As a virus-weary world limps through the third year of the outbreak, experts are sending out a warning signal: Don’t expect omicron to be the last variant we have to contend with — and don’t let your guard down yet.

In the midst of a vast wave of milder infections, countries around the world are dialing back restrictions and softening their messaging. Many people are starting to assume they’ve had their run-in with Covid-19 and that the pandemic is tailing off.

That’s not necessarily the case.

The crisis isn’t over until it’s over everywhere. The effects will continue to reverberate through wealthier nations — disrupting supply chains, travel plans and health care — as the coronavirus largely dogs under-vaccinated developing countries over the coming months.

Before any of that, the world has to get past the current wave. Omicron may appear to cause less severe disease than previous strains, but it is wildly infectious, pushing new case counts to once unimaginable records. Meanwhile, evidence is emerging that the variant may not be as innocuous as early data suggest.

There’s also no guarantee that the next mutation — and there will be more — won’t be an offshoot of a more dangerous variant such as delta. And your risk of catching Covid more than once is real.

A medical worker waits for antigen test results at the Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border in December. Photographer: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg
“The virus keeps raising that bar for us every few months,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine. “When we were celebrating the amazing effectiveness of booster shots against the delta variant, the bar was already being raised by omicron.”

“It seems like we are constantly trying to catch up with the virus,” she said.

It’s sobering for a world that’s been trying to move on from the virus with a new intensity in recent months. But the outlook isn’t all gloom. Anti-viral medicines are hitting the market, vaccines are more readily available and tests that can be self-administered in minutes are now easy and cheap to obtain in many places.

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