A: Unfortunately no. While there has been good news of late in the U.S. and U.K. with steep declines in cases, many countries in Europe and elsewhere are seeing rising cases and deaths.
TL;DR: Don’t pop the champagne cork quite yet. While the vaccine roll-out in some countries is a triumph and likely slowing transmission rates, new variants combined with letting up on the brake of prevention measures could lead to resurgences of the virus.
Since hitting dramatic heights in January, cases have fallen sharply in many countries including the U.S., U.K, and South Africa, leading to speculation that COVID-19 was naturally on it’s way out the door.
But with evidence that the new B.1.17 variant is indeed more transmissible and becoming increasingly prevalent in the US and Europe, and record daily deaths in Brazil, reports of the demise of COVID-19 may be greatly exaggerated.
❓But I thought we were seeing seasonality?
While seasonality may nudge things in a certain direction, the diverging patterns we are seeing across countries and time suggest seasonality is not the main driver of dramatic turns in case trajectories.
❓What about herd immunity?
Not quite yet. In countries already hit hard by multiple waves of COVID-19 like Italy and Brazil, cases are still rising. Many other countries including Eastern Europe that escaped the Spring wave have a high percentage of their populations still susceptible and are seeing big increases in cases.
In the U.S and the U.K, vaccination rates + natural infections may be reaching levels where 40-50+% of the population has some immunity. While this immunity acts as a firewall and slows transmission rates, it doesn’t necessarily keep the R rate below 1 without additional prevention measures- it is estimated that we need 70-90% population immunity to reach that level of herd immunity.
In most of the rest of the world, vaccine coverage is still quite low, including the European Union where distribution of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine has been temporarily halted in several countries, contrary to the recommendations of the WHO and EU regulatory bodies. (see recent piece here on OX/AZ vaccine here)
With over 2000 COVID-19 deaths a day currently in the EU, sadly this low vaccination rate coupled with the B.1.1.7 variant (see below) means there is still large scope for increases in cases, followed by even more hospitalizations and deaths.
❓What about new variants?
The B.1.1.7 has been estimated to be 60% more transmissible than previous variants (and more deadly). Despite the quick take off of transmission in the UK during December and early January attributed to the new variant, the variant has not been “immune” to the impact of lockdown, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all falling dramatically. With schools re-opening on March 8th in England and a phased re-opening of other businesses starting in April, the next few weeks may reveal how vulnerable or not the UK is to resurgence.
In the U.S., the effects of the B.1.1.7 variant on transmission have not been fully seen yet, as the relative prevalence of this variant is just now starting to increase. Case declines in many states have halted and reversed. With many states easing restrictions and a growing sense that the worst is over, it’s possible the U.S. could still see a new and deadly wave before high vaccine coverage has had a chance to kick in.
Brazil is having its worst days of the pandemic, which have already been tragic. They recently hit their highest daily COVID-19 death toll of 2841 deaths in 24 hours, and hospitals are at their breaking point. The new P1 variant in Brazil may be contributing to increased transmission, as it shares some mutation features with the B.1.1.7 variant. At the same time there are few formal restrictions and the Brazilian government has consistently downplayed the severity of COVID-19.
➡️ BOTTOM LINE:
We’re still not at the finish line of this pandemic marathon just yet. Cases are still rising, or rising again, in many parts of the world. Vaccination is our way out, but it will take time both within countries AND across the globe before we can let our guard down.
SARS-CoV-2 may still have some tricks up its sleeve, but by continuing to #StaySMART in our prevention measures and getting our vaccine when eligible, we WILL outsmart and outlast this nasty virus. Remember that COVID-19 deaths averted now are COVID-19 deaths that never need to happen.
Those Nerdy Girls