Covid-19 ‘wavelets’ to become new normal, according to scientists

Report by Nature Journal

Whether you call it a surge, a spike, a wave or perhaps just a wavelet, there are signs of a rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections — again. A growing proportion of tests in some countries are coming back positive, and new variants, most notably a lineage called XBB.1.16, are pushing aside older strains, fuelling some of the uptick in cases.

Welcome to the new normal: the ‘wavelet’ era. Scientists say that explosive, hospital-filling COVID-19 waves are unlikely to return. Instead, countries are starting to see frequent, less deadly waves, characterized by relatively high levels of mostly mild infections and sparked by the relentless churn of new variants.

Wavelets don’t always create a dramatic spike in hospitalizations and deaths; their effects on health vary between countries. But the relentless series of wavelets looks very different from the slower, annual circulation patterns of influenza and cold-causing coronaviruses, and it seems increasingly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 will settle into a flu-like rhythm anytime soon, say scientists.

“We haven’t slowed down in the last year, and I don’t see what factors would cause it do so at this point,” says Trevor Bedford, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.

“It will be a continually circulating respiratory disease. It may be less seasonal than things we’re used to.”

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