Covid surges curtailed our festive plans in 2020 and then in 2021, but according to new modelling from University College London, this year could be different.
The UK could be on track for a relatively low-Covid Christmas for the first time in three years, according to forecasting from experts.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) found that coronavirus cases were expected to peak in late October then start to fall between now and Christmas, before spiking again in January 2023.
In 2020, family gatherings were cancelled at the last minute after the planned easing of Covid restrictions was scrapped due to a surge in cases, as swathes of the country were placed in Tier 4 lockdown measures. The following year, families were allowed to meet up, but many events and celebrations were curtailed or cancelled after the Omicron variant caused cases to rise again.
“It looks as if the current peak has passed,” UCL neuroscientist Professor Karl Friston told The Telegraph. “The long-term forecast suggests a subsequent peak after Christmas.
“This appears to be largely driven by seasonal fluctuations in transmission risk and a slower underlying increase, due to the emergence of new variants,” he added.
“One should perhaps also note that virulence has declined substantially, particularly in the face of vaccination. This means the morbidity and mortality of a large post-Christmas wave should be substantially less than previous years.”
Friston told Sky News that this model is “based on everything that has happened so far”, including infection data, hospitalisation and death rates and vaccine uptake, as well as Google mobility data.
“You can see a pattern over the past two years of a peak in late October or early November, and then a large one after Christmas,” he told the broadcaster, explaining that this could be because “contact rates are really up” during the holidays, when you are often inside or travelling to visit friends or family you haven’t seen for a long time.
However, as the past few years have taught us, the situation can change rapidly thanks to the emergence of new variants. Not all scientists agree that the next peak will arrive as late as January either, with University of Leeds virologist Dr Stephen Griffin telling Sky Newsthat, “BQ1.1, another sub-variant, is already on the up in the UK […] so I was under the impression the peak will be sooner, more like November and December.”
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency identified two new Covid variants, BQ.1 and XBB, as “currently circulating in England”. Both are believed to have developed from the Omicron variant, but neither has yet been labelled a “variant of concern”.
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