It has been a while since I posted on this blog, or indeed anywhere else. The COVID-19 pandemic is blending into the background (although not going away), monkeypox is disappearing almost entirely from the news and life (almost) as-it-used-to-be is taking over.
But this does not mean less pressure – on the contrary, things seem to be more and more hectic. I am just back from a conference and field trip to Poland, and the new 2022-23 academic year has started this week, although delayed by the Queen’s funeral on Monday.
In fact, I should really have been simultaneously in three places this week: In Glasgow, catching up with my research group. In Heidelberg, attending the European Conference in Mathematics and Theoretical Biology. In London, at the first International Plant Health Conference. At home, recovering from a nasty cold caused by a non-COVID-19 coronavirus…
A quick update on where we are with the pandemic. Following the Omicron peak in winter 2021/22 and another in summer 2022, we see cases slowly climbing up again. It is difficult to compare the 2022 data with the previous years, as testing largely stopped early this year and so we capture just a tip of an iceberg.
Both the winter and the summer outbreaks, although producing a lot of cases, did not result in massive mortality, thanks to vaccination and other control measures. The worrying bit, though, is that the decline – both for the COVID-19 related deaths and the excess deaths – has not been as fast as we would like to. Indeed, the pandemic is still ongoing.
As we are now moving into a “late pandemic” phase (I do not want to use the word “post-pandemic”), the focus changes to the long-term impact of the disease. Long-COVID is one of these, with estimated numbers widely differing, probably depending on the definition.
In the UK, there is a clear concern that we might be approaching a new – Autumn – wave. The most worrying part is not necessarily the actual number of cases – or deaths – but the impact on the National Health Service. The NHS has been in crisis since at least May 2022. A combined impact of another COVID-19 wave and a possible flu epidemic might create a “perfect storm”.
There are many causes for optimism, but there are also many warnings.
We seem to have “normalised” COVID like in the past we did other diseases – most recently influenza. We treat it as a part of life – a risk about which we cannot do much – or, rather, we do not feel like wanting to do much.
Barring the emergence of a particularly nasty strain of COVID-19, we probably will continue with it for a long time. The numbers will probably still go down. People will still die of it, and many more will suffer long COVID.
It will not necessarily show a strong seasonal pattern, although, in the temperate climate zone, it might be more prominent in winter when we are all crowded in small places. And mutations will occasionally cause limited outbreaks. Welcome to the “endemic COVID-19”.
On a more positive side, the monkeypox seems to be going away. A combination of behavioural changes and vaccination seems to be working and the numbers – slowly – are going down.
Certainly, the overall public interest in both pandemics (for the Monkeypox outbreak was indeed a pandemic) seems to be going away, as seen in Google trends for COVID-19
and for Monkeypox