Ever since governments decided to stop controlling the virus, many politicians, broadcasters and commentators have repeatedly implied the pandemic has ended. Ironically, this attempt to return to normality without preventing infections has actually been prolonging the pandemic. By normalizing the spread of disease, failing to warn the public on the true risks, and misleading them about how to keep safe, they have helped to ensure the pandemic remains an ongoing threat. News broadcasts regularly refer to the pandemic in the past tense, using phrases like “since covid” or “post pandemic”, giving the impression the threat has passed. While those with vested interests may be misleading intentionally, others are simply referring to the time when we used to care for others and prevent disease - now known as “restrictions”. Some have gone as far as unilaterally declaring it over. This is not how pandemics work. 

The pandemic can only be over when the infectious disease is no longer spreading all over the world at the same time. 

The latest claim that the pandemic is over came from a predictable misunderstanding of an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In a particularly exquisite example of mixed messaging, the WHO announced the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), while clarifying that this “does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat”. The announcement went on to say that thousands are fighting for their lives in hospitals, and that the virus is here to stay and still killing. They even specifically warned against letting our guard down. The WHO clearly states on their website, in the Emergencies section, that “This does not mean the pandemic itself is over”.

The announcement explains that since the disease is now “established and ongoing” it no longer fits the definition of a PHEIC, as it is no longer “unusual or unexpected”. Indeed, many countries have been behaving as if the pandemic is over for some time, in an attempt to live with covid without actually taking steps to contain it.

While the WHO are now advising people to prevent infection, it will take time to undo the previous messaging. Sadly many of those convinced the pandemic is over will likely find themselves or their loved ones infected should they stop taking precautions.

In order to actually end the pandemic, we would need to reduce transmission using the methods that work, rather than relying on current vaccines alone which do not stop the spread.