Two years ago, on New Year’s Day 2020, the alarm was just sounding in the Wuhan Province of China about a cluster of viral pneumonia cases that quickly pitched worried international health experts into motion.

In the seemingly endless time since then, that strange new coronavirus has claimed the lives of 824,000 people in the United States and 5.4 million worldwide, even as scientists worked furiously in an unprecedented global effort to create vaccines and treatments to stave off infections and slash severe illness and deaths.

The virus has more than once thrown curve balls at researchers and medical experts, including the emergence of unpredictable variants that have pushed the pandemic in new directions and tested the limits of science.

Yet as 2022 began, some of the Bay Area’s top medical experts on COVID-19 woke up feeling optimistic.

True, the pandemic will still get worse before it gets better, they agreed, with the highly contagious omicron variant just gaining steam in California. Omicron shows clear signs of being far more contagious though less virulent than earlier variants.

But unlike last year at this time, there’s now an arsenal built up to beat the virus back: effective, tested vaccines and cutting-edge antibody and antiviral treatments. Plus, the growing number of unvaccinated people who contract COVID — whether omicron or another variant — and survive their illness are gaining natural immunity, at least temporarily, to the coronavirus.

Add it all up and the pandemic endgame, some said, could be around the corner.

“New year, new hope!” — Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF Department of Medicine chair.

A lot of folks have advised the UCSF physician and prolific tweeter to stop trying to predict the pandemic. This virus is “wily” he conceded. More has gone wrong than medical experts ever anticipated.

“We’ve all been burned by optimism so many times that there’s a reluctance to predict it’s going to get better,” he told The Chronicle hours into the new year.

But it is going to get better, he said, defying those who beg him not to jinx it. Probably. Just not until after four to eight more weeks of “truly terrible.”