‘Living with COVID’: Where the pandemic might go next

LONDON/CHICAGO, Aug 1 (Reuters) – As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic approaches in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and populations to prepare for more waves of COVID-19.

In the United States alone, there could be up to a million infections per day this winter, Chris Murray, head of the Institute for Health Measurement and Evaluation (IHME), an independent modeling group at the University of Washington that has been tracking the pandemic, reported Reuters. That would be nearly double the current daily bill.

In the UK and Europe, scientists predict a series of waves of COVID as people spend more time at home during the colder months, this time with almost no masks or social distancing restrictions.

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But while more cases may emerge in the coming months, deaths and hospitalizations are unlikely to increase at the same rate, experts say, aided and abetted by drives, earlier infection, milder options and the availability of highly effective COVID treatments.

“The people most at risk are those who have never seen this virus, and there’s almost no one left,” Murray said.

These predictions raise new questions about when countries will move out of the COVID emergency phase and into endemic disease, where communities with higher vaccination rates see fewer outbreaks on a seasonal basis.

Many experts predicted the transition would begin in early 2022, but the arrival of a highly mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus has disrupted those expectations.

Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We need to reject the idea that ‘the pandemic is over?’ He and others see COVID becoming an endemic threat that still causes a high burden of disease.

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

A potential wild card remains the question of whether a new variant will emerge to compete with the currently dominant Omicron subvariants.

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

“All scenarios (with new variants) point to the potential for a large future wave as bad or worse than the 2020/2021 epidemic waves,” said the model-based report from Imperial College London.

MISLEADING CIRCUMSTANCES

Many disease experts who spoke to Reuters said that the acceptance of COVID has become more difficult because many people rely on rapid home tests that are not reported to public health officials, which mask the level of infection.

BA.5, the Omicron subvariant that is currently causing the highest number of infections in many areas, is highly transmissible, meaning that many people hospitalized for other illnesses may test positive for it and are among severe cases, even without the source of COVID-19. from their grief.

Other unknowns complicating their predictions, the researchers said, include whether the combination of vaccination and COVID infection — so-called hybrid immunity — provides greater protection for people, as well as how effective booster campaigns might be.

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

Experts are also closely monitoring developments in Australia, where the flu season has combined with COVID to overwhelm hospitals. They say western countries may see a similar pattern after several quiet flu seasons.

John McCauley, director of the Global Influenza Center at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said: “If it’s there, it could be here. Let’s prepare for flu season.”

The WHO said each country should still approach new waves with all the tools in the pandemic armory – from vaccination to interventions such as testing and social distancing or masks.

Israel’s government recently suspended routine COVID testing of travelers at its international airport, but is prepared to end the practice “within days” if it faces a major surge, the country’s public health chief Sharon Alroy-Preis said.

“When there is a wave of infection, we have to wear masks, we have to test ourselves,” he said. “This is life with COVID.”

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Report by Jennifer Rigby and Julie Steenhuisen; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Edited by Michelle Gershberg and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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