June 3, 2023
Welcome to the new normal

Welcome to the new normal


Experts of an authoritative international scientific journal Nature published an article titled “The Future of COVID: Mini Waves, Not Seasonal Bursts.” Three years after the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus does not show signs of transitioning to a seasonal pattern of distribution, like the flu, the authors note.

This means that the causative agent of covid, alas, does not justify the hopes of optimists. If the flu, as a rule, attacks us “strictly on schedule”, with a peak of infections in January-February, then SARS-CoV-2 continues to be unpredictable. So, it seems that one cannot count on a spring-summer respite this year. This confirmed and Rospotrebnadzor, which announced a wave of incidence of the Arctur variant at the end of May. Some experts are inclined to believe that it crashes even earlier.


Welcome to the new normal: the era of “wavelets”. So scientists call those very mini-waves of covid. They are not as powerful and deadly as in the early years of the pandemic. Hospitals will not be overwhelmed by the flow of severe patients, experts are encouraging. But most people, albeit in a mild form, will become infected again and again. Literally every three or four months. How does such a “marathon” affect health, there is no definitive answer yet. But, as immunologists say, any cold shortens your life a little and it is better to avoid even the most “simple” infections.

“The never-ending series of wavelets is very different from the annual circulation patterns of influenza and seasonal coronaviruses that cause colds,” the authors of the Nature paper note. “And it seems less and less likely that SARS-CoV-2 will move into a flu-like rhythm any time soon.” Evolutionary biologist Trevor Bedford draws attention to the fact that the frequency of outbreaks of covid has not decreased over the past year. And predicts: “It will be a constantly circulating respiratory disease.”

As proof, the researchers cite another off-season surge in the incidence of Arcturus. At the same time, the “height” of the wave can vary in different countries, experts specify. So, in India, the outbreak caused a serious increase in morbidity and a jump in mortality (albeit smaller than in previous years of the pandemic). A similar fate awaits the United States, scientists suggest. But in Europe, where most of the population has relatively recently been ill with a closely related variant of the “omicron” XBB.1.5, the incidence will be lower this time. In Russia, a picture similar to the European one is expected.


American biologist Bedford explains the frequency and off-season of “wavelets” (mini-waves of covid) at the dizzying pace of coronavirus changes. “Now the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, in which most of the mutations aimed at evading immunity occur, changes twice as fast as the similar flu protein. And about ten times faster than seasonal cold-causing coronaviruses,” the scientist describes. This combination of mutation rate and the short duration of human immunity to covid (due to those same mutations) is precisely what prevents the transition to a well-defined, seasonal schedule of infection outbreaks, experts believe.

Data from a study in the UK showed that in the country over the past year there have been as many cases of coronavirus infection as there are residents in Foggy Albion. This corresponds to a “100% annual incidence rate,” says Bedford (although, it is clear that some people were infected several times. – Ed.). In the future, we can expect a 50% incidence every year, when half the population will become infected, the scientist predicts. While in seasonal flu this figure is not more than 20%.

However, there is no doubt that the ongoing ebb and flow of COVID-19 is far less of a problem than in the past. This gives humanity hope that even with frequent morbidity, losses from covid will become comparable to the flu, Nature experts conclude.


Most likely, covid will still become a seasonal infection

“Yes, now the coronavirus is behaving like an off-season pathogen,” Anatoly Altshtein, professor-virologist, doctor of medical sciences, chief researcher at the National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology named after N.F. Gamaleya, agreed in a conversation with KP. “However, it is still premature to say that covid will not become a seasonal infection. The fact is that the period of accelerated evolution of SARS-CoV-2 has not yet ended. When the virus begins to change more slowly, it is likely to move closer to its counterparts – seasonal coronaviruses that cause mild colds.

– Anatoly Davidovich, under what conditions will the evolution of the “corona” slow down? And how long to wait?

– The more people become infected, the more often the virus mutates. And, accordingly, it changes faster (due to which it more successfully evades our immunity. – Ed.). Over time, the prevalence of infection can be expected to decline.

As experts explain, this will happen because, on the one hand, part of the population will retain immune memory after a recent illness. On the other hand, scientists are on their way to creating effective nasal vaccines that will protect not only from severe forms of covid, but also from infection.

It is difficult to say exactly, but it is quite possible that COVID-19 will turn into a seasonal infection within the next 5 years, Professor Altstein suggests.

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