I use the term pandemic to refer to the extraordinary societal efforts over the past 2 years to respond to a new pathogen that have changed how individuals live their lives and how policy responses have developed in governments around the world. These efforts have saved countless lives globally. New SARS-CoV-2 variants will surely emerge and some may be more severe than omicron. Immunity, whether infection or vaccination derived, will wane, creating opportunities for continued SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Given seasonality, countries should expect increased potential transmission in winter months.
The impacts of future SARS-CoV-2 transmission on health, however, will be less because of broad previous exposure to the virus, regularly adapted vaccines to new antigens or variants, the advent of antivirals, and the knowledge that the vulnerable can protect themselves during future waves when needed by using high-quality masks and physical distancing. COVID-19 will become another recurrent disease that health systems and societies will have to manage. For example, the death toll from omicron seems to be similar in most countries to the level of a bad influenza season in northern hemisphere countries. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the worse influenza season during the past decade in 2017–18 caused about 52 000 influenza deaths with a likely peak of more than 1500 deaths per day.11 The era of extraordinary measures by government and societies to control SARS-CoV-2 transmission will be over. After the omicron wave, COVID-19 will return but the pandemic will not.