The recent rise in coronavirus cases in the U.K. isn’t due to a new variant say experts, but rather a signal that the predicted fall surge is upon us. Experts calculated COVID-19 cases would rise in October and continue to increase during the winter as people spend more time indoors. According to the Zoe Health Study, about 500,000 in the U.K. and U.S. are currently logging in their symptoms every day to help track the pandemic trends.
According to CNN, the seven-day average of new cases in England and Wales rose 13% for the week ending September 17 over the week before. The seven-day average of hospitalizations was up 17% in the week ending September 19 compared to the previous week.
Dr. Tim Spector, who runs the Zoe Health Study and is a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London, says that what happens in the U.K. is reflected about a month later in the U.S., according to his observations.
“Our current data is definitely showing this is the beginning of the next wave,” he says.
Dr. Peter Hotez, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital questions if this is truly the start of a new wave or just a blip.
“Question one, how significant is that rise?” he asks. “Is it, for instance, the beginning of something new, a new wave, or is this a temporary blip because of all the getting together around the Queen’s funeral and other events that have been going on?”
Secondly, Hotez says that if the increase is due to a new variant, the U.S. may very well be in trouble.
“That’s the worst possible situation,” he says, according to CNN. “Because historically, when that situation occurs in the U.K., it’s reflected within a matter of weeks in the United States. That was true of the alpha wave; that was true of the delta wave; that was true of omicron and its subvariants.”
But other experts blame the increase in COVID-19 cases to waning immunity. Many people in the U.K. are several months past their last COVID-19 booster or infection. Data shows that only 8% of adults over 50 have received the omicron-specific jab since the government started its vaccination campaign in September.
Immunity is also waning in America, with just 35% of those eligible for boosters getting them, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And there are a mix of new variants of BA.4 and BA.5, the dominant strain of viruses, on the horizon, adding fuel to the fire.
“It’s very likely that these will accelerate current increases and cause a substantial wave in October,” said Christina Pagel, of University London College.
Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington says his group is also predicting a rise in reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, says U.S News & World Report. But he adds that severe illness and mortality will not be as high proportionally because so many Americans have been infected or vaccinated, or both, which confers immunity.
Healthcare experts therefore urge all those who are eligible for boosters to get them to reduce the risk of severe illness.