Is The Covid-19 Pandemic Over?

The complex answer to a seemingly simple question

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd


Pictured: Littering. Throw your masks away! Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s 2022, nearly three years since the first cases of an unknown coronavirus were detected in Wuhan, China, and there’s a question on everyone’s mind: is the pandemic over? If not, when will it be done for good?

The question seems simple enough. It is anything but.

Stock photo results for “complex” are either roads or wires, apparently. Photo by Bofu Shaw on Unsplash

As with many things during Covid-19, the question of when the pandemic will be over, or if it already is, is almost impossible to give a single answer to, because like many things in epidemiology it’s all about definitions. If we define pandemic one way, maybe it’s already over and done, but using other interpretations it will probably continue on forever.

Sound like a headache to you? Imagine being an epidemiologist full time.

Defining Pandemics

There are many ways to define a pandemic, but they tend to fall into two main categories — scientific or social. The first type of definition is by far the simplest one, because it is fairly strict and easy to understand. The most common way of putting it is from a textbook called A Dictionary of Epidemiology which is currently on its fifth edition, and reads:

“an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”

That’s uncontroversial in the infectious diseases epidemiology world, which makes the question of whether the Covid-19 pandemic is over scientifically seem quite simple: no. There are ongoing global epidemics of the disease, crossing international boundaries, affecting millions. A simple reading would say that the pandemic is not over, and because of ongoing infections probably never will be.

Searching stock photos for “simple”, on the other hand, seems to just give me random objects on a pastel or neutral background. Humans are weird. Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Does that mean that large ongoing outbreaks of disease such as HIV or tuberculosis are pandemics? Well…yes. Despite these infections largely being…