So how will the pandemic be felt in 2023? This question is in some ways impossible to answer, given a number of unknowns. In early 2020 the scientific community was focused on determining key parameters that could be used to make projections as to the severity and extent of the spread of the virus. Now, the complex interplay of COVID variants, vaccination and natural immunity makes that process far more difficult and less predictable.
But this doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people estimated to be infected has varied over time, but this figure has not fallen below 1.25% (or one in 80 people) in England for the entirety of 2022. COVID is very much still with us, and people are being infected time and time again.
Meanwhile, the number of people self-reporting long COVID symptoms in the UK is around 3.4%, or one in 30 people. And the cumulative risk of acquiring long COVID grows the more times people are reinfected with COVID.
The UK’s health system is under huge pressure, with very high pre-COVID waiting times having been exacerbated during the pandemic.
Why COVID projections have become harder
Relatively few variables were needed to produce the first projections. That was because there was one main variant of COVID, the original strain, to which everyone in the world was susceptible.
But now, those simple assumptions no longer hold. Much of the world’s population is estimated to have had COVID and there are significant differences between individual levels of protection in terms of which vaccines, and how many doses, people have received around the world. In total, 13 billion vaccine doses have been administered – but not equitably.
Modelling also works well when people act in ways that are predictable, whether this is normal, pre-pandemic behaviour, or at times of severe social restrictions. As people adapt to the virus and make their own assessment of risk and benefits of behaviour, modelling becomes more complex.