"Living with COVID": Where the pandemic could go next - prologiseurope

“Living with COVID”: Where the pandemic could go next

LONDON/CHICAGO, Aug 1 (Reuters) – As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic looms in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and citizens to prepare 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 has been tracking the pandemic. , Reuters reported. That would be about twice the daily figure.

Across the UK and Europe, scientists are predicting a number of COVID waves as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time with almost no masks or social distancing restrictions.

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However, while cases may rise again in the coming months, deaths and hospitalizations are unlikely to rise with the same intensity, the experts said, helped by vaccination and booster drives, earlier infection, milder strains and the availability of highly effective COVID treatments.

“The people who are most at risk are the ones who have never seen the virus, and there are almost none left,” Murray said.

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

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

“We need to put aside the idea of ​​’is the pandemic over?'” said Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He and others see COVID turning into an endemic threat that will cause an even greater disease burden.

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

A potential wildcard remains whether a new variant will emerge that out-competes the current dominant Omicron sub-variant.

If that variant also causes more severe disease and is better able to evade previous immunity, that would be the “worst-case scenario,” according to a recent European report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“All scenarios (with new variants) indicate the potential for a large future wave at a level as bad as or worse than the 2020/2021 pandemic waves,” said the report, based on modeling by Imperial College of London.

OSTRICH ELEMENTS

Many of the disease experts Reuters spoke to said it has become much more difficult to make predictions about COVID, with many relying on rapid tests at home that are not reported to state health officials, which mask infection rates.

BA.5, the Omicron subtype that is currently causing infections to peak in many regions, is highly contagious, meaning that many patients hospitalized for other conditions can test positive for it and be considered severe cases, even if they have COVID -19 is not the source of their distress.

Researchers said other unknowns complicating their predictions include whether the combination of vaccination and COVID infection — so-called hybrid immunity — gives people more protection, as well as how effective booster campaigns can 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 a resurgent flu season combined with COVID is overwhelming hospitals. They say it’s possible that Western nations 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 Worldwide Influenza Center at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

The World Health Organization has said that each country still needs to approach new waves with all the tools in the pandemic’s arsenal – from vaccinations 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 ready to resume “within days” if it faces a sharp increase, said Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the country’s public health service.

“When there is a wave of infections, we need to put on masks, we need to keep testing,” she said. “This is living with COVID.

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Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing: Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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