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COVID: Have we reached the peak of omicron infections?

The new year started with a doubling of COVID infections.

On Tuesday, the European Regional Director for the World Health Organization (WHO), Hans Kluge, said that the 53 countries in the region had seen over 7 million newly reported cases of COVID-19 in the first week of 2022.

Those figures had more than doubled over a two-week period, Kluge said.

As of January 10, 26 countries in Europe had reported that more than 1% of their population was getting infected with COVID-19 each week.

The situation is “challenging health systems […] in many countries where Omicron has spread at speed and threatens to overwhelm in many more,” said Kluge.

But he said that vaccines were providing good protection against severe disease and death, including for omicron. He said that immunization was preventing many people from needing hospitalization.

Citing hospitalization rates in Denmark, Kluge said there were six times as many unvaccinated COVID patients in hospitals over the Christmas week than COVID patients who were fully vaccinated.

The latest forecasts from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) seem to echo Kluge’s assessment. The IHME is a population health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which the WHO references itself.

Its director and lead-modeler, Christopher Murray, says “hospitals need support.”

Daily global cases of coronavirus could reach 5 million, but that could “top out in the month of January,” says Murray.

“We expect that by March, omicron will infect 60% of the world’s population,” Murray says. And “we are seeing a small increase in deaths at the global level because of omicron.”

In Europe alone, it is estimated that more than 50% of the region’s population could get infected with omicron in the next 6-8 weeks.

London’s Regional Director for Public Health, Kevin Fenton, told Sky News in the UK that infection rates in the British capital appeared to have reached their peak at around New Year. He cited figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, while those ONS data from January 7 do show a drop in positive COVID-19 tests (on nose and throat swabs), that was only for the British capital, London.

Elsewhere in England, the ONS data show that infection rates continued to rise. And the same goes for the other three nations in the UK — certainly when it comes to the omicron variant of the coronavirus: Rates for omicron were up in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Delta infections were on a downward trend.

Infection rates remained “very, very high,” said Fenton, with one in 10 Londoners infected. “We’re not yet out of this critical phase of the pandemic, although we may well be passed the peak.”

Fenton went on to say that London was not seeing a “rapid reduction” in infection rates yet, and that there was pressure on hospitals in London — largely coming from unvaccinated patients or those whose vaccinations were “incomplete.”

In the United States, health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they see potential for a speedy drop in omicron infections, but they are saying that with a note of caution.

Speaking at a briefing on January 7, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the omicron trend in South Africa, where the variant was first reported in November 2021, had been described as more of an “ice pick than a wave.”

Walensky said we could see more of a “precipitous increase, and then a precipitous decline.” But, then, said Walensky, the situation in South Africa was different from that in the United States, and that makes a straight comparison difficult.

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