During a Question and Answer session organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said that the next variant of COVID will be more contagious than Omicron, CNBC reported.
The Omicron variant has been the cause of the rising number of infections around the world. While the variant appears to be less virulent than its previous variants, the sheer number of cases from the infection could overwhelm healthcare systems. Approximately 21 million cases were reported to the WHO last week, a record in itself, CNBC reported. The biggest increase of cases came from the Middle East followed by South East Asia, Mint reported.
Kerkhove was answering questions about the pandemic as to what it likely had in store for us next and when would it end. Kerkhove said that the next variant would have to overtake what is currently circulating, so it would need to be more fit in terms of transmissibility. However, how deadly the virus would get was the main question.
Kerkhove even warned against the theories that suggest that future variants would result in milder disease. Rather the variant could escape immunity provided by currently available vaccines. Pfizer has already begun trials of a vaccine aimed specifically at the Omicron variant.
She also stressed the unknown long-term effects of getting COVID-19 and warned against willfully exposing oneself to the virus. Pre-Omicron, one in ten infected individuals have developed Long COVID-19 and current data does not shed any light on whether Omicron has changed this, Mint reported.
Mike Ryan, the WHO's director of emergency programs, added that he expected the virus to evolve further before settling into a pattern of low-level transmission, with occasional epidemics, or become seasonal, something Bill Gates has also said on multiple occasions. However, the virus was unpredictable, Ryan added, and could throw up nasty surprises, and measures such as wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, would stop this new variant from causing more damage, CNBC reported.
While saying that COVID wasn't over yet, Kerkhove did offer a glimmer of hope that one wouldn't have to wear a mask or socially distance forever and the world would get out of this, but we were not there yet, Mint reported.