Delta variant

Ex-WHO Scientist Claims Omicron BA.2 Variant is as Infectious as Measles – But What Do the Data Show?

A former World Health Organisation (WHO) official has claimed that the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron has a basic reproduction number (R0) of around 12 (each infected person passes it on to 12 others), making it as infectious as measles, the most contagious disease known, and nearly six times as infectious than the original Wuhan strain (with an R0 of 2.5). Here’s the report in MailOnline.

Professor Adrian Esterman, a leading epidemiologist in Australia, said BA.2 is 40% more transmissible than the original variant.

He claimed it would have a basic reproduction number (R0) of around 12, meaning if left to spread unchecked every infected person would pass it to a dozen others.

It would make the sub-strain five times more infectious than the original Wuhan virus and one of the most contagious diseases known to science.   

The claim would explain why the mutant virus was able to outstrip its parent strain in the U.K. in about a month and undermine China’s Zero Covid policy, which has until now managed to suppress every version of the virus.

Explaining his methodology, Professor Esterman said: “The basic reproduction number (R0) for BA.1 is about 8.2, making R0 for BA.2 about 12. This makes it pretty close to measles, the most contagious disease we know about.”

The R0 number is the average number of people each BA.2 patient would infect, if there was no immunity in a population or behavioural changes. 

But most scientists say there is no reason to be concerned over the variant because it is just as mild as the original Omicron.

The BA.2 subvariant is now behind almost every case in England, or 83% of infections last week, according to official estimates.

It became dominant three weeks beforehand, accounting for 52% of all infections in the week to February 20th. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates cases have been rising since mid-February, with one in 25 people in England estimated to have been infected last week.

Hospitalisations are also creeping up, but the majority appear to be incidental – when someone tests positive after admission for another illness. 

‘Deltacron’ Variant “Doesn’t Warrant Particular Attention”, Say Scientists

Reports that a hybrid Covid variant of Omicron and Delta dubbed ‘Deltacron’ is spreading across the world are not yet a cause for concern, scientists have said. MailOnline has more.

Fears about ‘Deltacron’ were raised again this week after the World Health Organisation announced the super-mutant had been spotted in France, Holland and Denmark.  

But U.K. Health Security Agency bosses who have been tracking the strain for weeks have spotted just 32 domestic cases. 

While the hybrid variant has shown it can spread between people, experts and health authorities have insisted it is not growing at concerning rate and is unlikely to replace Omicron. 

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said it would be hard to see how the hybrid could outcompete the now dominant BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

“Omicron replaced Delta so a hybrid is a step back and unlikely to be ‘better’ in any appreciable way,” he told the the Times.

He added that unless monitoring shows that it could be a threat “it doesn’t warrant particular attention”. 

Professor Lawrence Young, a microbiologist from the University of Warwick, told MailOnline it was “unlikely” to result in a rise in severe disease.  

“Given waning immunity in the population and the removal of all restrictions, it is likely that Deltacron will spread but is unlikely to result in severe disease,” he said.

“The BA.2 cousin of Omicron is currently spreading in the England and is more transmissible than the original Omicron variant.”

Worth reading in full.

White Britons More Likely to Be Infected in Delta Wave Than Black Britons Despite Higher Vaccination Rates, ONS Data Show

White Britons were more likely than black Britons to be infected with Covid during the Delta wave in 2021 despite having significantly higher vaccination rates, ONS analysis shows. In the Alpha wave during winter 2020-21, on the other hand, black Britons were more likely to be infected. Ross Clark in the Spectator has more.

[A] new Office for National Statistics analysis comparing the second and third Covid waves shows something interesting: this time, white Britons were more likely to be infected. The data compares two periods: the ‘second wave’ (September 2020 to May last year) and the ‘third wave’ between (May to December 10th last year).

In the second wave, the highest infection rate was among those of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage – with infection rates of 382 and 374 per 100,000 person-weeks respectively. In the third wave, however, the group with the highest infection rate was white British, with a rate of 360. There was a similar (though less pronounced) switch among the black African and black Caribbean populations – who had higher infection rates relative to the white British population during the second wave but lower infection rates in the third wave. The exception was in Britain’s Chinese population, which had the lowest infection rate in both the second and third waves. The data does not cover the first wave, during the spring of 2020, before mass testing began. The Omicron variant was first detected in the U.K. near the end of November last year.

Ross notes that there is a similar switch in infection rates between waves among socioeconomic groups and geographical locations (e.g. cities versus towns), and suggests that what may be happening is the virus is “gradually working its way through the population”, as different groups acquire higher levels of immunity.

He also notes the white British population suffered from the highest infection rate despite being the most vaccinated.

Why Are Deaths in Europe Soaring When Covid Isn’t to Blame?

Deaths are running high across Europe this winter, particularly before Omicron came along. But it’s not Covid, at least, half of it isn’t. Between the start of July and mid-December, in nine European countries, around 86,000 more people than usual died. However, Covid deaths numbered around 42,000, leaving around 44,000 above-average deaths from other causes – more than doubling the excess mortality. To put this in context, in the previous winter there were no excess deaths from other causes across these countries – in fact, there were around 5,600 more Covid deaths than excess deaths – meaning the alarming trend is new this season. The question is, why? Why is winter 2021-22 seeing high non-Covid excess mortality when winter 2020-21 didn’t see any at all?

The chart below depicts the trends in Covid mortality and excess mortality (top graph) and the difference between them i.e., non-Covid excess mortality (bottom graph) in the nine countries. The data comes from Our World in Data, and the nine countries – Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and U.K. – are the nine Western European countries which report excess deaths data weekly and had data available up to mid-December. Between them they have a population of 218,646,258. To ensure the comparison is as accurate as possible the two curves are aligned using the peak of winter deaths in 2020-21, which allows for additional reporting delays in excess mortality. (This is why the excess mortality line is a week shorter than the Covid mortality line, and also why the figures quoted above are rounded as the estimates are not precise.)

The lack of non-Covid excess mortality in winter 2020-21 is clear here, as is its striking rise since July 2021. Other notable features include the high non-Covid excess mortality in spring 2020, which may be a mix of misclassified Covid deaths at a time of minimal testing and lockdown deaths of the frail, and the smallish hump in summer 2020, which may be heat deaths. The mortality displacement (‘dry tinder’) effect is also clear in spring 2021, when non-Covid excess mortality drops very low, which makes the subsequent rise all the more notable.

What could be behind the recent wave of non-Covid excess mortality? It doesn’t appear to be lockdown deaths, as its appearance in autumn 2021 doesn’t coincide with when strict restrictions were in place, while when there were strong restrictions in place in most countries in early 2021, non-Covid excess mortality was low and falling.

Could it be vaccine injuries? Not it seems in a straightforward way, as when the vaccine rollout was in full swing, targeting the oldest cohorts (which dominate all-cause and Covid mortality) during the early months of 2021, excess deaths were falling sharply.

Significantly, however, it does coincide with the Delta Covid wave. The simplest explanation would therefore seem to be that they are misclassified Covid deaths, somehow missed by testing and doctors. However, doubt is cast on that hypothesis by the fact that it didn’t happen in winter 2020-21 (as noted above, there were more Covid deaths than excess deaths that winter), and by the fact that there was more testing in late 2021, not less, making it even less likely that large numbers of Covid deaths were being missed.

Unprecedented Low Hospital Demand: NHS Data Show a Quarter of ICU Beds Unoccupied in Mid-January

There follows a guest post by our in-house doctor, who notes the NHS has revealed that almost a quarter of ICU beds in English hospitals are unoccupied in the middle of January, which is unprecedented in recent history – normal ICU bed occupancy at this time of year is well over 90%. Why then the continued narrative of fear and doom in some quarters?

On Wednesday January 19th, Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons that the majority of ‘Plan B’ restrictions would end in England on January 26th. Any objective analysis of the U.K. data confirms the information from South Africa in early December in relation to the mild nature of Omicron was correct. Finally, the Government has been persuaded that our South African colleagues did know what they were talking about.

After a brief incursion onto the territory of Libertaria, the forces of Hysteria have been repelled and British citizens partially regain their sovereignty. Time to hang out the bunting and open the champagne? I think not.

Reaction by lockdown zealots to removal of societal restrictions has been tediously predictable. In an echo of July 2021, a range of commentators are again using compliant mainstream media outlets to predict imminent catastrophe if societal restrictions are lifted and to condemn the Government for putting public safety ‘at risk’. Before looking at warnings of doom in more detail, I will briefly examine the data which have led to the volte face by the Government. I will not dwell too long on these numbers as most readers will already be aware that the “nailed on tsunami of admissions” has simply failed to show up. Again.

Graph 1 shows the most important information this week from the Primary Diagnosis spreadsheet. Readers will recall this shows the total numbers of patients in hospital on vertical orange bars, versus the number of people in hospital with acute Covid on blue bars. The ratio between the two is depicted by the grey line. Notice the blue bars (people ill with Covid) are falling on the right-hand side of the graph, as is the ratio. So, when the BBC reports that Covid inpatient numbers are about 15,000 and static, the true picture is there are fewer than 8,000 patients and the numbers have been falling for the last 10 days.

Graph 1

Graph 2 shows the true numbers for London, which front runs the rest of the U.K. True numbers of Covid patients are 40% of the daily reported figure and numbers have been falling steadily since January 4th.

Natural Immunity Superior to Vaccine Immunity, CDC Study Finds

A study by the U.S. CDC (a Federal Government health agency) has found that natural immunity is superior to vaccine immunity alone, and that being vaccinated on top makes little difference, confirming the findings of several studies in other countries.

The study looked at Covid infection and hospitalisation rates in California and New York during the Delta period, June to November 2021. The chart below shows the hazard rates over time for the four cohorts (no vaccine and no prior infection; no vaccine and prior infection; vaccine and no prior infection; vaccine and prior infection) for hospital admissions, adjusted for age – focus especially on the relative heights of the three dashed lines near the bottom.

The authors write: “These results demonstrate that vaccination protects against COVID-19 and related hospitalisation, and that surviving a previous infection protects against a reinfection and related hospitalisation.” Note that the unvaccinated group here is split between those who are and are not previously infected, so is not directly comparable to the UKHSA data which does not make this distinction.

The authors note that, while prior to July the vaccinated were better off than the previously infected, come the summer and the arrival of Delta, prior infection was stronger.

Similar to the early period of this study, two previous U.S. studies found more protection from vaccination than from previous infection during periods before Delta predominance. As was observed in the present study after July, recent international studies have also demonstrated increased protection in persons with previous infection, with or without vaccination, relative to vaccination alone.

In a nod to the superior effect on the immune system of exposure to the virus, they comment : “This might be due to differential stimulation of the immune response by either exposure type.”

The vaccines waned in efficacy over time and against Delta, the authors note: “Importantly, infection-derived protection was greater after the highly transmissible Delta variant became predominant, coinciding with early declining of vaccine-induced immunity in many persons.”

In contrast, protection from natural immunity didn’t appear to wane: “Whereas French and Israeli population-based studies noted waning protection from previous infection, this was not apparent in the results from this or other large U.K. and U.S. studies.”

If Omicron is So Mild, Why Are ICU Admissions Skyrocketing in Australia?

There’s little doubt that Omicron is causing milder disease in the U.K., as well as in South Africa, Denmark, and many other places.

However, what’s going on in Australia? ICU admissions have shot up as Omicron has taken hold (see above), as have deaths (see below). Bear in mind 77% of the population are double-vaccinated and it’s the middle of summer there.

Now, it could be just that there are so many more Omicron infections in the formerly ‘Zero Covid’ country than there were of previous variants, and that despite being milder sheer numbers are causing the spike. Indeed, Delta positivity peaked at 1.3% whereas Omicron positivity is at 22.5% and still rising (see below). With an infection rate up to 20 times higher, the fact that ICU patients are still below the Delta peak (for now) suggests it is milder and there’s just a lot of it.

Latest NHS Data Shows Number of Covid Hospital Patients Half What it Was This Time Last Year

Our in-house doctor reflects on the year gone by, noting the Daily Sceptic’s excellent track record of identifying important issues about the NHS’s management of Covid months before the mainstream media.

As 2021 draws to a close, it is customary to reflect on the year gone by and to anticipate what the new one might bring. Looking back, it isn’t excessively hubristic to feel pride in the achievements of the Daily Sceptic community. We have established a good track record of identifying major issues around the NHS’s management of the pandemic before they became widely known.

We identified high rates of nosocomial infection. Denied by the NHS, then accepted. We spotted errors in attribution of deaths to Covid which were due to other causes. Denied, then accepted. We have exposed numerous public misrepresentations of data by NHS leaders. Often denied then reluctantly accepted, sometimes under pressure from the Office for National Statistics. False positives yielded by PCR Tests? Officially denied. Yesterday accepted by the U.S. Government.

Most recently we noticed a substantial proportion of hospital inpatients classified as Covid were in fact incidental infections. Denied, and ignored until this week when the rest of the commentariat suddenly discovered the Primary Diagnosis Supplement, published weekly since July. We have been analysing that data regularly since the summer. For much of the last 18 months I have been repeatedly struck by the observation by the American writer and politician Upton Sinclair – “It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.”

This helps explain why, for the last 12 months, the Daily Sceptic has failed to make much of an impact, but something has changed in the last couple of weeks. Even the Guardian now accept that the figures on ‘Covid admissions’ grossly overstate the number of patients acutely unwell, and if opinion polls can be believed, our points seem finally to be landing with the public at large.

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.

Delta is Holding its Own Against Omicron. Why This Shows Us Natural Immunity at Work

The Omicron variant is known to have a relatively high number of mutations, including in the spike protein, and is therefore better than previous variants at escaping vaccine immunity, especially, and also natural immunity. As a new pre-print study from South Africa explains:

The Omicron variant is characterised by between 26 and 32 mutations in the spike protein many of which are located within the receptor binding domain (RBD). In addition Omicron has three deletions and one insertion in the spike protein, and mutations outside of the spike protein. Many of the mutations are either known or predicted to contribute to escape from neutralising antibodies, and work on earlier variants of concern has demonstrated that such variants can be antigenically very distinct.

The study looks at the reinfection rate in successive waves in South Africa and finds that the recent Omicron surge was characterised by a reinfection risk over twice as high as in the original wave – though it should be noted that this is from a low base, as studies have found natural immunity to confer 85-90% protection from reinfection (pre-Omicron).

As far as vaccines are concerned, the UKHSA recently acknowledged the weak protection from two doses of the vaccines against Omicron, even publishing a graph showing negative effectiveness for the AstraZeneca vaccine, albeit with very wide confidence intervals.

Nonetheless, there is good evidence that previous infection will continue to provide robust protection against the variant, albeit at a slightly reduced level. Further evidence of this enduring protection comes in the UKHSA’s latest daily Omicron report from December 19th. It shows that Omicron is partially replacing Delta to different degrees in different regions, suggesting the two variants are largely competing for the same pool of susceptible people.