Omicron could head for rapid decline in US and Britain

Scientists are seeing signals that the alarming omicron wave of COVID-19 may have peaked in Britain and is set to do the same in the United States, in which case cases could start to drop in a spectacular way.

The reason: The variant has been proven to be so contagious that it may already be running low on people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The peak or the ebb in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same rate. And weeks or months of misery still await overwhelmed patients and hospitals even if the downturn occurs.

“There are still a lot of people who will be infected when we go down the slope in the back,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, who predicts reported cases will peak. during the week.

The highly influential University of Washington model says the number of daily reported cases in the United States will reach 1.2 million by January 19 and then drop sharply “simply because everyone who might be infected will be 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 have never been tested – has already peaked. , reaching 6 million on Jan.6.

In Britain, meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 fell to around 140,000 a day last week, after skyrocketing to more than 200,000 a day earlier this month, data shows of the government.

Kevin McConway, retired professor of applied statistics at Britain’s Open University, said while cases continue to rise in places such as the south-west of England and the West Midlands, the epidemic may have peaked in London.

The numbers raised hopes that the two countries are set to witness what happened in South Africa, where the wave hit record highs and then dropped significantly around a month later. .

“We are seeing a marked decrease in cases in the UK, but I would like them to decrease a lot more before we know if what happened in South Africa will happen here,” said Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine. at the British University of East Anglia.

Differences between Britain and South Africa, including Britain’s older population and its inhabitants’ tendency to spend more time indoors in winter, could mean a more bumpy epidemic for the country and other nations like it.

On the other hand, the decision by UK authorities to adopt minimum restrictions against omicron could allow the virus to spread through the population and run its course much faster than in Western European countries which have imposed restrictions. stricter COVID-19 controls, such as France, Spain and Italy.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said there had been 7 million new cases of COVID-19 across Europe in the past week, calling it a “tidal wave sweeping the region.” WHO cited modeling from Mokdad’s group which predicts that half of Europe’s population will be infected with omicron in about eight weeks.

By then, however, Hunter and others expect the world to have passed the Omicron Wave.

“There will probably be some ups and downs along the way, but hopefully by Easter we’re out of it,” Hunter said.

Yet the sheer numbers of people infected could prove overwhelming to 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 there are so many infected people that it will reverberate in the intensive care units,” Jha said.

Mokdad also warned: “It’s going to be a tough two or three weeks. We have to make tough decisions to let some essential workers keep working, knowing they could be contagious. “

Omicron could one day be seen as a turning point in the pandemic, said Meyers, of the University of Texas. Immunity to all new infections, along with new drugs and continued vaccination, could make the coronavirus something we can more easily coexist with.

“By the end of this wave, many more people will have been infected with some variant of COVID,” Meyers said. “At some point we can draw a line – and omicron could be that point – where we go from what is a catastrophic global threat to something that is a much more manageable disease. “

It’s a plausible future, she said, but there’s also the possibility that a new variant – much worse than the omicron – will arise.


The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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