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A shift to endemic COVID?

Feb. 4, 2022

As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiologists are optimistic that despite the dramatic surge in Omicron cases over the past several months, odds are in favor of a transition towards endemicity in 2022, say the writers of the Boston Consulting Group’s latest Executive Perspectives report issued mid-January.

This “bull case” scenario, characterized by the global spread of milder variants that will outcompete the more virulent Delta variant, continued efficacy of current vaccines and therapeutics, and a return to relative normalcy among nations with strong booster adoption of mRNA vaccines, contrasts sharply with the less likely “bear case” scenario in which new variants evade immune response from previous waves and vaccinations, require new vaccine formations and exacerbate vaccine inequities across the globe—all resulting in increased restrictions of limited success due to higher transmissibility and significant economic and social drag.

The report, the latest in a monthly series created to summarize the latest COVID trends for the consultancy’s clients, is available in PDF format at bcg.com.

While the Omicron variant caused cases to spike at 3.3 million daily cases globally in January—more than three times the previous waves’ peaks—it's also been less severe, with a 40-45% lower risk of hospitalization and reduced infectivity of lung cells compared with the Delta variant. Nonetheless, the variant will put pressure on healthcare systems in some areas given its high transmissibility, which is likely to render containment measures less effective. Vaccine boosters are critical for reducing the risk of infection (+60%) and severe illness (~90%), and an mRNA booster can restore the effectiveness even of some non-mRNA vaccines.

Society’s leaders need to support the transition to endemic COVID-19 in the years ahead, and continue to evolve interventions and collaboration toward endemic COVID-19, add the report’s authors. “We're better prepared to do so now—given the availability of vaccines, antivirals and infusion therapies, reliable diagnosing and sequencing, and improved healthcare system capacity.” Further, the report urges that governments accelerate support for global equity in COVID testing, vaccines and therapeutics; invest in infrastructure to enable speed at scale for fighting new variants; increase vaccine adoption; and normalize the response to new waves. Businesses should work closely with governments and build greater flexibility into their organizations.

Industrial outlook

Across the industrial sector, the strong rebound in manufacturing during 2021 is expected to continue in 2022—especially in the U.S and Europe. As restrictions ease after this latest wave, consumer demand is expected to continue to rise (yet more moderately given inflationary pressures), and will further increase pressure on manufacturing. But supply chain bottlenecks, labor shortages and short-term workforce impact from self-isolation measures could restrict total output in 2022, and will need to be closely managed. Organizations should also focus on resolving supply shortages by building supply-chain resilience, capabilities to absorb disruptions and recovery quickly, the report recommends.

From an organizational perspective, companies should look to deploy clear, localized requirements for dealing with regional variations in the path toward endemicity. They should also support easy diagnosis and treatment with onsite testing, vaccinations and antiviral drugs at no cost to employees. Finally, they should co-create with their employees flexible, hybrid working models, especially for those more vulnerable to the virus, and ensure organizational readiness by factoring work location preferences and increased sick leave into work allocation and capacity planning.

Visit bcg.com to read the full report.