Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in Britain, US

Scientists are seeing signs that the alarming Omicron wave of Covid-19 may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may begin to decline sharply. The reason: The variant has proven so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa. “It’s going to go down as fast as it went up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

At the same time, experts caution that there are still many questions about how the next phase of the pandemic will unfold. Stagnation or decline in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of suffering still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals, even if the decline does occur.

“There are still a lot of people who will get infected as we descend the slope down the backside,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the Covid-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas, which predicts that recorded cases will peak this week. The University of Washington’s own highly influential model projects that the number of daily cases reported in the U.S. will peak at 1.2 million by Jan. 19 and then drop sharply “simply because everyone who could be infected will be infected,” according to Mokdad.

In fact, according to the university’s complex calculations, the actual number of new infections per day in the U.S. – an estimate that includes people who are infected with the virus. -an estimate that includes people who were never tested has already peaked at 6 million on Jan. 6. In Britain, meanwhile, new cases of Covid-19 fell to about 140,000 a day in the past week, after soaring to more than 200,000 a day earlier this month, according to government data.

Figures from the UK’s National Health Service show this week that coronavirus hospital admissions in adults have started to fall, with infections declining in all age groups. Kevin McConway, a retired professor of applied statistics at Britain’s Open University, said that while Covid-19 cases continue to rise in places such as the southwest of England and the West Midlands, the outbreak may have peaked in London. The figures have raised hopes that both countries are on the verge of suffering something similar to what happened in South Africa, wherein the space of about a month the wave peaked and then dropped significantly. “We are seeing a definite drop in cases in the U.K., but I would like to see them drop a lot more before we know if what happened in South Africa will happen here,” said Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the Britain’s University of East Anglia.

Dr. David Heymann, who formerly headed the World Health Organization’s infectious diseases department, said Britain was “the country closest to coming out of the pandemic,” adding that Covid-19 was getting closer to becoming endemic. Differences between Britain and South Africa, including Britain’s older population and the tendency of its people to spend more time indoors in winter, could mean a more eventful outbreak for the country and other nations like it.

1/12/22, 8:13 PM Omicron could be headed for a rapid fall in Britain and the U.S. – Times of India On the other hand, the decision by British authorities to adopt minimal restrictions against Omicron could allow the virus to sweep through the population and run its course much faster than it could in Western European countries that have imposed tighter controls against Covid-19, such as France, Spain, and Italy. Shabir Mahdi, dean of health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said European countries that impose controls will not necessarily go through the Omicron wave with fewer infections; cases may simply spread out over a longer period.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said there have been 7 million new cases of Covid-19 across Europe in the past week, calling it a “tidal wave sweeping the region.” The WHO cited a model from Mokdad’s group that predicts half of Europe’s population will be infected with the omicron in about eight weeks. By then, however, Hunter and others expect the world will have weathered the omicron wave. “There will probably be some ups and downs along the way, but I would expect that by Easter we will be out of it,” Hunter said. Still, the sheer number of infected people could prove overwhelming for fragile health systems, said Dr. Prabhat Jha of St. Michael’s Hospital’s Global Health Research Center. “The next few weeks are going to be brutal because, in absolute numbers, there are so many people infected that it will overwhelm ICUs,” Jha said. Mokdad also warned in the U.S., “It’s going to be a tough two to three weeks. We have to make tough decisions to let certain essential workers continue to work, knowing that they could be infectious.”

Omicron could one day be considered a turning point in the pandemic, said Meyers, of the University of Texas. Acquired immunity from all the new infections, along with new drugs and continued vaccination, could make coronavirus something we can live with more easily. “By the end of this wave, many more people will have been infected by some variant of COVID,” Meyers said. “At some point, we will be able to draw a line-and Omicron maybe that point where we go from what is a catastrophic global threat to something that is a much more manageable disease.” That’s a plausible future, he said, but there’s also the possibility that a new variant, much worse than Omicron, could emerge.

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