Covid cases in the community are probably much higher than what is seen every day and it will probably take another one or two years for the pandemic to peter out, according to epidemiologist Dr Michalis Voniatis.
Voniatis told CNA on Wednesday that the numbers to watch were hospitalisations more than the number of cases, saying the latter was not truly representative as current hospitalisations were a reflection of the number of positives going back ten days or more.
He said the 500 or 600 daily cases at the moment do not correlate to current hospitalisations but date back to when the country was seeing 900 to 1,000 cases a day.
But, if the current picture of hospitalisations does not change downwards in the coming days to reflect the 500-600 daily cases currently being reported, it would mean that there are more undiagnosed cases within the community than realised, he added.
“If we look at the number of hospitalisations compared to the number of cases, we will say that the cases are far fewer, and the hospitalisations are high. Hospitals always reflect the picture up to 15 days ago and not the reality today,” he said.
“If we continue to see the same pressure as now on the hospitals, it means that the 500 or 600 cases a day do not represent the real number of infections in the community.
Voniatis said the hospitals had reached peak capacity and the pressure on ICU beds was unprecedented. “That is what we must more closely monitor. These elements give us the real picture,” he added.
He said that if there is a downward trend in the next ten days that will be a good sign that things are heading in the right direction. “But if things continue the same or pressure increases upwards, things will be very difficult,” he added.
Everything depends now on hospitalisation rates, Voniatis said. “If the hospitalisations start to go up even further, then I think the current measures will not be sufficient but it will also depend on whether the vaccination programme is progressing. We have reached 66 per cent [fully vaccinated], which is a good percentage of the population, but we have to reach 82-85 per cent to be able to say that we have the situation in check,” he said.
Referring to testing since the government cancelled free tests for the unvaccinated, Voniatis said they were still at a good level.
“The more tests the better. As for the free tests, it seems that some agencies will provide them. Yesterday we had a lot of tests, over 60,000, which is a good number,” he added.
It was also his view that a third dose of the vaccine would be needed and would be announced soon in Europe and the US. “I hope, this month…,” he said.
Voniatis says that the pandemic is not going to go away in 2021. “We can largely control the pandemic in Cyprus. Worldwide, it may take another year or two to control. You understand that the risk will always be there, the risk for a new mutation will be there and even that it could be imported to Cyprus, so things are not very easy. I do not think we can go back to absolute normality this year.”