Prediction Covid-19 pandemic over soon ‘premature’ - Baker

Kendall Hutt
Source: 1News

“The pandemic will come to an end in the next six to 12 months.”

Covid-19 virus (file picture).

That is what the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZGCP) claimed on Wednesday, saying a change of mindset was needed for how Covid-19 is dealt with in the future.

"That's not to say Covid-19 will disappear - it won't. However, we will learn to live with it in the same way we do with colds and flu," medical director Dr Bryan Betty said in a release.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month the "acute phase" of the pandemic could end this year if about 70 per cent of the world gets vaccinated by June or July.

READ MORE: Michael Baker: 2022 flu season may be ‘particularly tough’

Ghebreyesus also said if the world can end vaccine inequity, the pandemic will end.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker told 1News he thought it was "premature" to predict the pandemic will be over in the foreseeable future.

He said if the pinnacle of Covid-19's "maximum fitness" occurred the world could enter a period of calm where the virus could become like other infectious diseases such as the flu - a scenario "in the range of possibilities".

The University of Otago professor said the biggest single question was how the virus will behave in the future.

Baker said it was continuing to evolve as so much transmission is occurring across the globe, which means there will be more variants in the future.

"The virus will exploit every ecological niche it can."

Covid-19 would stay as a threat to humanity for the future, he said, and described the world as being in a sort of "arms race" with the virus.

He said he was therefore cautious about what was on the medium- to longer-term horizon.

However Baker did say "living with the virus on our terms" was possible with tools to dampen transmission and manage infections.

These tools - such as mask-wearing, restrictions and vaccinations - would be part of ongoing national conversation.

Professor Michael Baker.

In RNZCGP's release, Betty also said Omicron is "not Delta".

"As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we need to show that we can still manage what's going on with Covid, but we also need to mentally prepare for a shift towards living with, instead of fighting Covid-19, and focus on other health issues and illnesses that are waiting in the wings".

Betty’s "big concern" heading into the winter months is influenza. Baker and epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig share Betty's concern.

Kvalsvig said without quick action now, New Zealand could face a "challenging winter" with Covid-19 spreading and the return of more familiar infections such as flu and measles as the border reopens.

She said the situation is "highly controllable" with three main protections - good population levels of vaccination against Covid-19, flu and common childhood infections; minimising the airborne spread of infection by staying outdoors whenever possible; ventilation and mask-wearing; and paid sick leave.

"A key point here is that high indoor air quality and strong sick leave provisions protect against a huge array of infections and they protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated. This is going to be our way through the coming winter and beyond.

"We should never again accept high levels of sickness in the winter months. Instead, we need to integrate prevention of Covid-19 and other infections into a single cohesive plan that makes good use of the synergies in their control measures."

READ MORE: Expert calls for free N95 masks as retailers sell out

Kvalsvig also says the Government should make respirator masks freely available.

"The cost of providing masks for the New Zealand population will be negligible compared with the cost of sickness absenteeism and hospitalisations."

Baker said Covid-19 had understandably turned the focus and resources away from "other health problems we have to manage".

But there was a silver lining - the pandemic had shown how important primary care, vaccinations and the health service are.

Baker said "great lessons" could be taken in the pandemic to strengthen public health systems and focus on prevention and preparedness.