Britain is set to dodge a big Covid wave for the upcoming festive period according to a new report, but an expert has warned that this may just be the calm before the storm. When January hits, cases are expected to soar once again. Modelling by University College London (UCL) has indicated that a winter wave of Covid cases won’t hit the UK until Christmas is over. This is due to a peak which was accurately predicted on October and is already starting to drop off again.
However, the report warns of a subsequent acceleration of the virus in late January 2023, meaning many will be able to enjoy the festive holiday without fear of the virus being rampant like it was in 2020. Two subvariants of Omicron, known as BQ.1 and XBB, are thought to be the cause of the recent spike in cases.
Life has reverted to some form of normality after a year of lockdowns to combat the virus. But many people still opt to wear their masks in public in a bid to keep safe from the infection. But it’s reported that with a surge in Covid cases and other respiratory infections, hospitals are fearing for another overstretched winter.
Dr Cheryl Walter, a virologist from the University of Hull explained to Express.co.uk why cases are expected to drop after the October spike. She said: “An earlier peak in October/November will result in the inevitable downturn for December and early January, however, the model does predict a second, large peak towards the end of January.
“The autumn/winter peak this year might be earlier as a result of more mixing of people, more transmissible variants and potentially, waning immunity.”
This comes after, according to official testing data, weekly cases in England dropped by 15 percent to 47,000 in the week ending October 22 (less accurate now that free testing has ended).
However, the Office for National Statistics’ infection survey for the week ending October 17 recorded 1,748,400, or around 1 in 30 people with positive cases.
Dr Walter told Express.co.uk that cases from October appear to have started falling as “there is still good protection from the vaccine campaign as evidenced by the sustained reduction in case fatality rates.”
She added: “Many people who are eligible to do so are getting their follow-up booster and other reasons might pertain to the large summer peak and resultant changes in circulating prevalence from that.”
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But she warned that the UK may not be completely in the clear in December, although she did stress that the modelling is likely to be accurate.
Dr Walter said: “It’s always possible (for the prediction to be wrong), but the model has been accurate in terms of predicting this early, short October peak.”
And while it is still unclear how damaging the Omicron subvariants which have spread from Europe will be for the UK, it is still expected that January will be the peak month.
Dr Walter told Express.co.uk: “More data is needed before a conclusion on that can be drawn from how these variants manifest in the UK over the winter. January, as in most years, will be challenging for the NHS if this model is accurate with a lingering tail of significant rates of hospitalisation in February, potentially March.”
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Experts previously warned Express.co.uk that the UK could expect a winter wave, but like the UCL model predicts, not in the immediate future.
Prof Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said: “We have recently seen a moderate wave of SARS-CoV-2. Though, it looks like case numbers have peaked throughout Europe by now. We don’t expect another big wave in the immediate future.”
But unlike earlier waves which have led to millions of deaths, the scientist suspects that the next spike will not be anywhere near as damaging as previously seen.
He said: “Unless there will be another major evolutionary shift in the virus, such as the emergence of the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants, Covid mortality this coming winter won’t be back to what we experienced earlier in the pandemic. As long as we’re facing offshoots of the current Omicron strains in circulation, current levels of immunisation due to vaccination and prior infection should hold up well.”