World health officials are offering hope that the ebbing of the Omicron wave could give way to a new, more manageable phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they warn of difficult weeks ahead and the possibility of another, more dangerous variant arising. Although nationwide numbers may be falling, experts say the prevalence of Omicron remains serious. Cases and hospitalizations are still near pandemic-record levels, and health experts continue to encourage vaccinations, boosters, and masking when in public spaces.
In the U.S., cases have crested and are dropping rapidly, following a pattern seen in Britain and South Africa, with researchers projecting a period of low spread in many countries by the end of March. Though U.S. deaths — now at 2,000 each day — are still rising, new hospital admissions have started to fall, and a drop in deaths is expected to follow.
The encouraging trends after two years of coronavirus misery have brought a noticeably hopeful tone from health experts. Optimistic predictions have fallen short of expectations before, but this time they are backed by what could be called Omicron’s silver lining: The highly contagious variant will leave behind extremely high levels of immunity.
Please wear a mask. It’s an important tool to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 24, 2022
Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on ABC “This Week” on Sunday and spoke about a “best-case scenario” where COVID-19 would fall to manageable levels so the United States could get “back to a degree of normality.”
In step with Dr. Fauci’s cautiously optimistic forecast on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement anticipating an end to the “emergency phase” of the pandemic this year and saying that the omicron variant “offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”
Today, as we mark two years of the #COVID19 pandemic in Europe and Central Asia, we could be entering a new phase driven by the #Omicron variant, with plausible hope for stabilization. But it is still too early to drop our guard. 1/thread
— Hans Kluge (@hans_kluge) January 24, 2022
Both Dr. Fauci and the WHO’s Europe regional director, Dr. Hans Kluge, cautioned that new variants are likely to emerge, but with vaccination, new drug therapies, and testing and masks during any surges, the world could reach a “less disruptive level” of disease in which the virus is, as Dr. Fauci put it, “essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with.”
I’m concerned about the new #BA2 sub variant of #Omicron. In the left panel, you see it is surging (light green) to almost half of all Danish 🇩🇰 #Omicron cases—surpassing the old Omicron BA1 variant by a lot. Either it’s much faster transmission or it evades immunity even more.👇 pic.twitter.com/f5vhHOZl5H
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) January 23, 2022
In the U.S., new cases are averaging a still extraordinarily high 680,000 a day, down from an all-time peak of over 800,000 a little more than a week ago. But as cases have already peaked in 24 states and the numbers are slowly waning, Dr. Fauci says he expects cases nationwide will be “tailing” off in mid-February. “As we get into February … it is very likely that most of the states in the country will have turned around with their peak and are starting to come down with regard to cases and then obviously hospitalizations,” Dr. Fauci said.