The Omicron variant has unleashed a wave of Covid that is sweeping through countries at a rapid pace. In recent weeks, infections in the UK soared to unprecedented highs, but may have reached a peak. What is going on on the other side of the wave?
Will cases fall?
Mass vaccinations, boosters, and the Omicron wave of infections will drive down the rates of infections. The timing and speed at which infections fall will be affected by a variety of factors, including adherence to Plan B and shifts in people's behavior before and after Christmas. The Office for National Statistics said last week that infections were still rising in England, but that the wave may have peaked in London.
Will Omicron last?
Not in the foreseeable future. The more likely scenario is that Omicron continues to circulate, with cases rising and falling in line with people's mixing patterns and changes to measures that prevent transmission. When plan B is lifted, more people will return to work. In the winter, infections may rise as people spend more time outdoors. It will all be down to human behavior. People may feel safer as infections come down. There will be a constant supply of people who are newly susceptible to the virus because of waning immunity.
Will there be more hospitalisations?
About 5% of the UK population had no immunity to Covid before the Omicron wave hit. This group of people have been most affected by Omicron. On the other side of the Omicron wave, there will be a lot of people who have immunity from infections and this will help to keep hospital admissions down.
Nearly four million people were affected by Omicron in England last week. Infections are rising in older, more vulnerable age groups despite the fact that the under-50s rate is stagnant. It is not clear how severe Omicron can be in older people who had their boosters early.
Population immunity and the arrival of new drugs that aim to slash hospitalisation rates will help the UK emerge from the crisis if cases keep falling. Prof Kao said that they can start planning for the future in which they are treating Covid like other diseases, but they aren't there yet.
What about the test?
Some researchers think it's time to rethink how Test and Trace is done with Omicron spreading quickly and causing less severe disease. Tim Colbourn, professor of global health systems and epidemiology at the University College London, said that contact tracing is probably a waste of resources. One option is to use more of the lateral flow tests and send a message to your close contacts when you test positive.
Prof Kao said that pool testing samples from groups of people and wastewater surveillance could flag new outbreaks, while some physical distance and mask wearing in crowded places would keep cases down. Kao said vulnerable groups will likely remain more vulnerable.
Will Covid-19 become less dangerous as it grows?
Will-covid-19 will become less dangerous as it progresses.
Will there be more variations?
The Covid variant will have to evade immunity in order to spread widely. The key to reducing the risk of new variant is driving down case rates globally, but to date vaccine hodge and the widespread use of boosters in wealthier countries has left vast swathes of the world under-vaccinated. There are new Omicron variant that are still in circulation.
Will the virus get milder as it ages?
Not necessarily. The original Covid virus that emerged from China was more resistant to the Alpha variant. There is no guarantee that Omicron will be as mild in the future. The good news is that the T cell defences have proved more robust, even though several of the variants have developed resistance. The T cell defences are important for preventing hospitalisations and may hold up well against future variants.
Will new drugs help?
That is the hope. Doctors will have access to at least two new drugs this year. Those most likely to become severely ill with Covid are the ones that are targeted. Paxlovid and molnupiravir can reduce hospitalisations by 30% and 89% if taken soon after an infection. Covid was the leading cause of death at the beginning of the Pandemic. It could fall out of the top 10 public health problems by May or June if we can reduce the burden of Covid by 85% of what it was. The next variant will be the next test.