When Will the Covid-19 Pandemic End?

Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “When Will the Covid-19 Pandemic End?” – below is their description.

Much of the world seemed poised to leave Covid-19 behind just a few weeks ago. But the delta variant and new hotspots are giving nations a reality check. Where do we stand now?

U.S. President Joe Biden declared the U.S. close to independence from the virus. Britons hit the dance floor to celebrate “Freedom Day.” Singapore’s legendarily strict government signaled it would begin to loosen its zero-cases approach and make life and travel more manageable.

But if those places were ready to be done with Covid, Covid wasn’t done with them.

The sputtering U.S. vaccine campaign has run headlong into the highly-contagious delta variant. The U.K.’s reopening has coincided with a new surge in cases and fears of “long Covid” in younger people. In Africa, deaths have spiked as vaccine supplies remain meager. And in Japan, rising infections have forced the already-delayed Summer Olympics to be played in empty stadiums and arenas.

Around the globe, people and governments are finding out that Covid won’t be thrashed into extinction, but is more likely to enter a long, endemic tail. With that will come delayed recoveries in the places that have had the least access to vaccines. And vaccine- and resource-rich countries will still face their own health and economic aftershocks, as the U.S. and U.K. are discovering.

“The virus is going to do what it wants to do,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, “and not what we want to do.”

Vaccines have made a difference — in the places that have deployed them widely. In recent weeks, U.K. cases had risen dramatically, but there hasn’t been an equivalent surge in deaths, and the number of new infections has dropped over the last few days. The shots are literal life savers.

At its current pace of vaccination, 75% of the EU population will be inoculated within two months, a level that may be sufficient to push back the virus. China and the U.K. are running at a similar pace, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

But after racing ahead, the now-stalled U.S. vaccine campaign will take eight or nine months to reach 75% coverage because of entrenched pockets of vaccine resistance in parts of the country. Other places are in more dire straits: Indonesia, with a raging outbreak, is a year and a half away. India will need another year, at its current rate. In Africa, countries like Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are at least a year away — or far longer, according to Bloomberg’s analysis.

Many lower-income countries are reliant on Covax, the program set up last year to equitably distribute vaccines to every corner of the planet. But the initiative has delivered just 140 million doses of the 1.8 billion it aims to ship by early 2022, hurt by delays in supplies from India.

“The world is divided between countries which do have vaccines and countries which don’t have vaccines,” said Klaus Stöhr, a former World Health Organization official who played a key role in the response to SARS in 2003. In the have-not regions, “the virus is going to end the pandemic, not the vaccine, unfortunately.”

The pandemic struck $15 trillion off global output in the worst peacetime recession since the Great Depression, and the vaccination disparity is creating an economic wedge as richer countries recover more quickly than less-wealthy ones.

The highly contagious delta variant has added to the uncertainty.

“Wanting the pandemic to be over has really caused many people to just not face the facts,” said Osterholm, the University of Minnesota infectious disease expert. “I don’t think the final script has been written for this pandemic at all.”

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