FILE PHOTO: Customers are seen inside a private COVID-19 testing clinic in a busy shopping area, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London
Customers are seen inside a private COVID-19 testing clinic in a busy shopping area, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London last December. Photo: Reuters/PETER NICHOLLS
health

'Living with COVID': Where the pandemic could go next

7 Comments
By Jennifer Rigby and Julie Steenhuysen

As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic looms in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and populations alike to brace for more waves of COVID-19.

In the United States alone, there could be up to a million infections a day this winter, 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, told Reuters. That would be around double the current daily tally.

Across the United Kingdom and Europe, scientists predict a series of COVID waves, as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time with nearly no masking or social distancing restrictions in place.

However, while cases may surge 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, previous infection, milder variants and the availability of highly effective COVID treatments.

"The people who are at greatest risk are those who have never seen the virus, and there's almost nobody left," said Murray.

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

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

"We need to set 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 morphing into an endemic threat that still causes a high burden of disease.

"Someone once told me the definition of endemicity is that life just gets a bit worse," he added.

The potential wild card remains whether a new variant will emerge that out-competes currently dominant Omicron subvariants.

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

"All scenarios (with new variants) indicate the potential for a large future wave at a level that is as bad or worse than the 2020/2021 epidemic waves," said the report, based on a model from Imperial College of London.

CONFOUNDING FACTORS

Many of the disease experts interviewed by Reuters said that making forecasts for COVID has become much harder, as many people rely on rapid at-home tests that are not reported to government health officials, obscuring infection rates.

BA.5, the Omicron subvariant that is currently causing infections to peak in many regions, is extremely transmissible, meaning that many patients hospitalized for other illnesses may test positive for it and be counted among severe cases, even if COVID-19 is not the source of their distress.

Scientists said other unknowns complicating their forecasts include whether a combination of vaccination and COVID infection – so-called hybrid immunity – is providing greater protection for people, as well as how effective booster campaigns may 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 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Experts also are closely watching developments in Australia, where a resurgent flu season combined with COVID is overwhelming hospitals. They say it is 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 Centre at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

The WHO has said each country still needs to approach new waves with all the tools in the pandemic armory – from vaccinations to interventions, such as testing and social distancing or masking.

Israel's government recently halted routine COVID testing of travelers at its international airport, but is ready to resume the practice "within days" if faced with a major surge, said Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the country's public health service.

"When there is a wave of infections, we need to put masks on, we need to test ourselves," she said. "That's living with COVID."

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


7 Comments
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meaning that many patients hospitalized for other illnesses may test positive for it and be counted among severe cases, even if COVID-19 is not the source of their distress.

This has always been the case.

What percentage of so-called "Covid deaths" from the start of the pandemic actually fall into the above category.

The average "Covid death" has 4 comorbidities.

4 ( +10 / -6 )

Anyone who says they can predict the future of this pandemic is either overconfident or lying," said David Dowdy

Or he’s just capable of multiplying simple transition matrices, like for example I am.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

People in the US are not using their heads. We now have a real POTUS who has addressed the nation about it but already a half million Americans were dead from it. And state governments are not taking any precautions or enforcing anything at all. Everybody's hyping up the 'back to school' jive when the schooling should be by video again. Football games, concerts (in arenas), theaters filled up showing CRAP flicks, and rumors galore loaded with lies lies lies. Some people think that BA-5 doesn't even exist, and some think it's 'cool' to blame it on and bash ethnic Oriental people as well. It's NOT. And the US has the most deaths of all the nations of the world. Very very SAD.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Across the United Kingdom and Europe, scientists predict a series of COVID waves, as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time with nearly no masking or social distancing restrictions in place.

Not surprised about the no masks. The WHO even advised this.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/30/world/coronavirus-who-masks-recommendation-trnd/index.html

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Not surprised about the no masks. The WHO even advised this.

Your link clearly says the WHO recommended the use of masks for hospitals and people dealing with symptomatic patients.

This was the same situation with every other scientific institution because that what what the evidence pointed out at the moment, it was not until months after the pandemic where the role of masks on prevention from asymptomatic people was found and justified changing the recommendation

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Your link clearly says the WHO recommended the use of masks for hospitals and people dealing with symptomatic patients.

World Health Organization officials Monday said they still recommend people not wear face masks unless they are sick with Covid-19 or caring for someone who is sick.

This was the same situation with every other scientific institution because that what what the evidence pointed out at the moment, it was not until months after the pandemic where the role of masks on prevention from asymptomatic people was found and justified changing the recommendation

Wrong.

What source do have that concludes people should not wear masks, such as a study done between when the virus was first discovered and March 31?

None, because none exit. It is just your defense of an agency that gave the wrong advice. It's like trying to rationalize an agency that advises only to wear seatbelts when traveling on a highway, and when driving on city roads seatbelts are not necessary. No one would make that silly claim now would they? Or, would they????

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

World Health Organization officials Monday said they still recommend people not wear face masks unless they are sick with Covid-19 or caring for someone who is sick.

That does nothing to disprove that they recommended masks on hospitals and to care for symptomatic patients

"There also is the issue that we have a massive global shortage," Ryan said about masks and other medical supplies. "Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day. The thought of them not having masks is horrific."

This completely contradicts your biased misrepresentation and is completely in line with the available evidence at the beginning of the pandemic, something you said you can prove is wrong but you never provide any actual evidence about it, is this going to be just another topic where you fail to provide such evidence?

What source do have that concludes people should not wear masks, such as a study done between when the virus was first discovered and March 31?

Your point is that evidence of benefit when used by asymptomatic people was available before 2020, if no evidence is available for either benefit or lack of benefit that still means you are wrong and the WHO (and every other scientific institution of the world) were not wrong by prioritizing their use in hospitals, which is what the evidence actually supported.

None, because none exit

That still means you are mistaken, because your point (that the WHO was mistaken) requires evidence that was not available at the time.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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