“Which way you look at it, it will greatly deteriorate the understanding we can have, either in the number of infections, or in our ability to recognize new variants as they come in,” said Dr. paterson.
Experts warned that it will be difficult to restart surveillance programs of the coronavirus, formally 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 a principal investigator on one of the discontinued community surveys. “Things can change very, very quickly.”
Other countries are also applying a live-with-covid philosophy to their surveillance. Denmark’s testing rate is down nearly 90 percent from its January peak. The Danish government announced on March 10 that tests are only needed for certain medical reasons, such as pregnancy.
Astrid Iversen, an Oxford virologist who has consulted the Danish government, expressed concern that the country was trying to convince itself that the pandemic was over. “The virus didn’t get the email,” she said.
With the number of tests dropping, she said, the daily number of cases in Denmark does not reflect the true state of the pandemic as it did before. But the country is ramping up widespread wastewater testing, which could work well enough to control new variants. If the wastewater shows an alarming spike, the country could start testing again.
“I am confident that Denmark will be able to scale up,” she said.
Israel has also seen a drastic drop in testing, but Ran Balicer, the director of the Clalit Research Institute, said the country’s health care systems will continue to monitor variants and the effectiveness of vaccines. “For us, living with Covid does not mean ignoring Covid,” he said.