“However you look at it, it will lead to a degradation of the understanding we can have, either of the number of infections or of our ability to detect new variants as they arise. present,” Dr. Paterson said.
Experts have warned that it will be difficult to restart surveillance programs for the coronavirus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2, when a new variant emerges.
“If there’s one thing we know about SARS-CoV-2, it’s that it always surprises us,” said Paul Elliott, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and principal investigator on one community surveys being phased out. “Things can change very, very quickly.”
Other countries are also applying a life with Covid philosophy to their surveillance. Denmark’s testing rate has fallen nearly 90% from its peak in January. The Danish government announced on March 10 that tests would only be required for certain medical reasons, such as pregnancy.
Astrid Iversen, an Oxford virologist who has consulted with the Danish government, expressed concern that the country was trying to convince itself the pandemic was over. “The virus didn’t get the email,” she said.
With testing declining, she said, Denmark’s daily case count does not reflect the true state of the pandemic as well as before. But the country is stepping up large-scale sewage testing, which could work well enough to monitor new variants. If sewage shows an alarming spike, the country could start testing again.
“I am convinced that Denmark will be able to develop,” she said.
Israel has also seen a drastic drop in testing, but Ran Balicer, director of the Clalit Research Institute, said the country’s health systems will continue to track variants and monitor vaccine effectiveness. “For us, living with Covid doesn’t mean ignoring Covid,” he said.