Covid now killing half as many people as bad flu year

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Influenza death figures from 2017/18 indicate the burden of the coronavirus is now comparable to flu, according to Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of East Anglia.

He said: “Once we’re past this Omicron peak — excluding another unexpected variant that reverses all of our progress — then we’ll be close to the point of endemic.”

He added that Covid will “almost certainly” get weaker every year as people develop natural immunity. Eventually, he suggested, the virus will develop into a common cold.

The data Prof Hunter referred to shows there were more than 400 influenza deaths per day at the peak of the last bad flu season and almost 300 daily fatalities the year before.

On Monday, the UK recorded 77 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test.

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During the bad flu season, like this winter due to the pressures brought by the coronavirus, routine hospital treatments were disrupted and patients were told to avoid visiting A&E units.

Prof Hunter’s comments to MailOnline follow the release throughout the past month of new studies reinforcing the belief that Omicron causes less serious disease than previous variants.

Evidence from six studies indicates that the newest version of the virus, first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa in November, is more likely to infect people’s throats, which researchers believe could explain why, though more infectious, it appears to be less harmful than other strains.

Scientists’ findings have yet to be peer-reviewed. However, they confidently point out that Omicron does not damage people’s lungs as much as Delta and other previous versions of the coronavirus.

He said: “In general, though with exceptions, viral infections tend to evolve toward more benignity. That is, it doesn’t help the virus to survive if it makes its host so ill that they stay at home in bed.

“Ideally, from the virus’s perspective, the host should be well enough to be with other people but still be coughing and sneezing.”

The UK on Monday recorded 142,224 positive infections.

Despite the staggering figure, as a result of the findings on Omicron’s generally lower-danger, ministers are considering starting to “live with” COVID-19 and even cutting the self-isolation period for fully vaccinated people who test positive from seven to five days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the Government will continue to “keep things under review”.

He added: “We’re always guided by the facts, by the science, and by changing circumstances.”

The WHO, mindful of the increasingly lighter-hearted narrative around the virus, has warned the pandemic is not over.

Dr David Nabarro, its special envoy on Covid, told Sky News: “I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there. And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there.”



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