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EXPLAINER - What does it mean that COVID-19 is endemic?

Spain and some European countries are making plans to treat COVID-19 as an "endemic disease" in the future. However, the World Health Organization (and other officials) warn that there is no way to know when the pandemic will be declared over. Here's a look at what an endemic is and its implications for the future.

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EXPLAINER - What does it mean that COVID-19 is endemic?


When diseases are found in large numbers and occur in certain regions according to established patterns, they are considered endemic. A pandemic is when there is a widespread outbreak of disease that has unpredictable effects.

According to Catherine Smallwood (infectious diseases expert at the World Health Organization's European headquarters in Copenhagen in Denmark), redefining coronavirus endemic is still "a way off." She stated earlier this month that there is still a lot of uncertainty and that the virus is constantly evolving.

Many countries will consider a disease endemic if it is not considered a public health emergency.


Most countries of wealth will make this decision based on the spread of the virus within their borders, and the possibility for large outbreaks. They will be able to stop outbreaks with the COVID-19 vaccines, medications and other common measures in rich countries long before global control is achieved.

Technically, the WHO doesn't declare pandemics. The highest level of alert is for a global emergency in health, which COVID-19 has been able to recognize since January 2020. Since then, the U.N. has convened an expert panel every three months to review the situation.

The WHO experts will likely declare COVID-19 not a global emergency. However, the criteria are not clearly defined.

"It's subjective because it's not about the number of cases. It's about severity, it's also about impact," Dr. Michael Ryan from WHO's emergency chief said.

Others have noted that COVID-19 being declared endemic is more of a political decision than a scientific question. It also speaks to the level of disease and death that national authorities and citizens are prepared to accept.


Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stated last week that declining COVID-19 death rates suggest it is time for European officials and European officials to consider whether the disease should become endemic. This would mean that Spanish officials wouldn't have to keep track of every COVID-19 case. However, people who are symptomatic would still be tested and treated. Although the proposal was discussed with EU officials, no decision has been made.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) issued guidance in October on how countries could transition to routine surveillance of COVID-19 following the acute phase. The agency recommended that countries integrate their coronavirus monitoring with other diseases, such as flu, and test a representative group of COVID-19 patients, rather than trying to test everyone with symptoms.


No. No. Malaria is a common disease in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that it causes more than 200,000,000 cases each year and 600,000.

Ryan stated, "Endemic by itself does not necessarily mean good." Ryan said, "Endemic does not mean it will end forever."

Officials from the Health Department warn that COVID-19, a respiratory virus similar to seasonal flu, can still be fatal.

Dr. Chris Woods, an infectious diseases expert at Duke University, stated that COVID "will still be with us" even after the pandemic is over. "The difference is that people won't die randomly from it and it will become routine so we can have better and more equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for everyone."

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