Officials have largely dismissed these concerns, despite a recent rise in cases across Europe, and insist that high immunization rates will help dampen future disease waves.
Based on how quickly new varieties have emerged, some experts suggest that the next one may arrive as early as May. They warn that British authorities should take the time to prepare instead of dismantling their pandemic defenses.
Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, called it “an unfortunate pattern” that has been seen repeatedly through the outbreak.
“Every time a wave of COVID passes, the government acts as if it is the end of the pandemic,” he said.
Without testing and monitoring, new clusters or signs that the virus is developing may be missed, Woolhouse said.
“I do not understand why governments do not learn this lesson,” he said.
As most COVID-19 restrictions have been eased across Europe, including Austria, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany and France, the number of infections has risen in recent days. The increase is partly driven by the slightly more contagious omicron descendant BA.2 and by the fact that people largely give up masks and gather in larger groups.
In the last two weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have both increased slightly in the UK.
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid described the rise as “expected” and the country as “in a very good position.”
“The government can not wave a magic wand and pretend that the threat has completely disappeared,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the UK National Health Service.
However, other officials have pointed out that the testing and monitoring programs are hugely expensive. Last month, the Swedish authorities stopped extensive testing and said the cost and relevance were no longer justifiable.
“If we were to have comprehensive tests tailored to everyone who has COVID-19, it would mean half a billion kroner a week (about $ 55 million) and 2 billion a month ($ 220 million),” said Swedish public health director Karin Tegmark. Wisell last month when their test programs were shelved.
British officials have now apparently made the same calculation.
“The question is whether we can afford to keep using these expensive tools if it looks like COVID is becoming endemic,” said Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
He said it was likely that the virus would develop into a more transmissible and less dangerous form, but acknowledged that the process could take years – and that we would likely face sporadic increases until it happens.
Karim predicts that the next big wave of disease may come within a few weeks, noting that South Africa had been hit by COVID-19 increases every three months, meaning the next wave could start in May.
Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia, said we would probably see a different variant or two each year, based on how quickly coronavirus mutates.
Yet many experts do not believe that future waves of COVID-19 will be as brutal as the past.
“We are somewhere else because we have vaccines and we know what works,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, President of Global Health at Columbia University.
“Meanwhile, it is the wrong time to phase out the strong public health systems we have relied on throughout the pandemic,” El-Sadr said.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic