We Won't Need COVID Restrictions by This Date, WHO Says

The global health agency had an "optimistic message" about the coming months.

A six-week sustained decrease in daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. has many experts optimistic that we've turned a major corner in the pandemic. While experts say wearing masks and social distancing is still key, according to a representative from the World Health Organization (WHO), it may not be much longer until we no longer need COVID restrictions. Read on to see when the organization says we'll be able to return to normal, and to see what you can do post-vaccination, check out Dr. Fauci Just Confirmed You Can Do This After Getting Vaccinated.

WHO says restrictions will likely be unnecessary by early 2022.

A young woman removing her face mask while standing outdoors.
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While speaking with Danish state news service DR on Feb. 21, Hans Kluge, MD, WHO's regional director for Europe, said he believed that COVID-19 would continue to be a major issue throughout the rest of this year. But, he said, outbreaks will be much easier to handle than they were in 2020 and would continue to lessen in severity, Turkish state news service Anadolu Agency reported. He went on to predict that because of this, the public health precautions that are currently in place could likely be safely removed by early 2022.

"There will continue to be a virus, but I don't think restrictions will be needed," Kluge said. "This is an optimistic message." And for Fauci's prediction on one restriction in particular, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said Exactly When We Won't Need Masks Anymore.

New mutations could pose a problem, but are likely manageable thanks to vaccines.

A senior man wearing a face mask receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a health care worker
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Kluge remained cautiously optimistic, saying that he believed the worst surges were behind us, thanks largely to the new treatments and knowledge that we have to counter any new outbreaks. Still, he warned that the vaccination process had to be seen through, citing that the next major issue would likely arise when vaccinated people first began to mingle with those who have not been immunized.

The director also pointed out that while highly contagious new variants of the virus could put a strain on some countries and should still be monitored, he was confident that existing vaccines would still be able to provide the protection needed to prevent severe illness. And for more on how prevalent cases are where you live, find out How Bad the COVID Outbreak Still Is in Your State.

Other experts have recently made even more optimistic predictions.

A group of young friends laughing and enjoying beers at a pub while not wearing face masks.
iStock

While WHO may have offered an optimistic outlook on the coming months, some others have recently argued that the timeline might be drastically shorter. In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 18, Marty Makary, MD, a surgeon and a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, argued that "there is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection," predicting that "at the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life."

However, Makary's argument that widespread natural immunity would quickly usher in a return to normality was quick to stir controversy. "I'm not so sure that this is herd immunity that we're talking about," White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, said of the op-ed during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on Feb. 21. He then went on to explain that the drop in cases means we're likely "seeing the natural peaking and coming down" from a holiday-celebration-fueled surge. And for more COVID news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Other experts have cautioned we may never reach herd immunity.

woman in winter clothing with face mask on a bus looking at her phone
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Despite WHO's prediction, other experts share the outlook that the virus itself will likely never truly disappear. During an appearance on CBS's Face the NationScott Gottlieb, MD, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, said, "I don't really think we're ever going to reach true herd immunity," cautioning that "this isn't going to be like measles or smallpox where it just sort of goes away. COVID is going to continue to circulate at a low level."

This warning has also been previously issued by other experts in the face of highly contagious mutated versions of the virus. "There are serious concerns that with the spread of new COVID-19 variants, achieving herd immunity necessary to end the pandemic may be difficult if not impossible," Christopher Murray, MD, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, said in a statement released on Feb. 4. "While it's possible to reach herd immunity by next winter, it seems increasingly unlikely we will do so, and in light of that we all need to shift our expectations." And for more on when another spike in cases might arrive, check out This Is Exactly When We'll See the Next COVID Surge, Experts Warn.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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