Where the pandemic may go next.

Medical staff treat a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on January 7, 2022.—Reuters
  • In the US alone, there could be up to a million infections a day this winter.
  • Many experts had predicted that the transition would begin as early as 2022.
  • The WHO has said that every country still needs to approach the new waves with all the tools of the pandemic arsenal.

London/Chicago: As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic begins in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and populations to brace for more waves of COVID-19.

In the United States alone, there could be as many as a million infections a day this winter, said Chris Murray, head of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent modeling group at the University of Washington that tracks pandemics. Is. , told Reuters. This will be double the current daily number.

Across the UK and Europe, scientists predict a series of waves of COVID, as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time without masking or social distancing restrictions.

However, while cases may rise again in the coming months, deaths and hospitalizations are unlikely to occur at the same magnitude, experts said, given vaccination and booster drives, previous infections, mild variants and highly effective COVID-19. Availability of treatment helped.

“The people who are most at risk are those who have never seen the virus, and there are almost no survivors,” Murray said.

These predictions raise new questions about when countries will move out of the COVID emergency phase and into an endemic disease state, where communities with high vaccination rates are likely to see smaller outbreaks on a seasonal basis.

Many experts had predicted that the transition would begin as early as 2022, but the arrival of a highly mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus overshadowed those expectations.

Adam Kuchersky, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said we need to put aside the idea of ​​’is the pandemic over’. He and others see COVID turning into a localized threat that still causes a high disease burden.

“Someone once told me that the definition of a pandemic is that life gets a little worse,” he added.

The potential wild card remains whether a new variant will emerge that competes with the currently dominant Omicron sub-variants.

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report from Europe, this would be a “worst-case scenario” if the strain caused more severe disease and was better able to evade preexisting immunity.

“All scenarios (with new variants) indicate the likelihood of a major future wave that is as bad or worse than the 2020/2021 pandemic waves,” said the report, based on a model from Imperial College London. Is.”

Confounding factors

Several disease experts interviewed by Reuters said it has become more difficult to predict for COVID, because many people rely on rapid tests at home that are not reported to government health officials. is, which obscures the infection rate.

BA.5, the Omicron subvariant currently causing peak infections in many regions, is highly transmissible, meaning that many patients hospitalized for other diseases can test positive for it and can be considered severe cases, even if not COVID-19. The source of their trouble.

Other unknowns complicating their predictions include whether vaccination and COVID infection — so-called hybrid immunity — is giving people more protection, as well as how effective booster campaigns are, the scientists said. can be

“Anyone who says they can predict the future of this pandemic is either overconfident or lying,” said David Doody, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “

Experts are also closely watching developments in Australia, where a resurgent flu season combined with Covid is taking a heavy toll on hospitals. He says it’s possible that Western countries could see a similar pattern after several quiet flu seasons.

“If it happens there, it can happen here. Let’s prepare for a proper flu season,” said John McCauley, director of the Francis Crick Institute’s Worldwide Influenza Center in London.

The WHO has said that every country still needs to approach new waves with all the tools of the pandemic arsenal — from vaccination to interventions, such as testing and social distancing or masking.

Israel’s government recently halted routine COVID testing of passengers at its international airport, but is poised to resume the practice “within days” if it experiences a major surge. Sharon Elroy-Press, head of the country’s public health service, said.

“When there is a wave of infections, we need to wear masks, we need to test ourselves,” he said. “It’s living with COVID.”