Scientists are seeing signals that the alarming omicron wave of COVID-19 may have peaked in the UK and is doing so in the United States, allowing cases to begin to decline dramatically.
Cause: The variant has proven so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of infectious people just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.
“It’s coming down as fast as it rose,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.
At the same time, experts warn that the development of the next phase of the pandemic is still much uncertain. The plateau or decline in these two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And patients and overcrowded hospitals are still facing weeks or months of misery, even if the closure happens.
“There are still a lot of people getting infected as we descend down the slope,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, who predicts the reported cases will peak within a week.
The University of Washington’s own highly influential model predicts that the number of cases reported daily in the U.S. will rise to 1.2 million by Jan. 19 and then fall sharply “simply because anyone who can get infected gets infected,” according to Mokdad.
In fact, he said, according to complex university calculations, the actual number of new daily infections in the United States – an estimate that includes people who were never tested – is already at its peak and reached 6 million on January 6th.
Meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 in the UK fell to around 140,000 a day last week, after exploding to more than 200,000 a day earlier this month, according to government data.
Kevin McConway, a retired professor of applied statistics at the British Open University, said while cases are still on the rise in places such as the South West of England and the West Midlands, the epidemic could have peaked in London.
The figures have raised hopes that something similar will happen in both countries as in South Africa, where the wave rose to a record high in about a month and then dropped significantly.
“We are seeing a clear decrease in cases in the UK, but I would like to see them decrease much further before we know if what is happening in South Africa is happening here,” said Dr Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine. At the University of East Anglia in Britain.
Differences between Britain and South Africa, including Britain’s older population and people’s tendency to spend more time indoors in the winter, could mean a more bumpy epidemic for the country and other peoples like it.
On the other hand, the decision by the British authorities to introduce minimum restrictions on omicron may allow the virus to penetrate the population and pass much faster than it could in Western European countries that have introduced stricter COVID-19 controls, such as France. Spain and Italy.
Shabir Mahdi, dean of health sciences at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, said European countries that impose restrictions may not come through an omicron with less infection; cases can only be spread over a longer period of time.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that 7 million new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Europe in the past week, calling it a “tsunami sweeping the region”. The WHO mentioned modeling by the Mokdad group, according to which half of the European population will get an omicron infection in about eight weeks.
By then, however, Hunter and others expect the world to be past the rise of the omicron.
“There will probably be ups and downs along the way, but I hope we get rid of this by Easter,” Hunter said.
Yet the sheer number of people infected could prove superior to fragile health care systems, said Dr. Prabhat Jha of the Global Health Research Center at Toronto Hospital in Toronto.
“The next few weeks will be cruel because, in absolute terms, there are so many infected that it will spread to intensive care units,” Jha said.
Mokdad also warned in the United States: “It’s going to be a tough two or three weeks. We have to make tough decisions to let certain essential workers continue to work knowing they can be contagious.”
Omicron may one day be seen as a turning point in a pandemic, said Meyers of the University of Texas. Immunity from all new infections, along with new drugs and ongoing vaccinations, can make the coronavirus something we can coexist more easily with.
“At the end of this wave, a lot more people have been infected with some variant of COVID,” Meyers said. “At some point, we can draw the line – and my micron may be the point – where we move from a catastrophic global threat to one that is a much more manageable disease.”
It has one credible future, he said, but there is also the possibility that a new variant will emerge – which is much worse than omikron.
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