While there’s some speculation that the Omicron variant could mark the end of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the World Health Organization is sounding a warning that additional variants are almost certainly on the way.
As infection rates continue to rise around the world, health officials say, the virus has more chances to mutate into new (and possibly even more infectious) variants.
“We’re hearing a lot of people suggest that Omicron is the last variant, that it’s over after this—and that is not the case,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, during an update Tuesday. “This won’t be the last variant of concern.”
The stark warning comes as some governments have suggested they might treat COVID-19 as an endemic problem, much like the flu or common cold, once Omicron begins to wane.
At present, the WHO is tracking five variants of concern (including Delta and Omicron). However, as Omicron demonstrated, new variants can pop up quickly and spread like wildfire.
The WHO is hardly alone in this warning. Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that we are still in the first of five stages of the pandemic and urged people not to get ahead of themselves, no matter how much they hope to get back to a pre-pandemic existence.
Globally, more than 18 million people have been infected by Omicron. While cases of the variant appear to be peaking in some countries, including the U.S., WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he remains concerned about countries with low vaccination rates, where more people are at risk of severe illness and death.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” he said, “and with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical.”
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