Abstract for: Quantifying the COVID-19 Endgame: Is a New Normal within Reach?
Eradication of COVID-19 is out of reach. People are eager to transition to a new normal where they can leave behind lock-downs and restrictions yet face a tolerable burden of disease and personal risk. Are we close to such new normal? The answer depends on both biological factors (e.g. the strength and duration of immunity acquired from prior infection and the transmissibility and virulence of new variants) and behavioral factors (e.g. how individuals and governments assess and respond to the risks, and how responsiveness to risk can be eroded by “pandemic fatigue”). Using a detailed model of the COVID-19 pandemic spanning 93 countries we project the likely course of COVID-19 as these biological and behavioral factors interact. We find that vaccines, prior infections, improved treatment, and the milder Omicron variant have already reduced infection fatality rates (IFR) by an order of magnitude compared to the first year of the pandemic. However, the increased transmissibility of Omicron, combined with the decay of immunity, leads to repeated episodes of reinfections and high infection rates, leading, in most nations, to reimposition of various non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). The new normal may entail repeated waves, as seen in the first two years of the pandemic.