WHO says COVID-19 likely here to stay

If you are a business owner whose livelihood has been upended due to lockdown measures, chances are that, at first, you took solace in the fact that your loss would be contributing to eradicating COVID. As time has gone by, however, chances of eradicating the virus have gone down significantly.

During a press conference on Tuesday, the World Health Organization confirmed what most people have been suspecting for a while –– the COVID-19 virus might be here to stay.

“I think this virus is here to stay with us and it will evolve like influenza pandemic viruses, it will evolve to become one of the other viruses that affects us,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a press briefing.

Officials at the global health agency have previously said vaccines do not guarantee the world would eradicate Covid-19 like it has other viruses. Several leading health experts, including White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and Stephane Bancel, CEO of Covid vaccine maker Moderna, have warned that the world will have to live with Covid forever, much like influenza.

“People have said we’re going to eliminate or eradicate the virus,” Ryan said. “No we’re not, very, very unlikely.”

If the world had taken early steps to stop the spread of the virus, the situation today could have been very different, WHO officials said.

“We had a chance in the beginning of this pandemic,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said Tuesday. “This pandemic did not need to be this bad.”

It is hard to say, of course, whether the world would have ended the virus had we taken measures early. But Wuhan, which took some of the strictest measures and earlier than most places, has faced numerous resurgence in COVID cases, the most recent one being three weeks ago.

Furthermore, data from all around the world has shown that COVID-19 restrictions have had significantly little impact on COVID-19 outcomes. In fact, research shows those measures might have contributed to excess deaths. It is highly unlikely doing more or starting early would have changed COVID-19 results significantly.

As public policy researchers, throughout the duration of the pandemic, we have tried to warn of the dangers of putting too much emphasis on eradicating the virus while ignoring the costs associated with measures being taken.

Lockdowns and other social distancing measures imposed significant health, social and economic costs on Minnesotans while not greatly impacting COVID-19 outcomes, and have gone under very little scrutiny by lawmakers.

Indeed, it is quite possible lockdowns and social distancing orders prevented some deaths, but evidence shows that deaths from COVID-19 were concentrated in specific individuals who could have been better protected without imposing massive costs on the rest of the population.

To see the WHO conceding to the idea that the virus might be here to stay just goes to further cement the idea that the sacrifices Minnesotans have been forced to make throughout the pandemic have all been for nothing.