It’s official that all legal Covid-19 restrictions have gone! The Sultanate of Oman too joined on Sunday among the last group of countries with zero Covid-19 restrictions. The Supreme Committee on Covid-19 said all precautionary measures at all places and outlets were lifted as figures show that the virus has gradually declined.
But the announcement came with a note of caution by not declaring that the country’s health crisis is officially over. On the other hand it urged citizens and residents to isolate if they experience symptoms of Covid-19 and to take a booster shot if they hadn't already and continue with precautions.
Yet the decision, like in many countries of the world, paves way for people to come out fully of two dramatic years plagued with the lethal pandemic outcome like shock, anxiety, chaos, outrage, fatigue and the financial chaos which upended our daily lives.
So this is the kind of a transition that all people have been impatiently waiting and wishing for since the decrease in the number of infection cases, especially after the latest Omicron started waning. Now people can go on holidays to any destination or even for a shopping trip or anything of the like without the traumatic test results, vaccine certificate or other Covid paperwork!
Covid-19 or its Omicron variant, according to reports, has now become pervasive throughout most countries, and population immunity is at such levels that the risk of hospitalisation or death has dramatically reduced, especially for vaccinated people.
Now people started walking freely, most of them even without masks, indicating that the pandemic is winding down, if not over.
But still what worries is that the transition was very often hijacked by the emergence of new and increasingly contagious virus variants and the subsequent re-establishment of lockdown or other precautionary measures.
According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Head of the World Health Organization, it is not time yet for any country to lower its guard despite the fact that there has been a significant decline in the Covid-19 infection cases and deaths.
Although in many countries all restrictions have been lifted and life looks much like it did before the pandemic, reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, he informed health ministers from different countries on Sunday last.
“This virus has surprised us at every turn — a storm that has torn through communities again and again, and we still can’t predict its path, or its intensity”, he adds.
So the pandemic is not over? “No, it’s most certainly not over. It’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere...”, he told the ministers. So the question now is when we can say that the pandemic is over!
According to experts, the Covid-causing virus, Sars-CoV-2, is likely to always circulate at some level, though not all, the pandemic’s acute phase is subsiding.
“I believe that pandemics end partially because humans declare them at an end'', says Marion Dorsey, an associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, who studies past pandemics, was quoted in the 'American Scientific' journal.
Of course, she notes, there is an epidemiological component, characterised by the point at which a disease still circulates but is no longer causing major peaks in severe illness or death.
This is sometimes referred to as the transition from a pandemic disease to an endemic one. But for practical purposes, the question of when this transition occurs largely comes down to human behaviour.
John M Barry, Author and historian, who wrote one of the most definitive chronicles of the 1918 pandemic — The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History — has come to a similar conclusion, says the journal.
A pandemic ends “when people stop paying attention to it'', he says. The rest of the matter is a combination of the virus’s virulence, and the availability of vaccines and therapeutics. “We’re almost at that point” with Covid, Barry says. After all, all pandemics need to end!