A top World Health Organization official cautioned against hoping for a vaccination that would end the pandemic, noting that populations around the world will have to learn to live with it.
Speaking at a briefing on Wednesday, WHO emergencies director Dr Mike Ryan warned against trying to predict when the virus would disappear.
He added that even if a vaccine is found, controlling the virus will require a “massive effort”.
Almost 300,000 people worldwide are reported to have died of coronavirus, and more than 4.3m cases recorded.
“It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Dr Ryan told the virtual press conference from Geneva.
“HIV has not gone away – but we have come to terms with the virus.”
Dr Ryan then said he doesn’t believe “anyone can predict when this disease will disappear”.
There are currently more than 100 potential vaccines in development – but Dr Ryan noted there are other illnesses, such as measles, that still haven’t been eliminated despite there being vaccines for them.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed it was still possible to control the virus, with effort.
“The trajectory is in our hands, and it’s everybody’s business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic,” he said.
WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove also told the briefing: “We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic.”
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “The trajectory is in our hands, and it’s everybody’s business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic.”
Ryan said “very significant control” of the virus was required in order to lower the assessment of risk, which he said remained high at the “national, regional and global levels”.
Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the virus, which has infected almost 4.3 million people, according to a Reuters tally, and led to over 291,000 deaths.
The European Union pushed on Wednesday for a gradual reopening of borders within the bloc that have been shut by the pandemic, saying it was not too late to salvage some of the summer tourist season while still keeping people safe.
But public health experts say extreme caution is needed to avoid new outbreaks. Ryan said opening land borders was less risky than easing air travel, which was a “different challenge”.
“We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic,” WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told the briefing.