Tempering optimism: Here’s why the trajectory of COVID’s third wave will be so hard to predict

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Credit: Cheyne Gateley/VIP
Credit: Cheyne Gateley/VIP

On June 24, the number of daily infections in the UK crossed 16,000, levels not seen since early February when the UK was still in full lockdown. 

But the third wave will look very different to the last two. 

Boris Johnson’s government is currently intending to end all restriction measures on July 19, but exactly what this will mean for new cases of Covid-19, and public health, is almost impossible to predict, due to the varying degrees of immunity to the virus in the population.

“The third wave will be different in characteristics to before, but the situation is so complex to model,” says Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge. “You have lots of vaccinated people, those who are semi-immune because they’ve already been infected, unvaccinated people, and a lot of young people.”

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“Waves one and two were a case of, ‘We’re all in it together,’ to some extent,” [intensive care consultant Matt Morgan] says. “It’s not like that now, and it’s really hard for people to get the narrative that the vaccination campaign has gone so well, yet there’s still an ongoing risk.”

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