Day: 23 December 2021

News Round-Up

A Doctor Writes: An Omicron Tsunami is Coming, isn’t it?

We’re publishing a guest post by our in-house doctor, formerly a senior NHS medic, about the data released this afternoon. Does it support the claim that there’s a tsunami of Covid hospital admissions heading our way? Not really…

I have been asked to give a brief update on some interesting data released this afternoon. I hope readers will forgive a certain festive levity on my part and not consider it too inappropriate. For all I know we may be on the brink of a catastrophe. All I can say for sure is that it didn’t happen today.

Since Professor Whitty predicted at the Downing Street press conference on 15th December that ‘Records will be broken a lot in the next few weeks’, we have been glued to the numbers even more tightly than before. On Thursday afternoons a couple of large data packets are released by the NHS. They contain some surprising information.

Many expert colleagues have been predicting portents of imminent doom on the airwaves in the last week or 10 days. I have heard terms like ‘tsunami’ and ‘avalanche’ used to predict the coming wave of Covid admissions. Being a humble clinician and not an expert epidemiologist, I defer to my specialist colleagues on these points.

Graph 1 shows the extent of the avalanche so far in London, the epicentre of the Omicron wave in the U.K. I have graphed admissions from the community with Covid in London from the December 1st so readers can see for themselves the severity of the catastrophe.

Two-Thirds of New Covid Hospital Patients in England Only Tested Positive AFTER Being Admitted For a Different Illness

We’ve been flagging up the number of ‘Covid’ patients admitted to a hospital for a different reason on this site for over a year, but even I was shocked by this analysis by MailOnline‘s Senior Health Reporter which found that 65% of new Covid patients were admitted to hospital for something other than Covid and only tested positive after they’d been admitted.

In the two weeks to December 21, hospitals in England recorded 563 new coronavirus inpatients – the majority of which are believed to be Omicron now that the variant is the country’s dominant stain.

But just 197 (35%) were being primarily treated for Covid, with the remaining 366 (65%) only testing positive after being admitted for something else.

Experts told MailOnline it was important to distinguish between admissions primarily for Covid so that rising numbers do not spook ministers into more social restrictions or scare the public from going to hospital.

England’s incidental hospital cases are being driven by London, which has become the U..K.’s Omicron hotspot and where admissions have been rising sharply.

Just over four in 10 new Omicron hospital patients in London were admitted for a different ailment, MailOnline’s analysis suggests.

There were 523 more ‘Covid admissions’ resulting in an overnight stay in the two weeks to December 21st, after Omicron became dominant in the capital earlier this month.

Admission rates for Covid in the capital are one factor ministers are keeping an eye on before potentially pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is considered to be a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.

Officials are reported to be considering a national two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown after Christmas if London’s daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the NHS.

The latest data show this figure is currently just shy of this threshold, at 301 patients on Monday.

The rising number of so-called ‘incidental cases’ – people who are only diagnosed with the virus after going to the NHS for a different ailment – is in line with the picture in South Africa.

Studies in the epicentre Gauteng province have shown up to three-quarters of Omicron patients there were not admitted primarily for the virus.

Worth reading in full.

UKHSA Report Confirms Omicron Causes 62% Fewer Hospitalisations Than Delta

Analysis of data from England by the UKHSA released today confirms that the Omicron variant is causing less severe illness than Delta. The new Technical Briefing, number 33, finds that risk of emergency admission to hospital with Omicron compared to Delta was reduced by 62%, confirming earlier results from South Africa, Denmark, Edinburgh and Imperial.

Read the BBC story here.

The briefing also shows that the Omicron household secondary attack rate (the proportion of household contacts an infected person infects) has dropped to 13.1%, meaning nearly 87% of people who live with a person infected with Omicron do not go on to test positive. This compares to a current household secondary attack rate for Delta of 10.1%, so almost the same, differing by only 3%. Note that the direct secondary attack rate for Alpha this time last year was 15.6%, so the claim that Omicron is spreading much faster than previous variants – is much more transmissible – is not supported by this data.

Stop Press: Michael Simmons, a data journalist at the Spectator, has summarised the most recent data about Omicron, nearly all of which makes the case for another lockdown less persuasive.

Mark Drakeford Criticised by Health Expert For Spreading Misinformation To Justify Restrictions

On Wednesday, Mark Drakeford declared that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as any previous Covid strain if the person infected had not contracted the virus before. In response to this statement, Jamie Jenkins, the former Head of Health Analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that the Welsh First Minister was attempting to justify further Covid restrictions by deploying an “untrue statement with the intent to deceive” the public, and that the Welsh Government itself does not possess the evidence that upholds Drakeford’s conclusion. The Telegraph has the story.

Mark Drakeford has been accused of lying to the public by a former health statistics boss after he said Omicron was “probably” just as severe as delta, despite three studies concluding the opposite.

Jamie Jenkins, the former head of health analysis at the ONS, said that the Welsh First Minister had made an “untrue statement with the intent to deceive” as he scrambled to justify his Covid restrictions in the face of evidence that the latest Covid variant is milder.

On Wednesday, Drakeford said he did not think it is “as simple as saying Omicron is less serious than Delta”.

“If you have been infected previously, it may be that it is a less severe attack,” he told a press conference.

“If you have never had Covid and you get Omicron, the evidence is it is probably just as severe as any other form would be.”

His comments came despite new studies from the University of Edinburgh, the U.K. Health Security Agency and a group of South African scientists, which all suggested that Omicron produced less severe symptoms than delta, and was between 50% and 80% less likely to hospitalise patients.

Jenkins told the Telegraph that Drakeford was “deceiving the Welsh public” to justify Wales’s latest Covid restrictions, which include £60 fines for employees who travel to the office when they could work from home, a limit of six people in groups at pubs or restaurants and the return of two-metre social distancing.

He said that the Welsh Government appeared not to have firm evidence to support Drakeford’s assertion that Omicron was likely to be as severe as delta.

“I think the word ‘probably’ is a bit strange from the First Minister, because if you’re going to make statements to bring restrictions on businesses, you want more than ‘probably’,” he said.

“For him to say that the evidence is that it is ‘probably’ just as severe is just bizarre, because to say that, you have got to have some evidence, haven’t you?”

Worth reading in full.

Scotland to Close Nightclubs For At Least Three Weeks

Starting from December 27th, the Scottish Government will force all nightclubs to close for at least three weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. John Swinney, the SNP Deputy First Minister has promised to give affected businesses financial support, and has recommended that these venues temporarily convert themselves into bars so they can adhere to social distancing rules to remain open. BBC News has more.

Swinney said nightclubs would have the option to stay open by effectively becoming a bar, but physical distancing and table service would need to be in place.

He said: “We consider that closure in regulations, combined with financial support, may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period until they are able to operate normally again.”

People in Scotland have not been told to cancel their Christmas plans, but have been urged to stay at home as much as possible throughout the rest of the festive period and to limit any gatherings to three households.

Swinney told MSPs that there had been a “rapid acceleration of cases driven by the Omicron variant” in recent weeks, with concerns that the faster-spreading strain could overwhelm health services despite early evidence that fewer people are needing hospital treatment than with other variants.

The Deputy First Minister said “we have to reduce dramatically the level of social interaction if we want to interrupt the circulation of Omicron”.

Nightclubs were only allowed to reopen in August, having been shut for longer than almost every other sector during the pandemic, and had been subject to vaccine certification rules since October.

The Scottish Conservatives said closing them again was “a further setback to a sector already on its knees”.

MSP Murdo Fraser said: “I understand that this is a fast-moving situation, but when announcing this enforced shutdown, John Swinney should have spelt out the exact details of the support package that will be given to nightclub businesses.

“The SNP Government has been given an extra £440 million in assistance from the U.K. Government. They need to get that money out the door and into the hands of beleaguered Scottish businesses immediately.”

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said the decision to close nightclubs took account of typically younger crowds who may not be vaccinated.

Speaking to the BBC’s Lunchtime Live programme, he said: “The thing that really scares us about this [variant] is its attack rate. That’s why you can hear our tone and our fear rising a little.

“It’s one of the reasons nightclubs have unfortunately had to be closed down. That population tends to be slightly less protected not because they’re not actually coming forward in big numbers but because it’s taken us a bit longer to get to that age group. It’s an environment in which the virus enjoys.”

Worth reading in full.

Professor Lockdown’s ‘Apocalyptic’ Omicron Predictions Have Fuelled Unnecessary Shutdowns

The alarmist claims of Neil Ferguson and his modelling team at Imperial College have fuelled vaccine scepticism and led to needless lockdowns being imposed all over Europe, according to several leading scientists. The Telegraph‘s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has more.

The Covid modellers at Imperial College have begun to back down. About time too. Over the past few weeks, they have made extreme claims about the omicron variant that cannot be fully justified by fundamental science, let alone by clinical observation.

Academic etiquette restrains direct criticism, but immunologists say privately that Professor Neil Ferguson and his team breached a cardinal rule by inferring rates of hospitalisation, severe disease, and death from waning antibodies, and by extrapolating from infections that break through the first line of vaccine defence.

The rest are entitled to question whether they can legitimately do this. And we may certainly question whether they should be putting out terrifying claims of up to 5,000 deaths a day based on antibody counts.

“It is bad science and I think they’re being irresponsible. They have a duty to reflect the true risks but this is just headline grabbing,” said Dr Clive Dix, former chairman of the UK Vaccine Task Force.

Needless to say, these headlines have spread as fast as omicron itself. Britain is the Covid laboratory of the developed world, and what Imperial says right now has global resonance. Its dire warnings are contributing to some European countries imposing full or partial Christmas lockdowns.

Governments are so alarmed by the possibility that healthcare systems might collapse under pressure that they have neglected the opposite risk – and much more probable outcome – that omicron will largely bounce off a population where almost everybody has cell immunity from vaccines or past infection, and in the case of Britain where most vulnerable people have been triple jabbed for good measure.

“To talk of 5,000 deaths a day is a very high number. It is risky to push apocalyptic scenarios that are highly unlikely to happen,” said Professor Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute.

“What I am more worried about is a loss of trust in governments and public institutions for crying wolf. The mood is changing everywhere.”

Worth reading in full.

Australia’s Chief Pharmacist Says The Public “Need To Accept” Booster Jabs And Mask Wearing For Years To Come

Trent Twomey, the National President of the Pharmacy Guild in Australia, has declared that Government policy and advice put in place to tackle Covid, such as mask wearing and booster jab rollouts, will happen for many more years to come. He also said that, in order to remain fully vaccinated, members of the public will have to receive a bi-annual top-up dose, and that it’s “something we just need to accept”. The Mail Australia has the story.

Trent Twomey, National President of the Pharmacy Guild, says if modelling shows that its best for people to get a Covid jab “every six months”, then Australians should do so.  

He dismissed concerns over lingering vaccine hesitancy and wearing masks, saying Australians “just need to accept” necessary measures because “it’s pretty simple”. 

Twomey told Sky News he believes most Australians “want to do the right thing” but that they were anxious to know what normal life in the pandemic era looks like.

He predicted the need to wear a mask could remain “for a long time”, but that it’s “not that inconvenient”. 

“I think booster shots, just like your annual influenza shot [are] something we just need to accept, its not going to be with us for many weeks and months, it’s going to be with us for many years.”

He said in order to remain fully vaccinated people will have to get “a periodic inoculation”.

He said boosters could be needed once or twice a year, depending on what conclusions experts draw from “the data”.

“But you know what, it’s just something we’re gonna have to do. [If] we need one every six months, then you know what Australia, let’s get one every six months.”

In response to a question about Anthony Albanese asking for boosters to be made available to the public four months after their second dose instead of five months, Twomey said we are close to that timeframe already. 

He said people can get a booster two weeks ahead of the five-month mark, at four and a half months.

He said the decision to bring forward boosters further should be up to “experts… not politicians”.

Worth reading in full

Just Say No, Prime Minister

This feels like a pivotal moment.

Boris could listen to the doom-mongers urging him to impose tighter rules after Christmas, just as Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have done. The modelling team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicts the number of daily Covid hospital admissions will rise to 7,190 in January, but that’s far from the most apocalyptic scenario. Not to be outdone, Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have estimated that Covid deaths are likely to rise to 5,000 a day without further restrictions. Hardly surprising, given the virus’s “exponential growth”. According to the Prime Minister’s scientific advisors, the number of daily Omicron infections is doubling every two-to-three days. Or is it every two days? Or every one-and-a-half days? They’re certainly growing very, very quickly. And it isn’t just Chris Whitty screaming in Boris’s ear demanding he do something – anything! – to stop this tidal wave engulfing our beloved NHS. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament earlier this month that the number of new cases could exceed one million a day by the end of December. That’s in a week’s time. Crikey Moses!

Or Boris could look at the actual data, as several members of his Cabinet have been urging him to do. The data from South Africa suggesting Omicron is 80% milder than Delta. The data suggesting that, far from doubling every couple of days, the number of daily infections is plateauing. The data suggesting that, for whatever reason, the link between Covid infections and hospitalisations has been broken, with Covid hospital admissions remaining largely flat over the past two weeks in spite of the uptick in daily infections. The data on the length of time Omicron patients stay in hospital, with one South African study showing the average hospital stay had been reduced from 8.5 days to 2.8 days. The data – endlessly reproduced on this site – showing that non-pharmaceutical interventions do little or nothing to suppress Covid infections, with every wave following exactly the same trajectory, regardless of the severity of the restrictions, or whether any containment measures are imposed at all.

The reason this is such a momentous decision is because it will set the pattern for every subsequent response of the Government to the emergence of a new variant, of which there will be many. If Boris can hold his nerve over the next week or so and the Omicron fire shows signs of burning itself out without the need for any further measures, that will leave the gloomsters of SAGE looking very silly indeed. It will be obvious to everyone, even the most fanatical lockdown zealot, that they’ve been crying wolf. It might even permanently break the spell they’ve cast over the nation for the past 22 months.

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