The World Health Organization’s announcement on Friday that the coronavirus emergency is “over” marked the end of a three-year journey that saw the world transformed by a pandemic that killed at least 7 million people and raised many assumptions about what life would look like. XXI century.
This unwelcome journey began on January 30, 2020, when Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, announced that the novel coronavirus It was a threat serious enough to merit a worldwide public health emergency.
At the time, there were 170 confirmed deaths in China, where the virus is It originated sometime in late 2019But Tedros said he expected things to get worse.
“All countries should be ready to contain it,” he said.
The virus swept from China to Iran to Italy. The United States prepared for impact, hoping to somehow avert the blow. Twenty-one people on the Grand Princess cruise ship fell ill. Trump said he was glad the passengers would remain quarantined off the coast of Northern California.
“I like the numbers to be where they are,” he said during a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta on March 7. “I don’t need to double the numbers because of one ship.”
But the virus has been relentless, thriving in a globalized world of ease of travel, dotted with crowded cities criss-crossed by commercial flight routes. If disease is a metaphor, then the coronavirus was a great fit for a hot, crowded planet.
On March 11, Tedros declared the coronavirus a pandemic. United State He went into lockdown. Europe followed suit, and all seeming human civilization came to a halt. The big cities emptied, the rich fled to their homes, and the tourists went. The planes sat empty. Restaurants passed takeout orders through plastic screens. People sterilized and scrubbed. Hand washing videos went viral.
At the time, the Trump administration implemented what it called “15 days slow spread” strategy. Health experts have assured the public that the infection rate curve will be flattened. Over time, herd immunity will prevail.
After several weeks of taking the virus seriously, Trump is getting impatient. He predicted that the epidemic would be over and over by Easter. Governors in some Republican states have rushed to reopen restaurants and other establishments.
It will be three years of masks, swabs and shots before the global coronavirus stops. The availability of vaccines, along with the protection gained by previous infections, has given the virus fewer opportunities to spread.
Much of the country remained guarded well into 2021, especially in Democratic-controlled states and cities. But then, their patience also ran out, especially after the widespread availability of vaccines, which greatly reduced the risk of death and serious illness. And just as the surprise Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election helped make clear, discontent with pandemic restrictions could take a heavy political toll.
After the worst of Omicron’s wave passed in January 2022, restrictions gradually eased, never to return in most places. Others have been challenged in court, as has the Biden administration Hiding travelers and a corporate vaccine mandate. The “we’re in this together” spirit of late 2020 has dissipated, revealing a nation as deeply polarized as ever.
However, when Tedros briefed the media on Friday, largely acknowledging what had become apparent: “With great hope,” he declared, “I declare COVID-19 closed as a global health emergency,” adding that “the time has come to move on.” to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His announcement was symbolic. Exactly when a virus becomes endemic, and settles into a predictable pattern, is a topic of epidemiological debate that Tedros has not attempted to resolve. He noted that the virus continues to kill and infect thousands of people every day around the world. “This virus is here to stay. It’s still deadly and it’s still changing,” Tedros said.
Most people now seem willing to live with this reality. Even China, long the most cautious of countries, set aside its onerous “zero COVID” policy after public frustration with continued lockdowns and testing exploded into public protests late last year.
In the United States, public health and national emergencies are also coming to an end. Vaccination requirements for federal workers and travelers It will fall next week. President Biden now travels frequently and hosts large gatherings at the White House, where the wearing of masks has become increasingly rare.
Friday, CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyOften criticized by Republicans for her unwavering support for vaccines and masks, she announced she was stepping down from the agency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus tracking dashboard is also being scaled back, now that most people don’t check infection rates before making weekend plans.
However, many Americans remain cautious, disguising themselves even when outside, continuing to get tested at the slightest sign of illness and avoiding large indoor gatherings. Although they’re in a diminishing minority, they believe Americans easily abandoned the vulnerable — the elderly, people with compromised immune systems — because they wanted to crowd restaurants and sports arenas again.
The end of the WHO emergency may embolden those who say any vestiges of the pandemic should be tossed out — in many institutions, for example, largely useless plastic screens remain in place.
The underlying desire to return to the world as it was in 2019, before anyone even thought to stockpile KN-95 face masks, continues.
However, this world is gone.