Paul Hunter

Will Covid turn into the common cold?

Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Many experts and modellers thought that the 19 July reopening would be a disaster. So far, that has not been the case. Daily case numbers actually started falling within days after 19 July, although that was far too soon to have been caused by anything to do with ‘freedom day’. The question now is how the pandemic will play out for the rest of this year and the next? In trying to understand this, we need to understand some important things about the biology of coronaviruses and their interaction with their hosts: us.

Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid, is not going away. Like other coronaviruses, it will likely infect us all repeatedly throughout the rest of our lives, probably about once every five years. Vaccines will blunt its path, but will protect less against infection over time (while still protecting against hospitalisation and death). Herd immunity will never happen but we will get to a manageable balance between immunity and infections.

There are reasonable grounds to believe that the Delta variant may be the virus’s end point

Covid will be a different disease. Within a few years, the vast majority of infections will be asymptomatic or mild nose and throat illnesses. In other words, like the other coronaviruses, it will simply become another cause of the common cold. Indeed, the Zoe Covid Symptom Study has shown that symptoms are already becoming more familiar: the Delta variant usually manifests as a sore throat and runny nose.

The other coronaviruses are seasonal and tend to peak in the winter. We can expect this virus to do the same. After this year, we will see winter surges for years and decades to come, but will see fewer and fewer deaths. Later this year, the third vaccines that will be offered to the vulnerable, along with flu jabs, will be essential to reducing illness and protecting the NHS.

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