COVID-19 may never go away, a global health chief has warned, saying it was impossible to predict when the pandemic might be controlled.
Without a vaccine, it could take years for the population to build up sufficient levels of immunity to the disease, said Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of health emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This virus may never go away,” said Dr Ryan on Thursday.
“There is a long way to go before there is going to be any bells unrung in this response. We need to be clear about that.”
The whole world is trying to adapt to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic, with countries “trying to find a path out and a path towards a new normal,” Dr Ryan said, but he added that it might be a while before life goes back to normal.
“We’re going to be on that path for a long, long time,” he said. “Even a small recurrence of disease can cause a need for a serious response in terms of the public health response.”
The coronavirus may become “just another endemic virus in our communities”, the WHO official added, noting that other previously novel diseases such as HIV have never disappeared, but that effective treatments have been developed to allow people to live with the disease.
There are now 150 development projects and clinical trials researching a COVID-19 vaccine worldwide.
In a press briefing on Thursday, the European Medicines Agency predicted that there could be licensed drugs to treat coronavirus in the next few months and that a vaccine might even be approved in early 2021, in a “best-case scenario.”