Can we really ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave?

The United Kingdom is experiencing the fastest growth in the number of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started. But according to the government, new restrictions, including a lockdown, are off the table — at least for now.

“We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday. “We can keep our schools and businesses open and we can find a way to live with this virus.” While Brits are currently required to wear face masks in public spaces indoors and advised to work from home where possible, Johnson made it clear he wants no more curbs to be introduced.

He is not the only one. Some countries, such as the Netherlands and Austria, have introduced new lockdowns in light of rising cases, but many more are not doing so. Italy, France, Greece and Spain all reported record numbers of new infections in recent days, yet unlike during previous infection peaks, they are not bringing back strict lockdowns. In Germany, where cases are also rising quickly, the government indicated it wants to avoid more closures, focusing instead on getting as many people as possible vaccinated.

The approach appears based on what we know so far about the Omicron variant that is now dominant in the United States and much of Europe. Research suggests the variant is causing milder disease and that vaccination gives people high level of protection, especially after a booster dose. In the US, cases are also rising rapidly, with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 surpassing 100,000 for the first time in nearly four months, according to the latest data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.