Expert warns COVID-19 will be around for a while, urges vaccination to protect hospitals against BA.5 variant

A new COVID-19 Omicron variant is on the rise, and an expert warns the virus will be around for a while to come.

The variant BA.5 is easier to catch, better at evading immunity, and is set to take over BA.2 to become the most-dominant variant.

With another COVID-19 wave on the horizon, The Project conducted a poll and asked people when they thought life would return to normal. Eleven percent feel COVID-19's done and dusted, but the biggest group at 38 percent said they see no end to the pandemic.

But it might not be as bad as it sounds.

"It's very uncommon for diseases to be completely eradicated, where it completely disappears," said computational biologist Dr David Welch.

"There are a lot of vaccines under development which target a different part of coronavirus, so that's something to look forward to."

But for the moment one thing is clear - the pandemic is definitely not over yet. 

Epidemiologist Tony Blakely told The Project COVID-19 will be here for a while.

"Remember influenza in 1918, we still get influenza every year. This is a coronavirus, it could keep coming up every year. We don't want it to keep doing this every year [going up and down]," he said.

"The thing we've got on our side is some nice, new vaccines coming through that might make it more like a low virulence influenza in the future. But we've got to expect this to keep rolling on for months, if not years, yet."

On the 11 percent of people polled who think COVID-19's gone away, Blakely said it isn't surprising that people want the virus to go. But he warns that the virus is back for winter.

"BA.4 and BA.5 are about 15 to 20 percent more infectious than BA.2 - the current version of Omicron," he said.

"So it won't displace Delta as quickly as the first Omicron, but it will displace, we will see an extra surge, and unfortunately, in the next four to eight weeks, we're going to see a lot of pressure on hospitals with influenza as well. That means we've got to live with this damn thing."

Tony Blakely.
Tony Blakely. Photo credit: The Project

Blakely expects we will get to a point where masks will have to be worn in a lot more places and people who haven't had their booster dose will be strongly encouraged to get it.

On the efficacy of vaccines against these new, more evasive variants, Blakely said getting vaccinated still reduces your chances of getting infected - "but it's nowhere near perfect".

"But it still gives you that extra boost against hospitalisation and death. So it helps protect the hospitals," he said.

"Moderna have got a new vaccine coming out which covers the original Wuhan [strain], plus developed for BA.1, and looks like it's quite good for BA.4 and BA.5.

"I'm expecting that to hit Australia and New Zealand in the next six to eight weeks."

Watch Blakely's full interview above.