Given the unprecedented pace at which the Omicron variant is spreading globally, more than 50 per cent of the world would have been infected between November 2021 and March 2022, a top health economist has suggested in an article in The Lancet.
“By March 2022, a large proportion of the world will have been infected with the Omicron variant,” wrote Christopher Murray, director of the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) which puts out a bi-weekly COVID-19 forecast.
“After the Omicron wave, COVID-19 will return but the pandemic will not,” he said in the January 19 article, suggesting that it will become another recurrent disease that health systems and societies will have to manage.
Murray reckons that COVID-19 will continue for many years to come as a recurrent disease, intensifying seasonally and also as people’s immunity declines and new variants emerge. But the “era of extraordinary measures by government and societies to control SARS-CoV-2 transmission will be over”, he wrote in the article.
“For example, the death toll from Omicron seems to be similar in most countries to the level of a bad influenza season in northern hemisphere countries,” said Murray, pointing to the worst influenza season of the decade in the US which was in 2017-18 and caused about 52,000 influenza deaths with a likely peak of more than 1,500 deaths per day.
Currently, IHME’s models suggest that, on January 17, there were 125 million Omicron infections a day globally, which is more than ten times the peak of the Delta wave in April last year.
“The Omicron wave is inexorably reaching every continent with only a few countries in eastern Europe, North Africa, southeast Asia, and Oceania yet to start their wave of this SARS-CoV-2 variant,” said Murray.
“The unprecedented level of infection suggests that more than 50 per cent of the world will have been infected with Omicron between the end of November, 2021 and the end of March, 2022.”
Murray noted that the Omicron wave appears to crest in 3–5 weeks after an exponential increase in reported cases.
“As of January 17, 2022, Omicron waves were peaking in 25 countries in five WHO regions and in 19 states in the USA. It is expected that the Omicron peak will occur in most countries between now and the second week of February, 2022,” he wrote. “The latest Omicron peaks are expected to come in the countries where the Omicron wave has not yet started, such as in eastern Europe and southeast Asia.”