Hope will emerge once omicron waves boost global immunity

World health officials hope the fading omicron wave could give way to a new, more manageable phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, though they warn of tough weeks ahead and the possibility of another, more dangerous variant .

In the U.S., where the number of cases has peaked and is rapidly declining, similar to patterns in the U.K. and South Africa, researchers expect a period of low transmission in many countries by the end of March. While the death toll in the U.S. (now 2,000 a day) is still rising, new hospital admissions have begun to fall, and deaths are expected to follow.

After two years of coronavirus pain, encouraging trends have given health experts a clear tone of hope. Previously optimistic predictions have collapsed, but this time they are backed by what could be called a silver lining for omicron: a highly contagious variant that will leave behind extremely high levels of immunity.

On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke of a “best-case scenario” where COVID-19 would drop to manageable levels so the U.S. could “return to some degree of normalcy” “.

On Monday, the World Health Organization issued a statement predicting the end of the “emergency phase” of the pandemic this year, saying the omicron variant “offers plausible hope for stabilization and normalization.”

Both Fauci and WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Kruger warned that new variants could emerge, but with vaccinations, new drug treatments and (during the surge) testing and masks, the world A less devastating level of disease may be reached. As Fauci puts it, the virus “basically blends into the general respiratory infections that we’ve learned to live with.”

In the U.S., new cases are still averaging as high as 680,000 a day, down from a historic peak of more than 800,000 a little over a week ago.

The areas where the U.S. omicron hit first saw the largest declines. New cases are falling sharply in the Northeast, while other states — which include Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Kansas and North Dakota — are still awaiting relief.

The number of new hospital admissions of confirmed COVID-19 patients in the U.S. is also falling. They averaged nearly 20,000 per day, down about 7 percent from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The numbers include patients who went to the hospital for other reasons and tested positive. But even accounting for these sporadic infections, the trend is promising.

One influential model predicts that nearly all countries will be out of the omicron wave by mid-March, including China and others with “zero-COVID” policies. This wave will leave high levels of immunity — including infection and vaccination — that could lead to weeks or months of low-level transmission.

“What do we end up with?” said Dr. Christopher Murray of the University of Washington, who developed the much-watched Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model. “We ended up with the highest level of global immunity we’ve seen in a pandemic.”

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The model estimates that 57% of the world’s population has been infected with the virus at least once.

Another research team combined several models and shared forecasts with the White House that predicted U.S. infections would plummet by April unless a new variant emerges that can sidestep growing levels of immunity.

“It’s dangerous to forget this possibility because it’s caught us before,” said Penn State’s Katriona Shea, who led the team that brought together the models.

She also noted that projections show between 16,000 and 98,000 more Americans will die before the omicron wave ends. The U.S. death toll is approaching 870,000.

“Even if we forecast a more optimistic future, we still have a lot of COVID transmission right now, our hospital system is stressed, and We haven’t peaked in death tolls.” The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

“There’s still a lot of pain before omicron is on the right track,” she said, but added: “It’s very plausible that omicron will be a tipping point in terms of our relationship with this virus.”

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