An engineer based in Silicon Valley, Tomas Pueyo, became famous early in the pandemic after publishing an article in which he encouraged politicians to take drastic measures against covid-19. Despite having little to no background in epidemiology, the article was read over 40 million times; the daunting 6,000-word document proved a big hit.
Now, Pueyo has published a new entry in which he talks about how these same politicians must navigate the end of the pandemic.
His article is supported by discussions coming out of the World health Organization (WHO) and other scientists, but what makes him so sure that the end is near?
What is Pueyo's central argument?
In this entry, the engineer has argued that the wave produced by the latest strain of the virus is likely to "be the last one we should be careful about." In addition, he mentioned that between the variant itself, the vaccines and the specific drugs against the virus, the risk of suffering from covid-19 is considerably reduced, touting figures of up to 99.9 percent reduced fatality rates. Figures in Catalonia, Spain show chances of being hospitalized with covid-19 as a vaccinated person is 10 tens lower compared to someone who is unvaccinated. Rates of death are thus even greater reduced
Another strand of his argument for this is based upon what lockdowns are supposed to achieve.
All these measures have been completed, or mostly, in Europe and the US. Keeping health systems for collapsing is one of the most important reasons for lockdowns, but the Omicron wave data shows that this isn't happening. With the US and Western Europe at or just over their peak of the Omicron wave, there has been no collapse. For example, the US has had a fairly stable number of ICU beds unoccupied for the Omicron wave, between 18 and 20 percent.
While this amount seems low, it is consistent with the course of the pandemic, where the highest percentage of occupied beds has been barely over 30 percent on a handful of occasions. This proves how resistance has built up against covid-19 since the start of the pandemic; the highest amount of cases yet are being reported, but hospitals as a whole are no closer to being overwhelmed than at any stage of the pandemic. Vaccines are working and the new variant is weaker.
It is no secret lockdowns are unsustainable. They cannot happen in perpetuity, and nor do governments want that to be the case. The US economy has been fighting against unemployment and inflation, and data shows they can tackle these problems without major risk of putting hospitals in real danger.
"In a month or so"
Pueyo also set a date for the possible end of the pandemic. On this scenario, he also mentioned when we should end the current pandemic in "probably in a month or so". He also mentioned that this will occur "except for very unlikely information", such as the possible appearance of new variants of the coronavirus in addition to Omicron.
Adolfo García Sastre, amicrobiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, used similar words in an interview with 'Antena 3'. Although, his forecast on the date of the end of the pandemic was different."It is possible that, after Omicron, the pandemic is over. We will not know until the end of the year," he said.
So will Pueyo be right?
A scenario that many epidemiologists and experts already see close is the end of the sixth wave caused by the Omicron variant, and in which they mention the possibility that the coronavirus will end up as an endemic disease. In fact, the WHO considered it "plausible" that the pandemic will end in Europe once the wave has passed. This is the case of the German Christian Drosten, who said that covid-19 "will become endemic" although he also mentioned the importance of the role that vaccines play in this scenario.
Pueyo agrees with this, but he stresses the importance of vaccines and advanced treatment in driving mortality rates down. Discussions about endemicity does not mean covid-19 will be over. The unpredictable nature of viruses mean risks will remain. If vaccine take up is low in a country, then an endemic still has the capacity to rip through a population. The UK government talks about people needing to "live with the virus," which they have interpreted to mean no restrictions are necessary, but future unforeseen developments could once again put the population at risk.
As it has been throughout the pandemic, a balance must be struck between public health and general life. Where the balance is will fluctuate throughout the year, but for many it could be the final year of the covid-19 pandemic.