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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 April 2024

Coronavirus is spreading faster than ever, but there’s hope

As you get further on and cases become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalisations as opposed to the total number of cases: Dr Fauci

New York Times News Service New York Published 04.01.22, 03:34 AM
The world is recording an average of nearly 1.5 million new cases every day.

The world is recording an average of nearly 1.5 million new cases every day. File Photoi

The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever at the start of 2022, but the last days of 2021 brought some encouraging news about the latest wave of infections.

With growing evidence that the omicron variant produces less severe illness than in earlier waves, governments are redoubling their focus on vaccinations and boosters, which are increasingly seen as the world’s ticket to “living with Covid”.

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Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the US government’s top infectious disease expert, said on Sunday that hospitalisations, which are not rising as fast, were a more important barometer than reported cases for the severity of the omicron wave, a sharp distinction after nearly two years of tallying daily case counts.

“As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalisations as opposed to the total number of cases,” Dr Fauci said.

Still, the case numbers remain staggering. The world is recording an average of nearly 1.5 million new cases every day, twice as many per day as were recorded nearly a week ago, although the figures in many places may have been distorted by holiday reporting delays. In the US, experts forecast that the omicron wave could crest in mid-January, but not before millions were infected every week. Across Europe, caseloads have soared to new highs and ushered in another bitter winter of social restrictions, mask mandates and shifting travel rules.

The holidays made things worse as colder weather and festive gatherings drove people indoors, where the virus circulates more easily. Airports and mass transit hubs were snarled with travellers.

And with many government offices closed, testing and case data were not being compiled as regularly, leaving officials and experts, at least temporarily, with an incomplete picture of how bad things were getting.

As much of the world returns to work this week, however, several trends are becoming clearer:

Omicron seems milder: A large British study determined that people who contract omicron are far less likely to be hospitalised than those infected with the Delta variant. Other studies found that omicron may not spread as easily to the lungs, a possible explanation of why its effects appear less severe.

Vaccines, especially boosters, help: The British study also underlined that the risk of hospitalisation was significantly lower for people who had received two or three vaccine doses, compared with unvaccinated people.

Delta remains a threat: The earlier variant still accounts for a large share of new infections in many countries — including more than 41 per cent in the US, according to federal data from the week ending on Christmas Day — and is significantly more virulent.

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