Modellers: brace for large waves of COVID infection

There is a realistic possibility of large waves of COVID-19 infection in the future in the UK, and such waves might even be considered likely, according to epidemiologists who model the COVID-19 pandemic to inform the government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ended legal restrictions in England, saying that, while the pandemic was not over, Britain needs to learn to live with the virus.

However, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, operational sub-group (SPIMO) said the emergence of new viral variants was the biggest unknown factor in the medium-to-long term, along with waning population immunity and changes in mixing patterns.

“Large future waves of infection that need active management to prevent detrimental pressure on the health and care sector are, at least, a realistic possibility (high confidence) or likely (medium confidence),” SPIMO said in a statement.

Britain has reported 157,730 deaths from COVID-19, the seventh highest total globally, and Johnson has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the pandemic, which has seen three national lockdowns.

The Omicron variant fuelled a spike in infections to new highs at the end of last year, prompting Johnson to reintroduce some limited measures, but deaths did not rise at the same pace.

He has now reopened the economy fully, citing the country’s programme of booster shots, the availability of antivirals, and the lower severity of the Omicron variant, as breaking the link between infections and deaths.

“The next few years will be highly uncertain, and future outbreaks and waves will likely be noisy as things settle down,” the SPIMO statement said.

“A steady, predictable pattern… may be many years away.”

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