Virus expert offers hope for New Year

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Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of Norway’s state health directorate has been a reassuring voice for millions of Norwegians throughout the Corona crisis. He now thinks 2022 will be a better year, even though infection prevention measures will probably be needed throughout the winter.

Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad, assistant director of Norway’s state health directorate, in a well-known pose from one of the many press conferences he’s taken part in at the Health Ministry. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

“There will come a time when the pandemic will be over, when the virus only shows up now and then,” Nakstad told newspaper Dagsavisen on New Year’s Eve. “I don’t think there will be any specific date, it will be more of a phased-in transition.” Only after that, he said, will he and others be able to determine a final wave of infection.

“I can say one thing, though,” Nakstad added. “2022 can be a better year than 2021, globally speaking, because steadily more people will be offered vaccine, and resistance to the virus will be strengthened.” That, he believes, can lead to less infection spreading and fewer mutations in the year ahead.

Disappointed in 2021
Most everyone thought at this time last year that 2021 would be much better than it turned out to be. Nakstad acknowledged that there was lots of disappointment late this autumn when infection started spreading quickly again with the Omicron variant, leading to another round of restrictions that have left Norway in “lockdown light” again during the Christmas and New Year holidays. The restrictions that have closed bars and restaurants and forced return to the home office, for example, are due to continue until at least January 14.

There was also disappointment when even those who were fully vaccinated ended up being infected by Omicron. Now, however, with the government vowing third booster shots for all adult Norwegians by the end of February and increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated worldwide, Nakstad thinks there won’t be so many new variants like Omicron and Delta popping up.

“If fewer people are infected, there can be fewer mutations,” Nakstad said. “Corona has kept changing through the entire pandemic, even though only the biggest changes have been branded with a new Greek letter. Omicron is changing itself, too.”

Resistance to the virus will grow
“But the effect of virus resistance in the world will get greater and greater,” Nakstad said. “Global immunity will strengthen more than the virus will change in the long run.”

Asked whether the battle against the pandemic can finally be won, Nakstad said “yes. In all earlier pandemics the biggest waves of infection have gone away after a few years, even though the virus itself never really goes away.”

He said it remained “very uncertain” how many infection waves of Omicron will come. “No one has a good answer for that,” he said, “but time is on our side. The virus will steadily meet more resistance.”

Nakstad said he thinks that in Norway, “life will normalize a lot in late winter and spring. We just have to get through the winter first.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund