American hospitals under strain
The result of different levels of immunity, mixed with ongoing struggles with the more intense delta variant, means “decoupling” also differs across the western world.
In much of the United States hospitals and intensive care units are coming under mounting pressure.
New admissions to ICU units are at or nearing record highs in places like Maryland and Washington DC, and are climbing fast in states including Massachusetts, Delaware and Virginia.
As in the UK, elective surgeries are being postponed nationwide to free up medics and beds, as hospitals struggle with a triple whammy of high staff absences, severe cases and incidental infections.
“The only time the US crossed 125,000 hospitalised Covid patients was January 5, 2020, when there were about zero vaccines,” Dr Eric Topol, an American professor of molecular medicine, wrote on Twitter. “We're at about 126,000 (+6,000 from yesterday). Whatever ‘decoupling’ hoped for vs prior peak is quickly getting minimised.”
In New York City hospitalisations have also surpassed last winter’s peak. Intensive care doctors say that although there aren’t as many patients “gasping for air”, incidental infections seem “to topple a delicate balance of an underlying illness” and are complicating care, while the sheer number of cases is overwhelming.
Canada, too, has reported more patients in hospital than ever before. There are currently 753 patients in ICU – well below the record high of 1,469, but the latest wave is only just beginning.
But in New South Wales, which has seen record-breaking hospitalisation rates, authorities say 74 per cent of Covid-positive patients admitted to intensive care units since December 16 are infected with delta, not omicron.
“[There is] an odd situation where all conversations revolve around omicron’s lesser severity – as if it represented already 100 per cent of the infections,” said Mr Mathieu. “Delta is still a big problem.”