Scientists are seeing signs that the dangerous omicron wave of COVID-19 may be peaking in the UK and is about to do the same in the US, at which point cases could start to drop dramatically.
Cause: The variant has proven to be so wildly contagious that it is only a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa that people are likely to be infected.
“It’s going to come down as fast as it goes up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics science at the University of Washington in Seattle.
At the same time, experts have warned that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic will unfold. Plateaus or fluctuations in both the countries are not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same speed. And weeks or months of misery are still ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals, even if the drop-off passes.
“There are still a lot of people who will get infected as we go down the back slope,” said Lauren Ansel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which predicts that reported cases will be within weeks. will be at its peak.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration’s acting chief, Janet Woodcock, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain would infect “the majority of people” and that the focus should be on ensuring that critical services can continue uninterrupted.
“I think it’s really hard to process what’s happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, right?,” she said. “We need to make sure that hospitals can still function – transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.”
The University of Washington’s own highly influential model projects that the number of daily reported cases in the U.S. will rise to 1.2 million by January 19 and then drop sharply “simply because anyone who may be infected will be infected,” according to Moqdad. .
In fact, he said, from the university’s complex calculations, the true number of new daily infections in the US – an estimate that includes people who were never tested – has already peaked, up to 6 million on Jan. has reached.
Meanwhile, in Britain, new COVID-19 cases fell to nearly 140,000 in the past week, after skyrocketing to more than 200,000 a day earlier this month, according to government data.
Numbers from the UK’s National Health Service this week show that coronavirus hospital admissions for adults are beginning to decline, with infections falling across all age groups.
Kevin McConway, a retired professor of applied statistics at Britain’s Open University, said COVID-19 cases are still rising in places like south-west England and the West Midlands, but the outbreak may have peaked in London.
The data has raised hopes that both countries are about to do something similar to South Africa, where the wave reached record highs over a period of about a month and then fell significantly.
Dr. Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine, said: “We are definitely seeing a decline in cases in the UK, but what happened in South Africa, I would like to see them fall further before I know whether it will happen here or not.” ” at the University of East Anglia, UK.
Dr David Heyman, who previously headed the World Health Organisation’s Department of Infectious Diseases, said the UK was “closest to any country coming out of the pandemic”, adding that COVID-19 is moving towards being endemic. Was.
The differences between Britain and South Africa, the UK’s older population and its tendency for people to spend more time indoors in winter, could mean a major outbreak for the country and others like it.
On the other hand, the British authorities’ decision to adopt minimal sanctions against Omicron could enable the virus to rip through the population and run its course much faster than in Western European countries, which have imposed stricter COVID-19 controls such as France. have been installed. Spain and Italy.
Shabbir Mahdi, dean of health sciences at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, said European countries enforcing lockdowns would not necessarily go through an omicron wave with fewer infections; Cases can be spread over a long period.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said 7 million new COVID-19 cases had been reported across Europe in the past week, in what it called a “widespread tidal wave across the region”. The WHO cited modeling from Mokdad’s group that predicts that half of Europe’s population will be infected with Omicron within about eight weeks.
However, by that time, Hunter and others hope that the world will overtake the Omicron boom.
“There will probably be some ups and downs along the way, but I hope we’re out of it by Easter,” Hunter said.
Still, the sheer number of infected people can prove to be overwhelming for fragile health systems, said Dr Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“The next few weeks are going to be brutal because in absolute numbers, so many people are getting infected that it will spread to the ICU,” Jha said.
Mokdad also warned in the US: “It’s going to be a tough two or three weeks. We’re going to have to make tough decisions to get some essential workers to continue working, knowing they can be contagious.”
O’Micron could one day be seen as a turning point in the pandemic, said Meyers at the University of Texas. Gained immunity from all new infections, along with new drugs and continued vaccinations, could provide the coronavirus with something we can more easily co-exist with.
“At the end of this wave, far more people will have been infected than some form of COVID,” Meyers said. “At some point, we will be able to draw a line – and the omicron may be the point – where we transition from a catastrophic global threat to something that is a more manageable disease.”
That said, it’s a plausible future, but there’s also the potential for a new version — one that’s even worse than Omicron’s — arising.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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