Is this the end of Covid?

WHO gives most upbeat assessment yet of the global battle against the virus

Members of the public look at a wall of remembrance for Covid-19 victims
A wall of remembrance for Covid-19 victims in central London
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The end of the global Covid-19 pandemic is “in sight”, said the World Health Organization (WHO), after data revealed that worldwide weekly deaths are at their lowest level since March 2020.

In the week to 11 September, there were just under 11,000 Covid deaths, according to the WHO’s website, the lowest level since the UK entered its first national lockdown two years ago. And in the UK the number of infections has dropped to its lowest level “for nearly 11 months”, said Sky News.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic – we are not there yet, but the end is in sight.

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“We can see the finish line, we’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running. Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”

He added: “If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty. So let’s seize this opportunity.”

This is the UN agency’s “most upbeat assessment” since it declared Covid-19 an international emergency in January 2020, said Reuters. But it has warned that the virus remains an “acute global emergency” and highlighted that during the first eight months of 2022 more than a million people died from Covid-19.

The latest data

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 944,700 people in private households are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to 28 August. This represents the lowest UK total since the week to 2 October 2021, when the number was 942,600.

In the week ending 2 September, there were 8,868 deaths in England and Wales, of which 314 mentioned “novel coronavirus”, accounting for 3.5% of overall deaths, said The Guardian.

The paper reported that infections “hit 3.8m in early July this year during the spread of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants”, but these figures have been “on a broadly downward path in recent weeks”.

What drove the summer wave?

The summer wave was fuelled largely by new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, the ONS said.

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told The Guardian that Omicron is “poorly immunogenic, which means that catching it offers little extra protection against catching it again”.

“This suggests that even if you had Omicron during the Christmas and New Year’s wave, it is still possible that you will catch the virus again,” The Independent reported.

Another factor was “pandemic fatigue” leading to less cautious behaviour which, combined with the end to restrictions, meant people who had previously avoided Covid were more likely to catch it over the summer months.

Autumn booster campaign

While the summer wave of Covid-19 infections seems to have peaked, “another wave is anticipated in the autumn as people move inside with the colder weather”, said The Guardian.

As a result an autumn booster campaign will offer another vaccine dose to: adults aged 50 and over; those aged five to 49 with health conditions that put them at higher risk, including pregnant women; care home staff; frontline health and social care workers; carers aged 16 to 49; and household contacts of people with weakened immune systems, said the BBC.

As well as Covid, The Guardian reported that “public health officials fear flu may bounce back hard and early this year, given the experience in Australia, making vaccinations for both flu and Covid a high priority in the autumn”.

Vaccine progress

In more welcome developments, trial results have suggested that Moderna’s new Covid-19 vaccine is five times better at boosting antibodies than its original jab.

The pharmaceutical firm said early clinical trials showed that the next-generation jab produced 9,500 units of antibody in vaccinated individuals compared to a maximum of 1,800 units with an original booster jab.

The company’s chief medical officer told The Telegraph that the new vaccine could boost a person’s antibodies to such an extent that a booster may only be needed annually.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.