SARS-2 isn't doing much of anything right now.
And it is highly uncertain, whether it will ever do much of anything ever again.
This chart is from GrippeWeb, a project of the Robert Koch Institut to track rates of acute respiratory infections in Germany. They base their numbers on volunteer surveys, to provide data that are totally independent of the medical diagnostic apparatus. Right now, they estimate that 5.3 % of everyone in Germany has some kind of respiratory infection.
That sounds like a lot, but it’s in line with pre-pandemic infection rates. More than that, you can see here what a complete nothingburger the entire Omicron wave has been. Despite all the screeching headlines, Germans spent the latest SARS-2 wave on balance healthier than in the pre-pandemic era. If it weren’t for all the pointless quarantining, nobody would’ve noticed that anything was amiss.
Now consider a second piece of influenza surveillance data, the numbers reported by the German National Reference Centre:
Participating clinics take respiratory samples from sick patients, and these samples are then tested for influenza, RSV, rhinovirus, human metapneumovirus, parainfluenza, SARS-2 and the other human coronaviruses. For most of the weeks since January, Corona (orange) has been the single most common virus in the Reference Centre samples. Despite adding this totally new pathogen to our small repertoire of pervasive respiratory viruses, however, the overall rates of respiratory illness remained in line with that from prior years. We have an extra virus, but we don’t have more sick people1.
Many have reacted to this towering edifice of nothing, by talking about Corona in the future tense.
The Lauterbachs of the world cast their gaze to the fall in grim hopes of new, killer variants that will revive the panic that brought them to prominence. A parallel tendency has emerged in dissident circles, where some have begun issuing their own dire predictions for the future, especially as to the fate of the vaccinated.
I understand why this is happening. Corona has dominated the attention of the world for two years, and there is a lot of momentum behind it – particularly for people like myself, who have built followings writing about the science and the politics of it all. My subscriber list has already started to shrink, because I am not the only one who senses that we are at a crucial moment, and that Corona as we have known it to this point is over. While I still maintain my ambitions of writing for you full-time, I’d rather see my readership dwindle to zero, than endure this malicious and dangerous virus circus a moment longer than necessary. The pandemicists are responsible for releasing a lot of free-floating Corona anxiety; my gentle (if urgent) suggestion, is to avoid leaning into it.
Our primary obligations must be to the truth, and right now, the truth is this: The vaccinated suffer some degree of immune imprinting, and Omicron replicates preferentially in their lungs. That is not great, but we’re not seeing higher levels of death, hospitalisation or sickness right now. Corona has become a bad cold, and the default assumption must be that it stays that way. We don’t lose sleep over the possibility that some terrifying new hCoV-OC43 variant will emerge to bring back the mortality of 1889. The murky laboratory origins of SARS-2, and the limited evidence of tinkering that its genome bears, aren’t enough to support eternal predictions of death and doom.
You could be forgiven for wondering whether there isn’t some constraint on the overall rate of infection, such that new viruses are forced to compete with old viruses for the same very limited pool of susceptible airways, while total infections remain firmly capped.