Day: 22 December 2021

Omicron Hospitalisation Rate Just a FIFTH of Delta, Study From South Africa Finds

A pre-print study from South Africa, published on Tuesday, has found that the risk of being hospitalised with Omicron is just a fifth of the risk with Delta. The study looked at all probable Omicron infections in the country between October 1st and December 6th, and took into account factors associated with hospitalisation such as vaccination status and age. It found that the adjusted risk of being admitted to hospital with probable Omicron infection (defined as S-gene dropout, SGTF) compared to non-Omicron infection is just 0.2, i.e., a fifth of the risk, or an 80% reduction.

Here are the results as stated in the abstract:

From October 1st through December 6th 2021, 161,328 COVID-19 cases were reported nationally; 38,282 were tested using TaqPath PCR and 29,721 SGTF infections were identified. The proportion of SGTF infections increased from 3% in early October (week 39) to 98% in early December (week 48). On multivariable analysis, after controlling for factors associated with hospitalisation, individuals with SGTF infection had lower odds of being admitted to hospital compared to non-SGTF infections (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 0.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.1-0.3). Among hospitalised individuals, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, the odds of severe disease did not differ between SGTF-infected individuals compared to non-SGTF individuals diagnosed during the same time period (aOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.3-1.4). Compared to earlier Delta infections, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, SGTF-infected individuals had a lower odds of severe disease (aOR 0.3, 95% CI 0.2-0.6).

The researchers say the reduction in severity is likely in part to be a result of high population immunity, a factor which would also apply to the U.K after several waves of Covid.

The study confirms the findings from Denmark of a 60% reduction in hospitalisation risk.

Meanwhile, reported infections in Gauteng province continue to decline.

Nonetheless, SAGE continues to make the case for restrictions – and Boris continues to listen.

Read the full study here.

Stop Press: Imperial College London has published a pre-print study on early Omicron hospitalisation rates in England estimating that, compared to Delta, infection with the Omicron variant has a reduced risk of serious illness (defined in terms of a certain length of hospital stay) of 40-45%.

Newcastle Football Fans Told To Re-Consider Going to Sunday’s Match

Newcastle’s Director of Public Health, Professor Eugene Milne, has called on Newcastle fans to seriously consider whether they should attend the St. James Park fixture with Manchester United on December 27th, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Milne has expressed his concern over the lack of social distancing and mask wearing inside sports stadiums, and urged fans to get tested and receive the booster jab before attending the game. BBC News has more.

The fixture against Manchester United is still due to take place, despite six matches being postponed last weekend.

Professor Milne also said he expected the Government to bring in additional restrictions soon.

Omicron is now the dominant form of the virus in most parts of England and there are likely to be more than 3,000 cases in the North East, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

“Will we end up with more measures? I think because there are still many things we don’t know about Omicron there is a bit of doubt about where we need to go,” Milne said.

“If you ask me, honestly, I think it will probably happen with the way things are going.

“The question is when is the right time to do that and that is a question for the politicians, rather than people like me.”

The Magpies are yet to have any of their matches called off because of the current wave of infections and are due to host Manchester United on Monday.

Milne added: “People need to make a choice about whether they are vulnerable, about whether they are likely to expose other people to risk by going.

“The Premier League has done a lot of work to try and get in place vaccine passports and testing checks for the games.

“One of the things that does trouble me is people travelling to and from games and the difficulties of distancing, mask wearing and so on.

“I would make a plea to people to use those measures because they can reduce the potential for risk.”

Worth reading in full.

Triple-Vaccinated More Than FOUR Times As Likely to Test Positive For Omicron Than Unvaccinated, Data Shows

According to early data published on Tuesday by the ONS, the triple-vaccinated are 4.5 times as likely to test positive for a probable Omicron infection than the unvaccinated. The double-vaccinated, meanwhile, are 2.3 times as likely to have a probable Omicron infection.

The data from the ONS Infection Survey, while provisional, adds support to the claim that the Omicron variant has significant vaccine evading ability.

Note that this is the probability of an infection being Omicron given a person is infected, so it doesn’t tell us how likely a person is to test positive in the first place. This means it doesn’t tell us that the vaccines are making things worse overall, only that they are making it much more likely that a vaccinated person is infected with Omicron than another variant. In other words, it is a measure of how well Omicron evades the vaccines compared to Delta. The fact that the triple-vaccinated are much more likely to be infected with Omicron than the double-vaccinated confirms this vaccine evading ability.

The data also doesn’t tell us anything about the severity of Omicron, or how well the vaccines continue to protect against serious disease.

It does mean, though, that the current Omicron outbreak is largely an epidemic of the vaccinated and is being driven, not by the unvaccinated, but by those who have been double and triple jabbed. Combined with the fact that Omicron has quickly grown to be the majority of new infections, it suggests the vaccinated are playing an outsize role in the current outbreak.

Care Minister Says New Year’s Eve Celebrations Could Be Cancelled

Concerned about the spread of the Omicron variant and a lack of understanding surrounding how dangerous the new strain is, Gillian Keegan, the Care Minister (the Minister of State responsible for mental health), has declared that New Year’s Eve festivities might have to be cancelled. In addition, Keegan mentioned that the Government was being lenient with the public in allowing Christmas to go ahead with the current restrictions in place, but that this leniency may end following Christmas Day. The Guardian has the story.

Plans for New Year’s Eve parties in England may have to be scrapped, a minister has admitted, as she said there remained uncertainty over the severity of illness caused by the Omicron variant of Covid.

Gillian Keegan, the Care Minister, refused to rule out lockdown measures being introduced in England shortly after Christmas and said 129 people had been hospitalised and 14 had died with Omicron in the U.K.

“There is uncertainty. So, if you can’t change your [New Year’s Eve] plans quickly, then maybe think about it. There is uncertainty. We can’t predict what the data is going to tell us before we’ve got the data,” she said.

She told LBC Radio that the Government’s approach in England had been to try to allow people to go ahead with Christmas plans, but that the same could not necessarily be said of the following holiday.

Boris Johnson has said no new measures will be put in place in England before Christmas Day, but the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales are introducing some new restrictions before and after the holiday.

Keegan told Sky News: “We do not have all the information that you would like to have at your fingertips, in particular… the severity of the disease. So it is a difficult balance but we think we’ve got the balance right. You know, saying to the country we wanted to lock down etc, when you’ve got those kind of figures wouldn’t look proportionate.”

She said the decision that was taken on further restrictions was “difficult”. Asked whether there was any chance a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown might be avoided if the country continued on its current path, Keegan said: “We are waiting for data on the severity, we’ll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can’t really say, you know.

“What we’ve said is: up to Christmas, we’re fine, looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment. But, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data. I can’t tell you in advance of getting that data, but you should be cheerful because we’re doing a lot more than we could last year. We’re able to see our families.”

Keegan acknowledged that Johnson was refusing to act based on the same data that had led first ministers elsewhere in the U.K. to take preventive measures, but she claimed this was not a result of indecision or political calculation.

She was asked on Times Radio if the issue was not Johnson’s “own political judgment and that he doesn’t want to do anything with the data that all the leaders are seeing”.

Keegan said: “If we see large jumps in the data, large jumps in hospitalisation… then of course we’ll react. But we don’t actually have that yet. So what [Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s Mark Drakeford are] doing is… they’re looking at the risk and they’re coming up with a different answer.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Lockdown zealot Mark Drakeford, Wales’s swivel-eyed First Minister, has banned New Year’s Eve celebrations and ordered pubs and restaurants to re-impose the rule of six from Boxing Day. MailOnline has more.

Both Right and Left-Wing Authoritarianism Predict Support for Lockdown

The pandemic has seen unprecedented infringements in our civil liberties. Policies that would have been regarded with suspicion or even outrage if implemented by Britain’s ‘enemies’ – like confining people in their homes – have been par for the course.

Interestingly, in both Britain and the United States, support for lockdown measures has been greater on the political left, even though right-wing voters tend to be older (and hence at greater risk from Covid).

In a paper published this July, researchers found that Labour and SNP voters were much more likely than Conservatives to support closing schools and shops, and making people stay at home. Likewise, Democrat voters in the U.S. have been more supportive of lockdowns than Republicans.

There are several factors behind the left’s enthusiasm for lockdowns: skewed risk perceptions; the ideology of safetyism; a preference for prioritising health over the economy (including ‘our NHS’). However, one reason that hasn’t received much attention is the growing strain of left-wing authoritarianism.

In a paper published last December, Joseph Manson explored the influence of left and right-wing authoritarianism on people’s attitudes to lockdowns and other restrictions. ‘Right-wing authoritarianism’ is a well-known construct in psychology, but ‘left-wing authoritarianism’ is relatively new.

The latter phenomenon had not received much attention in psychology until recently, most likely because of the discipline’s left-wing skew.

Right-wing authoritarianism is measured via agreement with items such as, “What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader,” and “God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed”.

By contrast, left-wing authoritarianism is measured via agreement with items such as, “This country would work a lot better if certain groups of Christian troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s proper place in society.”

Manson found that both of these constructs were positively associated with support for lockdowns and other restrictions. Those who scored high on right-wing authoritarianism were particularly likely to say that foreigners should be banned from entering the country.

Those who scored high on left-wing authoritarianism were particularly likely to say that governments should have the power to prohibit misinformation, and that politicians should be able to introduce new restrictions without consulting legislative bodies.

There were also areas of agreement. As Manson notes, both right and left-wing authoritarians favoured “restrictions on the right to protest, punishment without the right to trial by jury, and surveillance via a mandatory tracking app”.

Regardless of one’s view on the pandemic restrictions, there can be no doubt that many of them have an authoritarian character. And even if their impact in the short run was positive (something of which I am doubtful), the possibility that they will be misused by governments in the future remains troubling.

Soon to be Published UKHSA Data Shows Omicron Milder Than Delta

The U.K. Health Security Agency, the successor organisation to Public Health England, is about to publish its first detailed analysis of Omicron which suggests it causes milder disease than the Delta variant. This will be helpful to those of us trying to persuade the Prime Minister not to impose any further restrictions, including half the Cabinet. The Telegraph has more.

The omicron coronavirus variant is causing a milder disease than the delta strain in most Britons, government scientists are expected to say today.

The U.K. Health Security Agency is set to publish real-world data on the severity of the disease, which is expected to say that more people are likely to have a mild illness with less serious symptoms.

The political site Politico reported the findings this morning. It says that while omicron seems milder overall, the UKHSA has found it is not necessarily mild enough to avoid large numbers of hospitalisations. The experts have found evidence that for those who do become severely ill, there is still a high chance of hospitalisation and death.

Given that the transmissibility of omicron is very high, there is the chance that even though it is milder, infections could soar to the point that large numbers end up in hospital .

On Wednesday, the health minister Gillian Keegan said there were 129 people in hospital with omicron and there had been 14 deaths. Asked on Sky News whether a circuit breaker lockdown could happen after Christmas, she said: “We are waiting for data on the severity, we’ll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can’t really say, you know.

“What we’ve said is up to Christmas we’re fine looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment, but, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data.”

Archbishop Justin Welby Criticises the Unvaccinated for Going Against ‘Love Thy Neighbour’

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that those who refuse to take the Covid vaccine are opposing the Christian principle of ‘love thy neighbour’. Welby cited the alleged benefits of immunisation, such as reducing “my chances of infecting others”, and declared that “now obviously there are some people who, for health reasons, can’t be vaccinated – different question – but it’s not about me and my rights to choose”. MailOnline has more.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said being vaccinated against Covid is a moral issue.  

The Most Reverend Justin Welby said that getting the jab reduces the chances of illness being spread and that “it’s not about me and my rights to choose – it’s about how I love my neighbour”.

His comments come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that people could go ahead with their Christmas plans but there is “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the fast-spreading Omicron variant and hospital admission rates.

Asked during an interview with ITV News At Ten if being vaccinated is a “moral issue”, the Archbishop said: “I’m going to step out on thin ice here and say, yes, I think it is.”

He added: “A lot of people won’t like that, but I think it is because it’s not about me and my rights.

“Now obviously there are some people who, for health reasons, can’t be vaccinated – different question – but it’s not about me and my rights to choose.

“It’s about how I love my neighbour. Vaccination reduces my chances – doesn’t eliminate – but it reduces my chances of getting ill and reducing my chances of getting ill reduces my chances of infecting others. It’s very simple.

“So I would say yes, to love one another – as Jesus said – get vaccinated, get boosted.”

On whether it would be immoral not to get the jab when you are in a position to have it, Welby said: “I understand why people don’t.”

He added: “But I would say, go and get boosted, get vaccinated. It’s how we love our neighbour. Loving our neighbour is what Jesus told us to do. It’s Christmas: do what he said.”

Figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with Covid as of December 21st, the highest number since March 2nd and up 41% from a week earlier.

Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with Covid on December 21st – the highest number since November 10th and up 7% week-on-week.

Worth reading in full.

No, the NHS is Not Being Overwhelmed by the Unvaccinated

The amount of misinformation being put out by Government ministers and senior medics about the proportion of unvaccinated people in hospital with Covid is reaching a new level that is beginning to feel disturbingly sinister.

When lockdown sceptics are joining in with the condemnation, you know the problem has ratcheted up a notch or three.

The normally reliable Philip Johnston in the Telegraph points the finger at the unvaccinated for threatening the capacity of the health service, citing a number of misleading claims.

The panacea, we are told, is to get boosted. Yet by definition the refuseniks will not get a third jab when they have not been vaccinated in the first place. I understand if someone does not want to get jabbed. It is their body and they are entitled to say they do not want to be medicated. We cannot force them to. But if the consequence of that decision is to place others at risk then it cannot be allowed to pass by default. We all understand, too, that some people for a variety of medical reasons cannot have the vaccine.

In order to persuade a greater take-up of jabs, the Government wanted to bring in vaccine passports for certain settings but watered these down to include proof of a negative test, which rather defeats the object. Scores of Tory MPs voted against even this on the grounds that such a measure was illiberal.

But the Conservative Party has never been a libertarian movement. It is supposed to believe that with rights come responsibilities. Opponents of heavy-handed state action against the citizen often quote J S Mill’s famous dictum: “The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilised society, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” I agree with that. I don’t see why I should have restrictions placed on me when I am unlikely to cause harm to others.

But that is not necessarily true of the unvaccinated. According to Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, nine in 10 Covid patients needing the most care are unjabbed. A similar point was made by Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, who said the “vast, vast majority” of seriously ill people were unjabbed, identifying “black Londoners, Muslim Londoners, Jewish Londoners and eastern European Londoners” as groups that are proving particularly resistant. Why is this?

In the absence of comprehensive official data, we are having to rely on anecdotal evidence, but I know several hospital consultants who tell of seriously ill patients being transferred to critical care units who are still unvaccinated, taking up emergency beds needed for other patients.

One told me that so far he had not seen anyone in intensive care who had been jabbed, suggesting that even if vaccinated people are getting sick, they’re not getting as sick. This should be good news, even with the onset of Omicron, and yet here we are again facing a lockdown to preserve the NHS from collapse.

The claims Johnston repeats here are, at best, highly misleading. Take Sajid Javid’s line that “nine in 10 Covid patients needing the most care are unjabbed”. This stat has been repeated often by the haters-of-the-unvaccinated in recent days, but their source is rarely stated. It appears to refer to the claim made by NHS England at the start of December that, as the Times reports, “between July and November more than nine in 10 patients receiving the most specialist care, in which artificial lungs were used to try to save their lives, were unvaccinated”.

That raw statistic may be true (it is not in the public domain), but any implication that it means the unvaccinated are adding considerable pressure to health service resources doesn’t withstand scrutiny since the numbers involved here are miniscule. As Dr Clare Craig points out, over recent weeks there have only been one or two new Covid admissions being put onto an ‘artificial lung’ ECMO machine each week.

Leaked NHS Report Claims London Hospitals “Likely to Be Overwhelmed” Within Three Weeks. We’ve Heard That Before

An internal NHS report leaked to the Health Service Journal claims that hospitals and ambulances in London are “likely to become overwhelmed due to rising Covid demand in the next two to three weeks”.

This is despite the fact that, as NHS Providers Chief Chris Hopson points out: “The overall numbers remain relatively low compared to the January 2021 peak – 1,819 Covid patients currently in London versus 7,917 on January 18th 2021.”

Let’s bear in mind also that last winter an internal NHS briefing, again leaked to the Health Service Journal, claimed that under the “best” scenario London would have a shortfall of 1,515 general and acute beds by January 19th. Yet the briefing also stated London has 15,600 general and acute beds, which is almost double what turned out to be the peak Covid winter occupancy of 7,917 beds on January 18th.

Nationally, at the winter peak on January 18th there were 8,696 unoccupied beds, 26,902 beds occupied by Covid patients and 50,204 beds occupied by non-Covid patients.

It’s also worth remembering that the NHS has a beds crisis every winter, as this selection of Guardian headlines illustrates. (See also the image at the top of headlines from the 2017-18 winter crisis.)