal I would hope for is greater solidarity with each other. I also hope the new normal would include a strong memory about what a pandemic can do to us,” he said.

Fauci is the Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States and one of the most prominent faces in the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and serves as one of the key advisers to the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues, and on initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness.

He was joined in the panel discussion by Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) CEO Richard Hatchett and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases Annelies Wilder-Smith.

Wilder-Smith said Omicron will not be the last variant.

”We are not out of the pandemic just yet,” she warned.

The worldwide spread of the deadly virus, which was first reported in China’s Wuhan in late 2019, has seen more than 32 crore confirmed cases globally and over 55 lakh deaths so far.

The emergence of its fast-spreading Omicron variant, resulting in re-introduction of national lockdowns, travel bans and quarantines in various parts of the world, has reinforced the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the outbreak a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ on January 30, 2020, and a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Richard Hatchett referred to the COVAX milestone of one billion doses having been delivered to 144 countries and territories across the world and said he is optimistic that distribution in 2022 is set to get much better. Bancel said the company’s goal is a single, annual booster for flu and COVID-19 in one dose. Manufacturers are now working on COVID-19 vaccines for the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn, Bancel explained. Fauci, however, said, ”We do not want to get into a situation of ‘whack-a-mole’, where with every new variant you need a new booster. You will be chasing it forever.” He said the virus gets an advantage when we do not implement, in a unified way, all the very well recognised public health measures, particularly the vaccines.

”And I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so unfortunate, for the entire world but even for a rich country like the United States. That was supposedly the best prepared country for a pandemic — we are among a handful of the countries that have suffered the most,” he said.

He said the world should have had a much more coordinated global response.

”A global pandemic requires a global response, and we have to keep in mind the issue of equity all the time because you can’t have a situation where you have virus circulating freely in one part of the world,” he added.

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