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Emerging from the COVID pandemic, again

For much of the world, 2022 marked the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shift was palpable after several failed re-opening attempts in many countries. The arrival of the Omicron variant in late 2021, with its ability to re-infect people and the record spike in COVID cases that followed, initially stoked scientists' worst fears and confounded predictions for a return to normalcy.

Yet in the ensuing months, a more stable scenario played out. Emerging variations of the coronavirus so far remain closely related to Omicron, without radically altering its impact.

Vaccination is largely protective against severe disease and death for many people, and a new generation of booster shots targeting Omicron variants was introduced. The medical community also has an improved arsenal of treatments for those who fall ill.

"It's almost as though the virus has somehow gotten stuck in this evolutionary valley," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Fortunately, no dramatically different variant has emerged."

As a result, in many places, masks came off, schools resumed in-person classes, and holiday travel and large celebrations became possible once again. "The pandemic is over," U.S. President Joe Biden said in September, referring to the changing behavior of Americans.

Global health officials cautioned the public against letting its guard down while acknowledging a change in outlook nearly three years after the virus was first detected. The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare an end to the COVID public health emergency introduced in January 2020.