The United States is emerging from the “most acute phase” of the pandemic, according to President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, who predicts that the combination of vaccines, treatments and previous infections will soon make the coronavirus more manageable.
Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times that he hopes that all restrictions related to the health crisis will be lifted in the coming months, including the mandatory use of masks.
In his most upbeat comments on Covid’s trajectory since the emergence of the omicron variant, Fauci drew a scenario in which local health departments will drive the response to the virus, not the federal government.
The advisor said: “As we move out of the most acute Covid-19 pandemic phase, which we are certainly coming out of, these decisions will increasingly be made at the local level rather than being decided or ordered by the central government. There will also be more people making their own decisions about how they want to deal with the virus.”
Asked when the restrictions might end, he said he hoped it would be “soon” and agreed with the suggestion that it would likely be this year. But he warned that local health departments could temporarily readop measures if outbreaks are detected in communities.
Fauci’s comments have raised optimism among health officials in the developing world that the omicron variant could herald the end of the most damaging phase of the pandemic.
Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been one of the most cautious voices in the U.S. about the pandemic, and has often contradicted Donald Trump when he felt the then-president was downplaying the risks of the virus.
More than 900,000 people have died in the US from Covid-19. While the daily number of deaths remains close to record levels, new infections have begun to decline rapidly, following similar declines in countries such as South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Fauci did not echo the claim of some world leaders that the virus is becoming “endemic”. But he spoke of the possibility of reaching an “equilibrium” soon, where the government no longer has to pay as much attention to infection levels.
“There is no way to eradicate this virus,” he said. “But I hope we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and with protection gained from previous infections that Covid restrictions will soon be a thing of the past.”
He added that he doesn’t think all Americans will need regular vaccine boosters to keep the virus under control. “It depends on who you are. If you’re a healthy 30-year-old with no underlying conditions, you may only need a booster every four or five years.”
Fauci said his agency is planning for the next pandemic, focusing on monitoring viruses and families of viruses known to cause serious illness. Dealing with future outbreaks will require a combination of vaccines and therapies, he added.
But he countered criticism that public health officials put too much faith in vaccines to eliminate Covid. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have been testing therapeutic approaches,” he said, pointing to the development of remdesivir, a treatment that was “discovered in the first or second month” of the pandemic. “Today is one of five interventions that can keep patients out of the hospital.”