Many countries have been celebrating and traveling during the winter holiday season without COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in years.

Even China started easing its zero-COVID policy in 2022. That’s made it unclear how fast the virus is spreading, or how many deaths have resulted from it. Social media posts, business closures and other anecdotal evidence suggest huge numbers of people are being infected.

But what lies ahead for COVID-19 in 2023?

Around the world scientists are becoming cautiously optimistic about controlling the coronavirus, even as some parts of Europe and America see surges in cases of the virus and other seasonal diseases like flu.

“We are now indeed entering what we call endemicity. That means we are now moving from a pandemic to an endemic state,” said Annelies Wilder-Smith, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Entering an endemic stage of a disease doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, or that there is room for complacency. In years to come, scientists believe health professionals will be faced with the true fallout of the pandemic and it won’t simply be long COVID. 

Medical experts say vigilance is key because variants can arise when there is an uncontrolled spread of the infection.

“There is always a risk that a new variant will emerge. It’s really impossible to say how great that risk will be. It might be that omicron is COVID 19’s final trick to play, as it were, but we could see a new variant come forward,” said Dr Michael Head, University of Southampton.  “Typically, we’ve seen new variants emerging uncontrolled outbreaks. For example, the Alpha variant probably emerged here in the UK and the Delta variant probably emerged in India both during uncontrolled outbreaks.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.