Omicron

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.

Britain’s Daily Covid Cases Plunge by Another Third

The U.K.’s Covid outbreak has receded on all fronts again, with hospitalisations down nearly a fifth in a week and deaths a third lower. MailOnline has more.

Today’s Government dashboard update shows a total of 1,609 people infected with Covid were admitted to hospitals on Friday, the latest date with data, 18% lower than the previous week.

The figure has been trending downwards for more than two weeks after an uptick triggered calls from NHS leaders to reintroduce face masks and outdoor mixing.

Another 508 Covid fatalities were registered today — down by 31% in a week.

There were also 26,147 positive swabs over the last 24 hours — the lowest figure in two months and a quarter fewer than last week.

But experts say the daily counts are now “completely irrelevant” because free tests have been scrapped for the vast majority of people.

It comes as U.K. health bosses today confirmed five cases of BA.2.12.1, which is thought to be the most contagious version of Omicron yet, have been detected in the U.K. The sub-strain already makes up a fifth of cases in the U.S., in a sign of what could come in Britain.

Little is known about the new version of the virus, though it is believed to have an up to 27% growth advantage over BA.2, which was behind the latest surge in UK cases and is itself a subvariant of Omicron.

However, top scientists insist there is no evidence that BA.2.12.1 is more severe than its mild predecessor. And British experts told MailOnline they are not concerned by its emergence because of the U.K.’s high levels of immunity following the recent domestic surge.

UKHSA data shows that 20,767 people in England tested positive for Covid, while Scotland logged 3,976 positive swabs, Wales detected 816 cases and Northern Ireland logged 588 infections.

The 26,147 total UK-wide figure is 27.2% lower than the 35,926 cases detected on the same day last week.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Coronavirus Infections Near Record High – But Deaths Remain Below Average

Coronavirus infections have climbed by a million in a week in the U.K., data from the Office for National Statistics suggest. BBC News has more.

Swab tests suggest about one in every 16 people is infected, as the contagious Omicron variant BA.2 continues to spread. That’s just under 4.3 million people, up from 3.3 million the week before. The figures for the week ending March 19th, are thought to give the most accurate reflection of what’s happening with the virus in the community.

Rates were up in England and Wales, and Scotland reached a new high. Infections have started decreasing in Northern Ireland, however. The rates across the nations were:

• England: 6.4%, up from 4.9% last week – approximately one in 16 people
• Wales: 6.4%, up from 4.1% last week – approximately one in 16 people
• Northern Ireland: 5.9%, down from 7.1% last week – approximately one in 17 people
• Scotland: 9%, up from 7.15% last week – approximately one in 11 people

A high number of infections means the U.K. can expect Covid hospitalisations to rise too, although vaccines are still helping to stop many severe cases, say experts.

According to the latest figures, there were 16,975 patients in hospital with the virus on March 23rd. About half will have been admitted for something else, rather than Covid, but tested positive.

In the week since March 19th, however, new daily infections appear to be slowing towards a new peak.

Thirty Million Chinese Locked Down in Last Gasp of Zero-Covid Policy

Thirty million people in 13 cities across China have been put back into a COVID-19 lockdown with hazmat-wearing officials back on the streets on a scale not seen since the pandemic began in yet more evidence that the country’s Zero-Covid strategy is a complete failure. MailOnline has more.

China reported 5,280 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, more than double the previous day’s tally, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spread across a country that has stuck tightly to a Zero-Covid strategy.

That approach, which pivots on hard localised lockdowns and has left China virtually cut off from the outside world for two years, appears stretched to the limit as Omicron finds its way into communities.

At least 13 cities nationwide were fully locked down as of Tuesday, and several others had partial lockdowns, with some 15,000 infections reported nationwide in March.

Scenes of closed neighbourhoods, panic buying and police cordons cast back to the early phase of the pandemic, which first emerged in China in late 2019.

Although cases from the chaotic initial outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020 are widely believed to have been under-reported, life since then had largely returned to normal in China under its strict Zero-Covid approach.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Matthew Lynn in the Spectator says China’s zero Covid strategy is a threat to the global economy.

Covid Deaths Continue to Decline in the Unvaccinated But Not in the Vaccinated, UKHSA Data Show

Another week, another Vaccine Surveillance Report from the UKHSA (week 9). This week’s analysis is a little longer than usual as we’ve included methodological information.

Infections

According to the UKHSA data, infection rates continue to drop, infections continue to have lower rates in the unvaccinated and the vaccines continue to increase the risk of infection. The impact of the recent Omicron wave can be clearly seen in the rates data:

This gives an unadjusted vaccine effectiveness of:

Displayed in this way it can be seen that apart from in those aged under 18 we’re seeing a broadly level but negative vaccine effectiveness for one and two doses, with a rapidly declining vaccine effectiveness for three doses of vaccine.

Queen Test’s Positive for Covid – Mild, Cold-Like Symptoms

Her Majesty the Queen has tested positive for COVID-19, but in spite of her advanced age is experiencing nothing more serious than mild, cold-like symptoms. BBC News has more.

The monarch is experiencing “mild cold-like symptoms” but expects to continue “light duties” at Windsor over the coming week, the palace said.

“She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines,” it added in a statement.

The Queen, 95, had been in contact with her eldest son and heir, the Prince of Wales, who tested positive last week.

It is understood a number of people have tested positive at Windsor Castle, where the Queen resides.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I’m sure I speak for everyone in wishing Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from Covid and a rapid return to vibrant good health.”

Worth reading in full.

More ‘Experts’ Urge Boris Not to End Covid Restrictions

Yesterday, SAGE and the NHS Federation raised the alarm about the Government’s plans to phase out all Covid restrictions. Today, it’s the turn of the BMA. All we need now is a joint letter from the authors of the John Snow Memorandum and we’ll have the full set. MailOnline has more on the latest doom-mongering.

The end of COVID-19 restrictions in England is premature and “not based on current evidence”, according to the British Medical Association.

Experts have warned an absence of testing and self-isolation will lead to a surge in cases in the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will present his plan for ‘living with Covid’ when Parliament returns from a short recess on February 21st, with an aim of lifting the requirement to self-isolate by February 24th.

Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, told the Guardian the decision was “not based on current evidence and is premature”, adding: “It clearly hasn’t been guided by data or done in consultation with the healthcare profession.”

He said case rates remained exceptionally high, with one in 20 infected last week, according to the latest Office for National Statistics survey.

The Government has formed a strategy for living with Covid, which is expected to include the scrapping of free mass testing.

Meanwhile, all the indicators suggest Omicron is on the way out.

Yesterday it was revealed UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 47,685 positive tests over the past 24 hours, a fifth down on last week’s count.

The rolling seven-day average number of daily cases, considered a more accurate measure, has dipped to below 47,000, mirroring levels seen at the start of December before Omicron had properly taken off.

Daily hospital admissions across the UK have fallen by 8% over the same time-frame as the pressure on the NHS continues to recede. And deaths have fallen by 18%, with 158 victims recorded today.

What was that about the decision to lift restrictions not being guided by data, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul?

Worth reading in full.

Norway Ends Covid Restrictions Including Self-Isolation Requirement Despite Omicron Surge

Norway scrapped almost all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday morning, doing away with its self-isolation and face mask requirements, ending social distancing, and limiting testing to those with symptoms, despite being in the middle of its Omicron surge, which has not yet begun to fall. The Local has the story.

“The one-metre rule is disappearing. We are taking away the recommendation on social distancing,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told reporters at a press conference.

“Now we can now socialise like we did before, in nightlife, at cultural events and other social occasions. And on the way to and from work on buses, trains and ferries,” he said.

Norway’s decision to lift restrictions comes four days after Sweden lifted its restrictions on Wednesday, and twelve days after Denmark did on February 1st. 

Støre put the change in restrictions to the shift in infections towards the milder Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. 

“We can ease the restrictions because Omicron does not cause as serious disease as previous variants. Even though the infection rate is rising, the proportion who end up in hospital is low. We are well protected with the vaccine,” he said. “We can treat COVID-19 like other diseases.” 

Among the changes, which apply from 10am on Saturday morning, are:  

• The one-metre rule is abolished 
• The requirement to wear face masks is abolished 
• Only adults with symptoms are now advised to get tested for COVID-19 
• The requirement to self-isolate for four days has been downgraded to a recommendation
• Kindergarten children and school pupils should stay home if ill, but can return after one fever-free day 
• All remaining requirements to show a negative test on arrival at the Norwegian border have been scrapped

Those who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated and those in vulnerable groups are still recommended to wear face masks. 

Under the new testing requirements, those who test positive using an antigen or lateral flow test at home are asked to register the positive test in their local municipality’s infection tracking system. 

Gahr Støre stressed however that “the pandemic is not over”, and advised unvaccinated people and those in risk groups to continue practising social distancing and wear masks where social distancing is not possible.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said the country had yet to see the peak of the Omicron surge, but it was expected soon.

The agency’s director Camilla Stoltenberg told reporters the number of Covid hospitalisations had risen by 40% in the past week.

Will a Shift in ‘the Science’ Give Trudeau a Way Out?

Let us start with a few charts. The first tracks the number of hospitalised patients for Covid per million citizens in four countries:

  • France, where restrictions remained fairly stringent through the Covid crisis.
  • The U.S., one of the first countries to re-open.
  • Sweden who never really shut down in the first place.
  • Israel, where the fourth booster dose has now been distributed to all over 60 years old for weeks.

Unfortunately, and in spite of vaccines, outside of Sweden (maybe Sweden has built up herd immunity?), new Covid-linked hospitalisations once again broke new record highs this winter (see above).

And unsurprisingly, as hospitalisations climbed, so did deaths. In January, Covid deaths turned out to be higher than anyone would have hoped.

Looking at the charts above, and at the risk of sounding callous, it is hard to avoid the conclusion of ‘all this for that?’. After all, the above four countries followed dramatically different confinement policies, travel restrictions, vaccine policies, etc., and yet, by and large, ended up delivering broadly the same outcomes, at roughly the same times, when it comes to either hospitalisations or deaths (number of cases are a bogus comparison as so much depends on individual countries’ testing, and reporting, protocols). Perhaps this is the conclusion that the Canadian truckers came to? After all, after months of lockdowns, and after vaccine mandates which pushed some 90% of Canadian to take the needle, this winter is seeing roughly as many Canadian Covid deaths as last winter.

These similar outcomes may help explain why ‘the Science’ that policymakers have professed to follow this whole time has now suddenly shifted. Because let’s face it: Covid today seems just as deadly as it did last winter (and this in spite of the vaccines), at least in the U.S., Israel, France (or almost any country that actively prevented its population from developing herd immunity) and yet, all of a sudden, Covid restrictions are melting away faster than morals at a bachelor party. In recent days we have seen:

Natural Immunity Provides Robust Protection Against Omicron, Study Finds

Natural immunity from previous infection remains strong against Omicron, particularly with respect to severe disease and death, a study from Qatar has found.

The study, published in the NEJM, included all reported infections in the country, excluding only those with Ct value over 30 to avoid non-infectious and false positives. The study is a follow-up to one we reported in December, with the new study including results for Omicron (we have previously linked to the pre-print version).

The researchers used a test-negative case-control design and matched cases to controls according to sex, 10-year age group, nationality, and calendar time of PCR testing to avoid biases and confounders. The limitations of a test-negative case-control design need therefore to be borne in mind.

The topline finding was that previous infection was 92% protective against Delta and 56% against Omicron – so reinfection is significantly more likely with Omicron but protection is still strong. Two Omicron reinfections became severe, but none became critical or fatal. Here are the result in full, with the table below.