Why Britain’s Covid outlook veers between ‘glorious sunshine and blizzards’

Exactly what happens next, however, is shrouded in thick cloud cover. With an end to mass testing, deciphering data from the UK’s dashboard is increasingly tricky, while the ONS infection survey offers a window into what was happening last week, not yesterday.

But there is a sense among Covid analysts that any drop-off in new infections will be slow.

“What happens next is interesting. It depends a lot on how behaviour changes,” said Mr Angus. “The worst case, barring the emergence of some new nasty variant, is that people returning more and more to ‘normal’ means that there is a really long tail to the current wave and infections remain at a high level for some months to come.”

Dr Adam Kucharski, a modeller at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that, based on the experience of European countries where waves triggered by the highly infectious BA.2 omicron variant began sooner, such as Denmark, he expected the UK’s epidemic curve to decline “quite soon”.

“But the high level of infection we’e seeing shows just how much of the population will be exposed before we reach the level of immunity needed to bring transmission down,” added Dr Kucharski. “It will take some time for infections to translate into hospitalisations, so we could see some prolonged pressure rather than a sharp peak.”

To mitigate the ramifications of a long tail end on both the NHS and society, experts said the UK must extend its protective umbrella and accelerate the spring booster campaign.

Although vaccines are still holding up well against severe disease and death, increasing hospitalisations among the most vulnerable have sparked unease. In his final appearance as England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer this week, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam admitted to “sleepless nights” as he worried about whether over-75s would come forward for their spring booster jabs.

Hospital admissions with Covid among this group in England have already hit levels not seen since the height of the second wave.

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