Omicron BA.2

The Covid Fearmongers Return

The fear is ramping up again. Articles are appearing talking up the threat from Omicron. Leading U.S. scientist Dr. Eric Topol, Director of Scripps Research in California, has produced a classic of the genre. Titled “The Covid Capitulation“, it lambasts the U.S. and other world governments for trying to move on from the pandemic, criticising the CDC in particular for propagating “delusional thinking” and “conveniently feeding the myth that the pandemic is over”.

New Omicron subvariants like BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 are surging in the U.S. and around the world, he says, and the “real number of cases [in the U.S.] is likely at least 500,000 per day, far greater than any of the U.S. prior waves except Omicron”.

But Omicron is mild, right? Dr. Topol is having none of it. Infections spread like wildfire, he says, and “beget Long Covid, they beget sickness, hospitalisations and deaths. They are also the underpinning of new variants”.

At the heart of his worries is the immune evasion of Omicron and its fast-appearing subvariants, particularly BA.2.12.1 which is becoming dominant in the U.S, and BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa. He argues that Omicron subvariants are producing larger and more frequent Covid waves than earlier variants owing to “more immune evasion” – evasion so marked that he suggests Omicron should really be considered a new virus, approvingly quoting Dr. Linfa Wang that, “based on its immunological profile, it should be called SARS-3”.

Dr. Topol goes so far as to say that even Omicron BA.1 infection does not protect against infection with Omicron subvariants such as BA.2.12.1 – at least not without vaccination, which he seems to think makes natural immunity work better against subvariants, even though it produces a narrower immune response based only on the Spike protein from the original strain.

Covid Infections Continue to Plummet – as ONS Data Suggest Omicron BA.2 May Be Half as Deadly as BA.1

Covid levels continued to drop in England last week, falling to their lowest levels since the start of December before Omicron took off. MailOnline has more.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.2 million, or one in 45 people, were carrying the virus on any given day in the week to May 7th, down a quarter on the previous week.

It marks the fifth week in a row that the ONS’s weekly infection survey – now the best barometer of the outbreak – has reported a week-on-week fall in cases, despite no Covid restrictions being in place.

The Government is relying on the study, based on swabs of 120,000 random people, to track the virus now that free testing has been axed for the vast majority of Britons.

Today’s estimate for England is the lowest since the week ending December 16th, when 1.2m people were also estimated to have been infected. At that point, the Omicron strain was just starting to take off and in the following weeks there were mounting calls to follow some EU countries in enforcing another lockdown.

Ministers also resisted renewed calls from NHS bosses for tougher restrictions last month when the BA.2 variant, an off-shoot of Omicron, pushed rates to record-highs.

Meanwhile, the ONS estimates one in 35 people were carrying Covid in Wales and Scotland last week and one in 55 in Northern Ireland. 

It’s good to see the Mail drawing attention to the fact that these declines happen without the need for restrictions. Interesting that Scotland is doing worse than England despite keeping masks and vaccine passports in place for longer.

Covid Hospital Admissions Drop for 22nd Day in a Row – But New Variants in South Africa Raise Questions of What Comes Next

Latest Covid hospital data show there were 1,198 new admissions with Covid in the U.K. on April 27th (60% of which were incidental), which marked a 19% decrease on the previous week and a fall for the 22nd day in a row, as the Omicron BA.2 wave continues to decline. However, news of a rise in reported infections and hospital admissions in South Africa linked to new variants has raised questions of what might come next. MailOnline has more.

A delay to the Government’s dashboard update on bank holiday Monday means today’s stats include four days’ worth of numbers – after ministers stopped publishing the figures on weekends following ‘Freedom Day’.

It shows there were 35,635 new positive Covid tests over the last four days, working out at an average of just 8,900 daily cases since Friday. There were also 407 total deaths, equivalent of just over 100 daily.

Case numbers logged by the central testing scheme are becoming increasingly unreliable now that free swabs have been stopped for the vast majority of Britons. 

Meanwhile, latest Covid hospital data show there were 1,198 new admissions for the virus on April 27th, which marked a near-19% decrease on the previous week. 

Daily hospitalisations have now fallen for 22 days in a row – despite NHS leaders calling for masks and outdoor mixing to return just weeks ago.

Pressure is mounting on the U.K. to scrap its daily Covid stats after Ireland said it would discontinue its updates in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, South Africa has once again become a focal point of the pandemic amid a fresh Covid surge of new subvariants. Covid cases have nearly quadrupled in a month nationally and hospital admissions are ticking up in Gauteng province, the former epicentre of the original Omicron wave. 

The world watched in horror last November as the super-infectious Omicron strain (BA.1) spread through South Africa at unprecedented speed – which turned out to be mild. But now the country finds itself at the cusp of a fresh explosion in infections, this time due to sub-strains that appear even more transmissible and resistant to antibodies.

Researchers on the ground in South Africa say the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants can evade immunity and cause symptoms in people who were infected with their parent strain just months ago. What is still unclear is whether the new wave will create milder or more severe illness — but experts tell MailOnline the former is more likely, for the U.K. at least.

If Hospitals Are Currently Under Pressure, They Only Have Themselves to Blame

There follows a guest post by our in-house doctor, a former senior NHS medic, who says the latest ‘perfect storm’ causing pressure on the health service in parts of the country is more a self-induced squall.

In the middle of last week, several NHS Trusts issued warnings about the acute strain their services were under. The South Central Ambulance Service went so far as to declare a critical incident – normally reserved for a situation in which demands on the service exceed the capacity to manage those demands. I was surprised that so many NHS bodies spread over a wide geographical area issued public warnings about their failure to cope at the same time. Statements referred to high demand on services (hardly news) and lacked any specific detail about critical capacity constraints. Accordingly, the Daily Sceptic asked me to interrogate the available data to work out the extent to which a Covid resurgence might be responsible for the latest ‘perfect storm’ to hit the NHS.

Graph 1 shows daily admissions of Covid positive patients from the community. Admissions have risen in the last few weeks, but seem to be tailing off. Data from Graph 1 have been the subject of hysterical articles in the mainstream press implying the latest Omicron BA.2 subvariant may be triggering a new wave of acute Covid infections. It’s not sensible to interpret Graph 1 as a stand-alone figure without considering contextual information from other datasets.

ONS Data Show Covid Infections Peaking at Record High – But NHS 111 Data Paint a Very Different Picture of Prevalence Way Down at Pre-Omicron Levels

The U.K.’s daily Covid reported infections have dropped to their lowest figure in a month, thanks in part to the end of free testing. Meanwhile, ONS survey data indicate the Omicron BA.2 wave has peaked in England. MailOnline has the story.

U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data show just 41,384 positive tests were logged over the last 24 hours, a drop of 40.7% on last week. It is the smallest number logged since March 1st.

However, experts have warned that the daily figure is “almost meaningless” since free Covid tests were scrapped for all but the elderly, most vulnerable and healthcare workers.

The rest of the population, who can now only purchase a test for around £2 from high street pharmacies, are unable to log their result online.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which swabs more than 100,000 Britons every week, estimated 4.1 million people in England were infected in the week ending April 2nd.  

Although the highest toll recorded since the pandemic began, it’s only 0.5% higher than last week. Experts today hailed the figures as the “first sign infections have plateaued”.

Meanwhile, daily data shows 347 Britons died within 28 days of a positive – a 81.7% week-on-week jump. But ONS analysts estimate that a third of this figure are fatalities among people who were infected but died from other causes.

Hospital figures show another 2,406 infected people were admitted on Monday, a drop of 4% on last week.

Millions of Patients told “Don’t Go to A&E Unless You’re Dying”

Millions of patients were urged Wednesday not to go to A&E unless they are dying after six trusts warned of waits of up to 12 hours in emergency departments. MailOnline has more.

Trusts across Yorkshire claimed the pressures have left them with no choice but to prioritise patients in “genuine, life-threatening situations”.

West Yorkshire Association of Acute Trusts, which covers 2.5million people, said its casualty units were “extremely busy”. Figures show there has been a “sharp uplift” in patients attending over A&E over the past fortnight, with the total number of visits up 14% on the same time last year. 

Meanwhile, in another sign of the constant pressure NHS medics are facing, South Central Ambulance Service – one of the largest trusts of its kind in the U.K. – declared a critical incident this morning, telling patients to make their own way to hospital unless their injuries or illnesses are not serious.

The service, which covers seven million residents across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Surrey, asked the community to only call 999 in an emergency. 

Their warnings came as millions of Britons started paying more national insurance from today, with Boris Johnson insisting the 1.25% hike is ‘necessary’ to bail out the NHS and social care in the wake of the pandemic. The Prime Minister insisted it was the “right thing for the NHS”, which has seen waiting lists spiral to a record high after hospitals were forced to cancel thousands of operations during the pandemic.

Ministers insist the tax rise, tagged the Health and Social Care Levy, is needed to help tackle Covid backlogs and reform the adult social care system – raising £39 billion over the next three years. 

But health chiefs warned the service is already behind schedule in its routine care recovery plan because of rising numbers of Covid patients. More than 16,500 hospital beds are currently occupied by infected people in England, similar to levels seen during the worst part of the Omicron wave in January.

Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, said the rising rates – which appear to have finally slowed down – coupled with staff absences “mean that we’re not going as fast as we would like on backlog recovery”.

Reported Infections Down 10% – But ONS Reports Prevalence at Record High

Britain’s daily reported Covid infections have now fallen for five days in a row, despite warnings from the ONS that the virus last week was more prevalent than ever. MailOnline has more.

Government dashboard data showed another 69,811 infections were logged in the last 24 hours, which was down 9% on last Friday. 

Deaths continued to rise, however, with 191 recorded today – up 11% on the same time last week. Another 2,509 hospitalisations with the virus were also recorded on March 28th, the latest date available, up 12% in a week and the most since late December at the height of the Omicron wave.

But both are lagging indicators, because of the time it takes for someone who catches the virus to fall seriously ill. 

The drop-off in cases follows from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimating that 4.1 million people had the virus on any given day in England last week, the equivalent to one in 13 being infected.

The figure is the highest ever recorded – topping the previous peak of 3.7m at the height of the Omicron wave in January. It is also 18% higher than last week. 

In the most Covid-ridden towns of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, one in nine people were projected to have the virus in the week to March 26th. And infections have soared to pandemic highs in all over-35s.

Britain’s outbreak as a whole is also bigger than ever, with 4.9m now thought to be infected – up from 4.3m last week.  

Statisticians said England’s surge was being driven by the more transmissible version of Omicron, scientifically named BA.2. Although, ministers admit that ditching the final Covid restrictions last month also fueled the uptick. 

Despite the mass testing project warning that cases show no signs of slowing yet, top scientists are hopeful that the worst may be over. Official numbers – reliant on people getting tested, as opposed to random swabbing – have been falling for a week, bolstering hopes that the virus was running out of steam.

Panic has set in (or been confected) in the usual quarters, but the truth is the Omicron BA.2 surge, like those before it, has peaked by itself, despite restrictions being lifted. As the Danish Government concluded in January, this is not a socially critical disease that warrants any infringements of liberty.

Worth reading in full.

Omicron BA.2 is Even Milder Than Omicron BA.1, UKHSA Data Show

The latest U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Technical Briefing on variants of concern reports that the Omicron BA.2 variant, which is now dominant in the U.K. and in many countries around the world, is even milder than the original Omicron BA.1 variant, which was responsible for the very low death toll this winter.

The report states:

Analyses of sequenced cases up to March 8th 2022 have been undertaken to compare the risk of hospitalisation, as defined by admission as an inpatient, or presentation to emergency care that resulted in admission, transfer or death, following BA.2 compared to BA.1. This analysis adjusted for age, reinfection status, sex, ethnicity, local area deprivation and vaccination status. It also controlled for the effect of geography and specimen date. The risk of hospitalisation does not appear to be higher following a BA.2 infection than following a BA.1 infection (hazard ratio 0.94 95% CI: 0.88-1.00).

The hazard ratio of 0.94 means BA.2 comes with 6% lower risk of hospitalisation compared to BA.1. The 95% confidence interval (CI) of 0.88-1.00 means the researchers are 95% sure the variant is not a higher risk than BA.1, and it may be up to 12% lower. These figures are adjusted for confounders such as age and vaccination status, and also geography for some reason. Admittedly, it’s not a big drop, but it’s in the right direction, and it means up to 12% fewer people may be hospitalised in the current surge, which is a good thing.