Peak Omicron? Experts fear of calling the time on a variant wave in Europe
The rise in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron strain may have reached some parts of Europe, but medics believe it will continue to be felt across the region, with hospitals still at risk of being rushed to admissions.
Health experts and politicians are warning against complacency, and said it is not yet clear if their data reflect the full implications of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
In addition, although vaccination and the lesser severity of the Omicron variant mean hospitalizations are lower than in previous COVID-19 infections, it still accounts for about half of global cases and deaths.
There are no doubt that the increase of infections caused by the Omicron variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong, is still low or even falling in some areas.
The average of cases in the United Kingdom has fallen by 30,000 since its peak, according to Spain's prime minister. Infection numbers are decreasing, and a French public health institute has said the wave will peak in mid-January.
"We see a number of places where the peak is being reached or has been achieved," according to Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's Europe director.
"So we have to keep an eye on the eastern part of the region, the central Asian republics, where this peak may come.."
According to health officials in Sweden and Switzerland, the peak in these two countries is expected to be reached towards the end of this month.
"We might reach the peak in the next two weeks if people remain on the same level, but it will take longer," said Tanja Stadler, head of Switzerland's COVID-19 science task force.
The Omicron wave in Africa, the WHO's Africa office said, has dropped, making it the shortest increase in cases to date.
Denmark, where Omicron is a leader in the country, has had some restrictions this week, with the health minister declaring that the epidemic is now under control.
According to the Office of National Statistics of England, the number of infections in England has slowed. One in 15 people was thought to have been infected in the week ending January 6, the same as the previous week.
PRIVAILS FOR CAUTION
Despite the positive signs, politicians are still cautious.
In the next few weeks, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that while the rate of hospitalization was starting to slow, the health service would remain under pressure.
"Omicron's much more severe transmissibility has the potential to lead to significant numbers of people in the hospital," says the omicron expert.
Infections are falling in London and the east of England, according to the author, but "we're still seeing them rise in other parts of the country. The statistics do not yet reflect the consequences of returning to work and school."
On Monday, Scotland, which had introduced harsher penalties to combat Omicron than England, will begin lifting those restrictions.
However, if the stability is demonstrated in the event it is not being seen everywhere, Italy's National Health Institute announced on Friday that hospital bed occupancy and incidence could continue to increase this week.
According to Germany's health minister, more coronavirus limitations might be required if hospitals are being overwhelmed on Friday.
Omicron spreads quickly among younger people, so epidemiologists warn it might impact hospital admissions as it moves into older age groups, even if headline cases fall.
The ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, which collects data on self-reported symptoms to estimate prevalence in the United Kingdom, has found that the Omicron wave has reached an early stage, and that cases among the elderly have remained low.
"Just as it went up very quickly, it also came down very fast, and I think it's good news, it means that there will be fewer pressures on the hospitals," said Tim Spector, the head scientist on the app, on Reuters.
Omicron is a viable variant, but it will not disappear, according to the president.
"It's just so infectious, there's no way we can pretend that it's going to reach trivial levels, but it should be it should be manageable levels," said the former president.