The rhythm of pre-pandemic life is back around much of the world. Munich’s Oktoberfest tents are full, tourists are returning in Tokyo and New York, and masks have come off in some parts of the world.

The previous two autumn seasons ended with new COVID-19 variants spurring fresh waves of cases and social restrictions. This year is different: the super-contagious but less severe omicron has shown unusual staying power — even as it spawned hundreds of sublineages.

The world has learned that the coronavirus is fickle, and as cases start to creep up again, so does concern about unpredictable developments. But if omicron’s dominance holds, it could point to a drift reminiscent of the flu’s annual changes and pave the way for COVID-19 to settle into a more predictable pattern.