What’s the difference between an endemic and a pandemic? Covid terms explained - and when pandemic could end

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The World Health Organisation declares a pandemic when a disease’s growth is exponential

You will have heard the term ‘pandemic’ frequently over the past couple of years due to the Covid crisis, and you may also have heard the word ‘endemic’ at times too.

But what does endemic actually mean, and what is the difference between endemic, pandemic and epidemic?

Here’s everything you need to know.

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What does endemic mean?

An endemic is a disease outbreak that is consistently present, but limited to a particular region, which makes the disease spread and rates predictable.

For example, Malaria is considered endemic in certain countries and regions.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the following places are actively reporting endemic countries:

  • Africa 
  • Benin
  • Cameroon
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Congo
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Gabon
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Liberia
  • Nigeria
  • Sierra Leone
  • Togo
  • Americas
  • French Guiana
  • Western Pacific
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Papua New Guinea

What does pandemic mean?

WHO declares a pandemic when a disease’s growth is exponential, which means growth rate skyrockets and each day cases grow more than the previous day.

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In being declared a pandemic, it means a virus covers a wide area, affecting several countries and populations.

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes an epidemic as an unexpected increase in the number of disease cases in a specific geographical area.

For example, yellow fever, smallpox, measles and polio are all prime examples of epidemics that have occurred in the past.

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An epidemic disease doesn’t necessarily have to be contagious as epidemics can refer to a disease or other specific health-related behavior with rates above the expected occurrence in a community or region.

What is the difference between pandemic, endemic and epidemic?

The WHO defines pandemics, epidemics, and endemics based on a disease’s rate of spread.

A pandemic goes across international boundaries compared to regional epidemics, which is why the Covid crisis was named as a pandemic.

Covid restrictions are currently being lifted across the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing that Covid Plan B restrictions are set to end in England.

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He said the Government intended to end the legal requirement for people who test positive for Covid to self-isolate and replace it with advice and guidance.

The current regulations around self-isolation expire on 24 March and he said he expected not to renew them then, suggesting that date could be brought forward if the data allows.

At a Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "This is a moment we can all be proud of.

"It’s a reminder of what this country can accomplish when we all work together."

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However, he said this should not be seen as the "finish line" because the virus and future variants cannot be eradicated but that "we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we live with flu".

Mr Javid also told Sky News that Covid isolation will only end in March if data supports it.

He said: "We will decide as we get closer to March... based on the data at the time."

Pressed on this issue, Mr Javid added: "We would like to see it scrapped by the end of March."

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