Overseas Situation Report Friday 11th June 2021

 

By Mike Evans

“Life is a condition filled with ups and downs. There will be always ‘if’, in a life”. — Santosh Kalwar

Today’s report is focusing on what is happening around the world with both infections and vaccinations.

India on Friday reported 91,702 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, and 3,403 daily deaths from the coronavirus. The South Asian country’s total Covid-19 case load now stands at 29.3 million, while total fatalities are at 363,079, according to data from the health ministry.

The Japanese government is considering ending a State of Emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures, as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, local media reported. New coronavirus infections in Olympics host Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions, although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, says nations of the world must set aside the “beggar my neighbour” attitude that led to squabbling over medicine, protective gear and badly needed Covid-19 vaccines.

Johnson said on Thursday that the Group of Seven leaders meeting this weekend in England will commit to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022. He told The Times of London that it was time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be properly protected until everyone has been protected.”

But he faces criticism because the U.K. has yet to send any doses abroad and has cut its international aid budget, citing the economic blow of the pandemic.

U.S. President Joe Biden was due to announce on Thursday that the U.S. will buy hundreds of millions more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year. The figure mentioned is expected to be 500 million.

The U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion US commitment. The global alliance has thus far distributed just 81 million doses, and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts. In Africa, about 90 percent of African countries will miss a September target to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations, a WHO official said. Tanzania’s Finance Minister said it has begun talks with the International Monetary Fund over a Covid-19 relief loan.

In Europe, Spain’s health ministry on Wednesday scrapped a nationwide plan to gradually reopen nightlife just a week after introducing it, following widespread complaints from regional authorities who dismissed it as either too strict or too loose.

The plan, which would have allowed areas with low infection rates to open nightclubs until 3 a.m., drew the ire of several regions and a legal challenge from Madrid’s conservative leader, Isabel Diaz Ayuso. After a week of tension, health chiefs from Spain’s 17 regions unanimously approved a revised version of the document on Wednesday in which the rules are reduced to non-binding guidelines, Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters.

“The measures for the hospitality sector are no longer included in the document, and those for nightlife…are now recommendations,” she said at a news conference. “It doesn’t mean that (clubs) will open everywhere, but rather that each region, depending on its epidemiological situation, will decide how to open,” she added.

While Madrid’s Ayuso, who won a landslide election campaigning for looser Covid-19 measures, slammed the plan as restricting civil liberties, Basque leader Inigo Urkullu said he wanted tougher rules to curb infections, highlighting the stark divisions between regions.

Since a nationwide State of Emergency expired a month ago, restrictions on travel and business have eased, with bars in most regions open until midnight or later.

Transmission has fallen steadily as vaccination rates have picked up, Darias said, adding that Spain’s 14-day infection rate had fallen 5% over the week to 111.9 cases per 100,000 people.

This follows the about face of the situation with Portugal over the border crossing where originally Spain was demanding anyone arriving from Portugal needed a negative PCR test. With the Portuguese Government knowing nothing about this, the Spanish Interior Minister had to admit that it was a mistake and that legislation would be put in place to counteract the decree.

Provisional data showed 24% of the population had received a full course of vaccine, while nearly 43% had at least one dose.

One of a handful of countries participating in an early rollout of the European Union’s digital vaccine certificate, Spain has given out nearly 125,000 of the green cards since Monday, Darias said.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, starting on June 15, Abu Dhabi will restrict access to shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and other public places to those who have been vaccinated or who have recently tested negative.

The new rules were announced as the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates, has seen daily cases rise over the past three weeks. The UAE, which does not give a breakdown for each emirate, recorded 2,179 new infections on Wednesday, up from 1,229 on May 17.

On the vaccine front, if the spread of Covid-19 continues at current rates it will be years before the virus is controlled in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization said, as it called for countries to share excess vaccine doses.

Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, authorized Phase 1 and 2 clinical tests to be carried out on volunteers for the domestically developed Butanvac vaccine.

Moderna Inc. said on Thursday it has filed for U.S. authorization to use its Covid-19 vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 18, to help expand the inoculation drive in the country.

Moderna’s vaccine is already being used in the U.S., the European Union and Canada for anyone over 18. The drug maker has already submitted applications to European and Canadian health regulators seeking authorization for the vaccine’s use in adolescents.

The European Commission became more isolated on Thursday morning in its opposition to a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, after the European Parliament backed the waiver.

The temporary suspension of Covid-19 vaccine patents – a move that’s intended to help expand manufacturing and speed up the global vaccination drive, thus shortening the pandemic – was originally proposed by South Africa and India last year. Over recent months, it has gained new supporters like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pope, and, crucially, the Biden administration.

However, Europe – home to major players such as BioNTech and AstraZeneca – has resisted the waiver. Just last week, the European Commission submitted an alternative plan to the World Trade Organization (WTO), proposing other measures such as limits on export restrictions, and the compulsory licensing of the patents in some circumstances.

That doesn’t go far enough, said members of the European Parliament on Thursday, as it passed an amendment calling for a temporary waiver of the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement, the global intellectual-property rulebook, in relation to Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and equipment. The amendment passed by 355 votes to 263, with 71 abstentions. The European Parliament cannot tell the Commission to change its influential tune on the issue, but the vote sent a strong political message nonetheless: Europe, with its many national votes at the WTO, is gradually shifting to the pro-waiver camp.

Within the Parliament – the only EU law making institution whose members are directly elected by citizens – the split over the issue has largely followed left-right lines, with leftists such as the Socialists and Democrats (S&D, Parliament’s second-biggest voting bloc) backing the waiver and those on the right, such as the European People’s Party (EPP, the biggest bloc), opposing it.

“With today’s vote, the European Parliament calls on the Commission to finally do the right thing and save lives by supporting the lifting of patents for Covid-19 vaccines and medical equipment,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, the S&D’s lead negotiator on the subject, in a statement after the vote. “The TRIPS waiver may not prove to be a miracle solution, but it is one of the essential building blocks of a strong global vaccination campaign. Exceptional situations call for exceptional measures.

“The alternative proposal submitted by the European Commission to the WTO falls short in the face of the epochal challenge we are facing,” she added.

But it is not just the European Commission that is becoming more isolated on the issue. Germany, too, is increasingly lonely in its opposition to the waiver.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has previously sided with Germany, travelled to South Africa a couple of weeks ago to discuss the waiver with President Cyril Ramaphosa. On Wednesday, just ahead of the G7 summit, he flipped and joined the patent-suspension camp. That means at least two G7 leaders (also including U.S. President Joe Biden) now favour the waiver.

Add to that the fact that the WTO agreed on Wednesday to fully debate the waiver – a step that the EU and some other countries had previously resisted – and it seems the tide may be turning. There is still a way to go, though. World Bank President, David Malpass, slammed the waiver idea on Wednesday, saying “it would run the risk of reducing the innovation and the R&D” in the pharmaceutical sector. (Malpass, a Trump appointee, is therefore now in opposition to the current White House.)

And remember too, that all waiver proposals are not equal: The U.S. is calling for the suspension of vaccine patents only, while South Africa and India – and now the European Parliament – want it to also cover other Covid-19-related medical products such as therapeutics and personal protective equipment.

This subject has a way to go before there is an agreement.

In the meantime, Stay Safe.

Total Cases Worldwide – 175,639,577

Total Deaths Worldwide – 3,789,362

Total Recovered Worldwide – 159,192,642

Total Active Cases Worldwide – 12,657,573 (7.2% of the total cases)

Total Closed Cases Worldwide – 162,982,004

Information and resources:

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/spain-backtracks-nightlife-rules-after-regional-complaints-2021-06-09/

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/coronavirus-covid19-canada-world-june10-2021-1.6060181

 

 

Overseas Situation Report Friday 11th June 2021

By Mike Evans

 

Today’s report is focusing on what is happening around the world with both infections and vaccinations.

India on Friday reported 91,702 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, and 3,403 daily deaths from the coronavirus. The South Asian country’s total COVID-19 case load now stands at 29.3 million, while total fatalities are at 363,079, according to data from the health ministry.

The Japanese government is considering ending a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, local media reported. New coronavirus infections in Olympics host Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says nations of the world must set aside the “beggar my neighbour” attitude that led to squabbling over medicine, protective gear and badly needed COVID-19 vaccines.

Johnson said Thursday that the Group of Seven leaders meeting this weekend in England will commit to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022. He told the Times of London that it was time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be properly protected until everyone has been protected.”

But he faces criticism because the U.K. has yet to send any doses abroad and has cut its international aid budget, citing the economic blow of the pandemic.

U.S. President Joe Biden is announcing Thursday that the U.S. will buy hundreds of millions more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year. The figure mentioned is expected to be 500 million.

The U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion US commitment. The global alliance has thus far distributed just 81 million doses, and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.In Africa, about 90 percent of African countries will miss a September target to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations, a WHO official said. Tanzania’s finance minister said it has begun talks with the International Monetary Fund over a COVID-19 relief loan.

In Europe, Spain’s health ministry on Wednesday scrapped a nationwide plan to gradually reopen nightlife just a week after introducing it, following widespread complaints from regional authorities who dismissed it as either too strict or too loose.

The plan, which would have allowed areas with low infection rates to open nightclubs until 3 a.m., drew the ire of several regions and a legal challenge from Madrid’s conservative leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso. After a week of tension, health chiefs from Spain’s 17 regions unanimously approved a revised version of the document on Wednesday in which the rules are reduced to non-binding guidelines, Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters.

“The measures for the hospitality sector are no longer included in the document, and those for nightlife…are now recommendations,” she said at a news conference. “It doesn’t mean that (clubs) will open everywhere, but rather that each region, depending on its epidemiological situation, will decide how to open,” she added.

While Madrid’s Ayuso, who won a landslide election campaigning for looser COVID-19 measures, slammed the plan as restricting civil liberties, Basque leader Inigo Urkullu said he wanted tougher rules to curb infections, highlighting the stark divisions between regions.

Since a nationwide state of emergency expired a month ago restrictions on travel and business have eased, with bars in most regions open until midnight or later.

Transmission has fallen steadily as vaccination rates have picked up, Darias said, adding that Spain’s 14-day infection rate had fallen 5% over the week to 111.9 cases per 100,000 people.

This follows the about face of the situation with Portugal over the border crossing where originally Spain was demanding anyone arriving from Portugal needed a negative PCR test. With the Portuguese Government knowing nothing about this the Spanish Interior Minister had to admit that it was a mistake and that legislation would be put in place to counteract the decree.

Provisional data showed 24% of the population had received a full course of vaccine, while nearly 43% had at least one dose.

One of a handful of countries participating in an early rollout of the European Union’s digital vaccine certificate, Spain has given out nearly 125,000 of the green cards since Monday, Darias said.

Meanwhile, In the Middle East, starting June 15, Abu Dhabi will restrict access to shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and other public places to those who have been vaccinated or who have recently tested negative.

The new rules were announced as the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates, has seen daily cases rise over the past three weeks. The UAE, which does not give a breakdown for each emirate, recorded 2,179 new infections on Wednesday, up from 1,229 on May 17.

On the vaccine front, If the spread of COVID-19 continues at current rates it will be years before the virus is controlled in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization said, as it called for countries to share excess vaccine doses.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa authorized Phase 1 and 2 clinical tests to be carried out on volunteers for the domestically developed Butanvac vaccine.

Moderna Inc. said on Thursday it has filed for U.S. authorization to use its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 18, to help expand the inoculation drive in the country.

Moderna’s vaccine is already being used in the U.S., the European Union and Canada for anyone over 18. The drugmaker has already submitted applications to European and Canadian health regulators seeking authorization for the vaccine’s use in adolescents.

The European Commission became more isolated Thursday morning in its opposition to a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, after the European Parliament backed the waiver.

The temporary suspension of COVID vaccine patents—a move that’s intended to help expand manufacturing and speed up the global vaccination drive, thus shortening the pandemic—was originally proposed by South Africa and India last year. Over recent months, it has gained new supporters like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pope, and, crucially, the Biden administration.

However, Europe—home to major players such as BioNTech and AstraZeneca—has resisted the waiver. Just last week, the European Commission submitted an alternative plan to the World Trade Organization (WTO), proposing other measures such as limits on export restrictions, and the compulsory licensing of the patents in some circumstances.

That doesn’t go far enough, said members of the European Parliament on Thursday, as it passed an amendment calling for a temporary waiver of the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement, the global intellectual-property rulebook, in relation to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and equipment. The amendment passed by 355 votes to 263, with 71 abstentions. The European Parliament cannot tell the Commission to change its influential tune on the issue, but the vote sent a strong political message nonetheless: Europe, with its many national votes at the WTO, is gradually shifting to the pro-waiver camp.

Within the Parliament—the only EU law making institution whose members are directly elected by citizens—the split over the issue has largely followed left-right lines, with leftists such as the Socialists and Democrats (S&D, Parliament’s second-biggest voting bloc) backing the waiver and those on the right, such as the European People’s Party (EPP, the biggest bloc), opposing it.

“With today’s vote, the European Parliament calls on the Commission to finally do the right thing and save lives by supporting the lifting of patents for COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, the S&D’s lead negotiator on the subject, in a statement after the vote. “The TRIPS waiver may not prove to be a miracle solution, but it is one of the essential building blocks of a strong global vaccination campaign. Exceptional situations call for exceptional measures.

“The alternative proposal submitted by the European Commission to the WTO falls short in the face of the epochal challenge we are facing,” she added.

But it is not just the European Commission that is becoming more isolated on the issue. Germany, too, is increasingly lonely in its opposition to the waiver.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has previously sided with Germany, travelled to South Africa a couple of weeks ago to discuss the waiver with President Cyril Ramaphosa. On Wednesday, just ahead of the G7 summit, he flipped and joined the patent-suspension camp. That means at least two G7 leaders (also including U.S. President Joe Biden) now favour the waiver.

Add to that the fact that the WTO agreed on Wednesday to fully debate the waiver—a step that the EU and some other countries had previously resisted—and it seems the tide may be turning. There is still a way to go, though. World Bank President David Malpass slammed the waiver idea on Wednesday, saying “it would run the risk of reducing the innovation and the R&D” in the pharmaceutical sector. (Malpass, a Trump appointee, is therefore now in opposition to the current White House.)

And remember too that all waiver proposals are not equal: The U.S. is calling for the suspension of vaccine patents only, while South Africa and India—and now the European Parliament—want it to also cover other COVID-19-related medical products such as therapeutics and personal protective equipment.

This subject has  a way to go before there is an agreement. In the meantime Stay Safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overseas Situation Report Wednesday 9th June 2021

 

By Mike Evans

“As the masks come off, what I look forward to most are all your smiling faces.” ― Charles F Glassman

Unless you have been living the life of a hermit without electricity these past few days, you could not help but be bombarded with two words which have become words of hope for some and words of “control” for others. These two words – Vaccine Passport!

While airports across Europe, with the exception of Faro, are very quiet places the hope is that the vaccine passport will bring back the tourists to the hotspots of Europe and worldwide.

In the near future, travel may require digital documentation showing that passengers have been vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus.

In this report, we are looking at what is happening around the world by industry to achieve this, to get the vaccine passport out to people.

One of President Biden’s executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic asks government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents and producing digital versions of them.

What is a vaccine passport or Pass?

A vaccination pass or passport is documentation proving that you have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Some versions will also allow people to show that they have tested negative for the virus, and therefore can more easily travel. The versions being worked on now by airlines, industry groups, non-profits and technology companies will be something you can pull up on your mobile phone as an app or part of your digital wallet.

“It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” said Nick Careen, Senior Vice President for airport, passenger, cargo and security at I.A.T.A. Mr. Careen has been leading I.A.T.A. ‘s travel pass initiative.

I.A.T.A. is one of several organizations that have been working on digital solutions to streamline the travel credentialing process for years; during the pandemic, these groups have focused on including vaccination status. The idea is that if you have all the pertinent information on your phone, a significant amount of time will be saved.

In addition to I.A.T.A., IBM has been developing its own Digital Health Pass that would enable individuals to present proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain access to a public location, such as a sports stadium, airplane, university or workplace. The pass, built on IBM’s blockchain technology, can utilize multiple data types, including temperature checks, virus exposure notifications, test results and vaccine status. The World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation, a Swiss non-profit group, have been testing a digital health passport called CommonPass, which would allow travellers to access testing or vaccination information. The pass would generate a QR code that could be shown to authorities.

Many may ask “Why do we need a vaccine passport?”.

As more people are inoculated, there will likely be aspects of public life in which only people who have been vaccinated are allowed to participate. In order to travel internationally, government and health authorities will need to know if you have been vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus. Many countries are already requiring proof of a negative test for entry. Such passes could be essential to restarting the tourism industry, said Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

“One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonization of rules and protocols regarding international travel,” he said in an email. “Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the coordinated introduction of what may be called ‘health passports,’ can offer this. They can also eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy which is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism.”

Dakota Gruener, Executive Director of ID2020, a global public-private partnership, said that there are three scenarios regarding digital credentialing for the coronavirus response. The first, which is largely off the table, is the creation of immunity certificates. These are documents that would show that people have developed some kind of immunity to the virus. The second scenario is being able to prove you’ve tested negative for the virus; the third is being able to show that you have been vaccinated. The last two scenarios, experts agree, are the most important for getting the travel industry going again.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest from airlines, airline industry groups, customs and border control agencies and travellers, all saying, ‘how do I safely get on a plane or as a condition of entry into a country, get on a train, whatever the case may be, and prove that I have been tested or vaccinated?’” Ms. Gruener said.

Having to prove you’ve been vaccinated in order to participate in activities or enter certain countries is not a new concept. For decades, people travelling to some countries have had to prove that they have been vaccinated against diseases such as yellow fever, rubella and cholera. Often, after being vaccinated, travellers received a signed and stamped “yellow card,” known as an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, which the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention still urge people to take on relevant trips.

“Everybody who has travelled internationally to countries that require vaccination against malaria, diphtheria and other things has had yellow cards,” said Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Linux Foundation Public Health, a technology-focused organization helping public health authorities combat Covid-19 around the world.

But a major difference between the yellow card of years past and what is being worked on now is the digital component, which comes with new concerns around privacy and accessibility. A number of organisations are working closely with the digital giants. One such organisation is The Linux Foundation, working in partnership with the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a collective of more than 300 people from five continents to help develop universal standards for vaccine credential apps that make them accessible and equitable. The foundation is also working with IBM and CommonPass.

“As these things get rolled out, it’s important for citizens to ask governments and airlines ‘How do we make this easy so I have one vaccination record to book a flight, hotel and so I can use that to do some other things?’,” Mr. Behlendorf said. “It should work like email. Vaccine passports don’t have to be digital, but they would make the travel process smoother.

“Imagine a future where a plane lands in an airport and a hundred people have a travel pass, 100 have another health wallet, 50 have bits of paper and another 25 have some kind of government document,” said Jamie Smith, Senior Director of Business Development at Evernym, a developer that has been working with I.A.T.A. and others on developing a vaccine pass. “What does the airport do? How do they process all those people in a standard, simple way?”

The European Union’s law enforcement agency said this week that sales of fake negative test results are becoming more widespread, another reason the industry is trying to develop digital passes that are secure.

Many people object to the whole idea. In a world where more than a billion people aren’t able to prove their identity because they lack passports, birth certificates, driver’s licenses or national identification cards, digital documents that show vaccine status may heighten inequality and risk, leaving many people behind. Long before Covid-19 appeared, we were working on the intersection of digital credentials and immunization,” she said. “It’ll be years before vaccines are universally available on a global level and thus widespread testing is going to continue and must continue alongside vaccination to enable a safe and equitable return to travel and other public activities.”

For those without smartphones, the industry says it will accept paper proof, but even that needs to be standardized.

In addition, there are concerns about privacy and data sharing. “There are ways this could be done right or done terribly wrong and the wrong ways could lead us to a techno dystopia,” said Jenny Wanger, Director of Programs at the Linux Foundation, adding that it’s important that the tech-building aspect of these apps be done in the open and doesn’t end up in the control of any one government or company. The technology should be open source and accessible to technologists, no matter who they are or where they are, she and others said.

Technologists and travel industry experts said that although it is possible to rush tech solutions that allow people to have one-use apps, creating long-lasting ethical technology or systems that will not store people’s data, or make it possible to track where they are, takes time. “The global passport system took 50 years to develop,” said Drummond Reed, chief trust officer for Evernym. “Even when they wanted to add biometrics to make it stronger, it took over a decade to agree on just how you’re going to add a fingerprint or a facial biometric to be verified on a passport. Now, in a very short period of time, we need to produce a digital credential that can be as universally recognized as a passport and it needs an even greater level of privacy because it’s going to be digital.”

Whatever the outcome, we will have to show that we are not a carrier of the virus one way or another if we want to be able to move around as much as we did pre-Covid.

Until the next time, Stay Safe.

Total Cases Worldwide – 174,751,298

Total Deaths Worldwide – 3,762,901

Total Recovered Worldwide – 158,163,043

Total Active Cases Worldwide – 12,825,354 (7.3% of the total cases)

Total Closed Cases Worldwide – 161,925,944

Information and resources:

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/

Overseas Situation Report Saturday 5th June 2021

 

By Mike Evans

In this report with a look at what the future might hold in a world where Covid still exists.

Experts say COVID-19 will likely continue to fade in the United States, but the disease probably will not disappear. They expect COVID-19 could be similar to the influenza virus that re-emerges every year in a slightly different form. They say there are still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, including how often it will mutate.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to fade in the United States, it’s unlikely that the novel coronavirus is going away, at least for the near future. As case rates drop and more people become vaccinated, COVID-19 will likely transition from a pandemic – the worldwide spread of a new disease – to an endemic phase, where the virus is always present in the population in some form, albeit under controllable levels, experts say. “It’s likely that it will become endemic because people carry it without knowing or showing symptoms, and some people have diminished immunity that will continue to make them susceptible even post-vaccination,” said Gerald Commissiong, CEO of Todos Medical, Ltd., a COVID-19 screening and testing company. “Combined with the likelihood of waning immunity and emerging variants, we should expect that COVID-19 is a virus that will be with us for the long haul,”

Many experts think the United States will need at least 70 percent of the population to be immunized to achieve herd immunity, although it’s not certain yet what level will need to be achieved.

“We don’t know really what the required level of herd immunity is to keep COVID-19 out of circulation,” said Dr. Susan Kline, MPH, an infectious disease physician with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health. “For some diseases, a much higher level of vaccination is required to keep the disease from breaking out, e.g., measles, where it is estimated that 95 percent of the herd must be vaccinated or immune to keep the disease under control.” While measles is caused by a different virus from coronavirus, it’s telling that even this virus that sees high childhood vaccination rates still emerges occasionally among regional populations with lower vaccination rates.

A similar dynamic could likely emerge with COVID-19.

“We don’t need to look very far to see what happens when there are low vaccination rates in populations,” Dr. Beth Oller, a family medicine physician in Kansas, told Healthline. “Measles is still a common disease in many parts of the world. The [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] reported 1,282 measles cases in 31 states in 2019. This was the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated from the country in 2000, and we came close to losing our measles elimination status.”

Ultimately, this means people will need to be mindful of their behaviour and should not expect a total return to pre-pandemic behaviour.

Instead, experts say we should endeavour to continue to observe masking and physical distancing protocols in groups of unfamiliar people and take a cautious approach to mingle with larger groups.

“If people forgo these precautions, this threatens the delicate and shifting balance of the herd,” Dr. Elizabeth Wang, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Centre, told Healthline. “For example, if a person pre-vaccination used to only interact with one person on a daily basis, he now believes post-vaccination he can meet 10 people without masking. How many people he’s meeting changes the entire herd immunity equation. If his social behaviour once again begins to promote the spread of the virus, a higher percentage (more than 70 percent) will now need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.” There’s still a lot of unknowns when it comes to how often COVID-19 might mutate and how frequently people might require booster shots of the vaccine, among other issues.

“Influenza is somewhat predictable in how it changes yearly, so yearly flu vaccines can be mostly predicted – and there are vaccines on the horizon for influenza that may not need to be given yearly,” Dr. Jill Foster, a paediatric infectious disease physician with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview, told Healthline. “COVID, however, has demonstrated remarkable ability to mutate and change how easily it spreads and how severe disease is. For a while, it will be a race of vaccine coverage for it against the variants. So far, we’ve been winning, but one bad variant that spreads easily, causes severe disease, and evades vaccine, and we’ll be set back by months,” she added.

As we look around the world at the new variants appearing we can but wonder if we will able to live a normal life in the way we use to.

Until the next time Stay safe.