"More and more people have been asking for a return to normal, and with omicron
waning, governments are starting to act. The UK, for example, is removing its
remaining public health measures, including mandatory self-isolation of COVID
cases and free testing. However, the inescapable truth is that – unless the
virus mutates to a milder form – the “normal” life we are returning to will be
shorter and sicker on average than before.
We’ve added a new significant disease to our population. COVID is often
compared to flu, as if adding a burden equivalent to flu to a population were
fine (it isn’t). In fact, COVID has been and remains worse. COVID’s infection
fatality rate – the proportion of people who die once they’ve caught it – was
initially about ten times higher than for flu. Treatments, vaccines and prior
infections have since brought the fatality rate down, but it’s still almost
twice as high as for flu – and yes, this still holds for omicron.
The impact is then worsened because COVID is so much more transmissible. It
also has a similar or worse longer-term impact on the heart, lungs and mental
health than other respiratory diseases, and a higher rate of long-term
symptoms. Vaccines have been incredibly effective at reducing severe illness
and death, but they’re not perfect. New variants have tested vaccine defences,
and protection against infection – and to a lesser extent severe illness –
wanes after a few months.
While we’re unlikely to lose all protection against severe illness and death,
the sort of return to normal being attempted in countries such as the UK,
Denmark and Norway will result in many people facing repeated COVID
reinfections over the coming years. The large majority will cope, but some will
die, and more will be left with lasting ill health. Many with mild illness will
still need time off work or education, and as we have seen with omicron, the
aggregate effects can be hugely disruptive.
In short, the world pre-2020 no longer exists – we may want it to, but it just
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics