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The pandemic will end when society decides to resume normal life rather than waiting for COVID “dashboards” to register zero cases, said the authors of an article published Tuesday in The BMJ.
“Pandemic dashboards provide endless fuel for news coverage, ensuring the constant newsworthiness of the COVID-19 pandemic, even when the threat is low,” wrote Peter Doshi, Ph.D., The BMJ senior editor, and David Robertson, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Princeton University.
“In doing so, they might prolong the pandemic by curtailing a sense of closure or a return to pre-pandemic life,” the authors wrote.
A BMJ analysis of the past century showed previous pandemics including the Spanish flu faded away gradually as societies “ceased to be all consumed by the pandemic’s shocking metrics.”
In the following decades, people resumed normal routines even amid brief spikes in flu deaths that exceeded pandemic levels.
The BMJ’s analysis comes as global attention focuses on the Omicron COVID variant, which appears to be more transmissible but less deadly than earlier strains.
“While visual depictions of epidemics have existed for centuries, COVID-19 is the first one in which real-time dashboards have saturated and structured the public’s experience,” said Doshi and Robertson.
“Deactivating or disconnecting ourselves from the dashboards may be the single most powerful action towards ending the pandemic.”
As of Dec 13, there was one recorded death worldwide of a person who tested positive for Omicron, according to fact-checking site Snopes.com.
The South African doctor who first alerted the WHO to Omicron this week told UK media she was astonished at the “overreaction” of Britain and some other European nations to the variant.
Several countries imposed heavy travel restrictions on international flights, as well as imposing tighter rules on mask-wearing at home, fines and extended quarantines.
Meanwhile, the WHO urged caution.
“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu.
He also noted vaccines’ protection may be waning.
“Evolving evidence suggests a small decline in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease and death, and a decline in preventing mild disease or infection,” Tedros said.