TUESDAY, March 15, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The United States is keeping a close eye on rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Britain, Anthony Fauci, M.D., the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday.

Compared with the previous week, the United Kingdom saw a 48 percent increase in COVID-19 cases and a 17 percent rise in hospitalizations last week, CNN reported. The daily case rate of about 55,000 a day is less than a third of what it was during the omicron peak, but cases are climbing fast just two weeks after the United Kingdom lifted the last of its pandemic-related restrictions. Like the United Kingdom, the United States has lifted most COVID-19 measures as cases have fallen.

In previous waves, increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations were about 10 days to two weeks behind spikes in cases, but cases and hospitalizations in the United Kingdom now seem to be rising in tandem for reasons not clearly understood. In speaking to British officials, Fauci said they pointed to three possible reasons why: the more transmissible BA.2 “stealth” variant of omicron; people gathering more indoors without masks; and waning immunity from vaccination or prior infection. Still, BA.2 does not seem to be causing more severe disease, so it is not clear why hospitalizations are rising.

“The issue with hospitalization is a little bit more puzzling, because although the hospitalizations are going up, it is very clear their use of ICU beds has not increased,” Fauci told CNN. “So, are the numbers of hospitalizations a real reflection of COVID cases, or is there a difficulty deciphering between people coming into the hospital with COVID or because of COVID?”

“Without a doubt, opening up society and having people mingle indoors is clearly something that is a contributor, as well as overall waning immunity, which means we’ve really got to stay heads-up and keep our eye on the pattern here,” Fauci added. “So, that’s the reason why we’re watching this very carefully.”

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