With Covid-19 vaccines now being administered across the world, hopes are growing that life may soon be able to return to normal – but one expert has made a worrying prediction.
Countries around the world are rushing to vaccinate their citizens, with New Zealand just weeks into its own rollout with a range of vaccines.
Swift production of effective vaccines and some countries, including New Zealand and Australia, showing promising signs of suppressing the virus has led many to believe that a sense of normalcy is returning after more than a year of chaos.
However, one expert has warned the world will still be experiencing major impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic into 2022 and beyond, describing this as a "fragile moment in modern world history".
Professor of international health at the Burnet Institute, Michael Toole, said factors like when each country will finish their vaccination rollout, letting transmission go unchecked and new variants will all combine to make it unlikely that much normalcy will have returned by this time next year.
But, he pointed out, things could be different if the world worked together and countries helped each other more.
Professor Toole said it is becoming "increasingly clear" that there will be no "mission accomplished" moment for when the world finally declares Covid-19 defeated.
"We are at a crossroads with two end games," he wrote in The Conversation.
Professor Toole said in the most likely scenario, rich countries will be able to return to some sense of normality, with business and schools reopening and international travel bubbles set up between low transmission countries.
"This might be between Singapore and Taiwan, between Australia and Vietnam, and maybe between all four, and more countries," he said.
However, for low and middle socio-economic countries, life will continue to be very different – and that could impact the rest of the world.
He said there may be a reduction in severe cases, but these countries' recovery will be dependent on "generous and sustained aid" from wealthier nations.
"The second scenario, which sadly is unlikely to occur, is unprecedented global co-operation with a focus on science and solidarity to halt transmission everywhere," he said.
While it is likely that most high-income countries will have the majority of their populations vaccinated by early 2023, around 85 poorer countries will have to wait until the following year, Professor Toole said.
"This implies the world won't be back to normal travel, trade and supply chains until 2024 unless rich countries take actions – such as waiving vaccine patents, diversifying production of vaccines and supporting vaccine delivery – to help poor countries catch up," he said.
Professor Toole said until high levels of population immunity are reached, Covid safety measures such as masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, testing, contact tracing and quarantine will need to remain in place.
Worryingly, there are already signs of complacency and a surge in misinformation, he said.
Professor Toole said there is a chance for the world to regain a sense of normalcy faster if more powerful nations spent extra resources on boosting the recovery of poorer countries.
"This is a fragile moment in modern world history. But, in record time, we have developed effective tools to eventually control this pandemic," he said.
"The path to a post-Covid-19 future can perhaps now be characterised as a hurdle race but one that presents severe handicaps to the world's poorest nations. As an international community, we have the capacity to make it a level playing field."