Covid In 2023 And Beyond: Why Virus Trends Are More Difficult To Predict 3 Years On


There is no certainty that new variants will emerge. That affect the sequence of deltas or omicrons. But it is possible. When this happens, it is important to plan to respond in the wake of waning interest in Covid. And resurgent misinformation and confusion.

Loughborough, UK: In 2020, we knew little about the new virus that would become known as COVID-19. Now, as we enter 2023, a search on Google Scholar produces 5 million results containing the term.

So what will the pandemic look like in 2023? Answering this question is in some ways impossible, given some unknowns. In the early 2020s the scientific community focused on determining key parameters. That could be used to predict the intensity and extent of virus spread. Now, the complex interplay of Covid variants, vaccines. And natural immunity makes that process more difficult and less predictable.

But that doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people thought to be infected has changed over time. But in 2022 the figure did not fall below 1.25% (or one in 80) across England. Covid is still very much with us, and people are getting infected and time again.

Meanwhile, the number of people self-reporting prolonged Covid symptoms in the UK is around 3.4%, or one in 30 people. And each time people are re-infected with Covid. The risk of acquiring prolonged Covid increases.

The UK’s health system is under enormous pressure. With already high pre-Covid waiting times exacerbated during the pandemic.

Why Covid estimation has become difficult

In the early days of the pandemic, simple models can be used to project the number of COVID cases. And the potential impact on the population, including the demand for health services.

few variables were needed to make the first projections. This was because there was a major variant of Covid, the original strain, to which everyone in the world was susceptible.

But now, those simple assumptions no longer hold. Most of the world’s population is estimated to have had Covid. And there is considerable variation in individual levels of protection which vaccines. And how many doses people have received around the world. In total, 13 billion vaccine doses have been administered – but not .

Modeling also works well when people behave in predictable ways. Be it normal, pre-pandemic behavior, or times of severe social restrictions. As people adapt to the virus and make their own assessments of the risks. And benefits of behavior, the modeling becomes more complex.

Fewer observations make modeling more difficult. This was a priority during the peak of the emergency response to Covid. Which included surveillance of people infected with the virus and surveillance of variants. This allows early detection and development of responses to new variants such as Omicron.

The UK in particular has produced two million Covid sequences by February 2022. Accounting for one-quarter of the world’s genome sequencing output. But sequencing activity has slowed. Which may increase the time to identify new variants of concern.

The epidemic is not over

There are large differences between pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions around. The world, such as mask use, covid testing and building ventilation. As governments relax and re-tighten their responses to dynamic medical. And social pressures, there is a risk that variations may emerge. That undermine some of the defenses the population has built up.

The later stages of the epidemic will also be influenced by human behavior. For example, how much we work from home and whether we reduce our social contact when contagious.

There is no guarantee that new variants will emerge that affect the sequence of deltas or omicrons, but it is possible. If this happens, it is important to plan to respond in light of declining interest in Covid and resurgent misinformation and confusion.

Beyond 2023 – The Next Pandemic

It is relevant to ask how much has been learned during the COVID pandemic to improve the response to then pandemics.

During this pandemic, we often prioritized short-term national interests. Discounting the long-term global availability of vaccines. While focusing on an fair national response to vaccines. While laudable initiatives such as COVAX were established. Envisioned to provide fair access to Covid vaccines and treatments. The challenge is to create incentives for countries to cooperate in reducing long-term global risks.

As with any political response, urgent priorities can be forgotten. Such as the government’s ability to develop vaccines. An example is the sale of the UK government’s Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. The ability to develop and develop vaccines will position us well for the next pandemic. But these priorities must now compete against others.

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