COVID-19 case numbers in the United Kingdom appear to be waning in the winter wave driven by Omicron, indicating the locale is already past the peak of infections and the highly transmissible variant’s impact could be short-lived, reports said Thursday.
The seven-day average for new daily infections in the UK has been steadily declining for a week and on Tuesday, dipped below the two-week average for the first time since November when the variant first emerged, a Wall Street Journal data analysis shows.
In England, the rate of hospital admissions, a lagging indicator of the pandemic’s impact, has also slowed down and the change is particularly strong in London, which felt Omicron’s impact ahead of other regions, the outlet reported.
In late December and early January, new hospitalizations in England saw week-over-week increases higher than 70 percent, but between Jan. 3 and 10, admissions fell 1 percent throughout the country, the analysis shows.
In London, hospital admissions were down 19 percent between Jan. 3 and 10 compared to the week prior, and across the UK, the positivity rate dropped to 8.8 percent on Tuesday, down from 11 percent on Jan. 4.
The data echoes the same pattern seen in South Africa, where Omicron cases rose rapidly for a month before falling, offering a promising sign to the US that the worst could soon be over.
“We seem to be turning a corner now,” Tom Wingfield, an infectious diseases doctor in Liverpool, told the outlet.
“At least in my hospital, we think the peak of inpatient admissions with COVID may be in the next week or so … We’re all tired, but I’m much more positive about 2022, at least in the UK.”
Overall, the impact Omicron has had on patients has been milder than previous variants, a phenomenon the country chalks up to its vaccination rates and also the bug’s inability to deeply penetrate the lungs.
Compared to a week earlier, the number of people on ventilators in English hospitals dropped 12 percent Wednesday — a figure less than a fifth of the peak recorded last January.
Scientists cautioned the data could reverse as more people start to gather and school resumes, and it may not be capturing the full scope of the pandemic after government officials recently scrapped the requirement to get a confirmatory PCR test following a positive rapid test.
It’s also unclear why the Omicron wave is peaking more quickly than previous variants and if the same patterns will continue across the globe.
Mark Woolhouse, who teaches infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said there are several reasons Omicron could be different than earlier strains.
He told the outlet that because it spreads so quickly, it could exhaust potential hosts more rapidly, but the drop in cases could also be because people changed their behavior when Omicron started surging.
Another explanation, which Woolhouse favors, is that Omicron replicates so much faster and a shorter interval between doubling of infections can reduce the overall wave.
“You get a much spikier peak, much faster up and much faster down, if the generation time is shorter,” Woolhouse told the outlet.