Should we treat Covid like the flu? Europe is slowly starting to think so

People are walking in London.

Despite strong warnings from global health officials that the flu is far from over, there are growing calls in Europe for Covid-19 to be treated as an endemic illness.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Snchez is the latest European leader to suggest that it's time to re-examine Covid. He called on the EU to discuss the possibility of treating the virus as an endemic illness.

Snchez said in a radio interview that the situation is not what it was a year ago.

He said that they have to evaluate the evolution of Covid to an endemic illness. It was time to open the debate about a gradual re-appraisal of the Pandemic at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level.

The comments mark a departure from other leaders on the continent, however, with most of them focused on the immediate challenge of tackling alarming numbers of Covid cases caused by the omicron variant, which is highly infectious but widely appearing to cause less severe illness more akin to a cold.

France has reported over 300,000 new cases in the last few days and Germany has reported 80,430 new infections in one day.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British public that they would have to live with the virus last year.

The British government has had to hold its nerve in recent weeks by not introducing new restrictions on the public, despite what Johnson described as a "tidal wave" of cases caused by omicron.

The U.K.'s Education Secretary said that the country was on the road to endemic as the government said it could reduce the period of self-isolation for people who test positive for Covid from seven days to five.

Over 5 million deaths have been caused by Covid since it first appeared in China in late 2019, and many epidemiologists believe that it will become an endemic disease eventually.

That means that there will be low to moderate levels of Covid in any given population in the future, but that the virus should not be causing excessive levels of infection or spreading from country to country, which would make it a Pandemic again.

The World Health Organization warns that it is too soon to consider Covid an endemic disease. It warned Tuesday that the global outbreak is far from being endemic as it estimated that more than half of the people in Europe and Central Asia could be exposed to Covid in the next six to eight weeks.

Dr. Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, said it was too early to say the world was moving into an endemic phase of Covid.

Smallwood said that we are still a way off in terms of endemicity.

She said that epidemic should be based on stable circulation of the virus at predictable levels and waves of transmission.

We are not at the point of being able to call it endemic, we still have a lot of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quickly and posing new challenges, so we are certainly not at that point. It might become endemic in the future, but it's difficult to pin that down at the moment.

Smallwood noted that a key to moving to such a scenario would be widespread vaccine coverage, but the conditions for endemicity were not being met.

Marco Cavaleri, head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency, the EU's drug regulator, said Tuesday that "nobody knows when exactly we'll be at the end of the tunnel."

The virus is still behaving as a Pandemic despite the fact that we are moving towards it becoming more endemic.

With the increase of immunity in the population, and with omicron, we will be moving fast towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity.

There is patchy vaccine around the world. Poorer countries are still rolling out their initial doses of vaccines that have been proven to reduce the risk of serious infections, even though rich countries are rolling out booster shots and discussing the possibility of fourth Covid jabs.

According to Our World in Data, 59.2% of the world's population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, but only 8.9% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

Scientists at the WHO and elsewhere warn that continual boosters are not a viable strategy.

Cavaleri said that vaccinations within short intervals will not represent a sustainable long-term strategy.

If we give boosters every four months, we will end up having problems with immune response, so we should be careful with not overloading the immune system with repeated immunizations.

There is a risk of fatigue in the population with continuous administration of boosters. Cavaleri said that if you want to move towards a scenario of endemicity, boosters should be timed to be given with flu vaccines.

He said that they would have to think about how to transition from the current setting to a more endemic one.