A Christmas Cracker of Covid Cheer? Perchance it is a dream…

Covid cases have been soaring across the UK and England just a few days ago been plummeting towards another lockdown or circuit breaker. We seemed destined to have a cracking Christmas followed by a New Year’s Eve singing Auld Lang Syne at a social distanced.

Yesterday, though, there was better news. Separate analyses published by Imperial College and Edinburgh University concurred with research funded by the South African Medical Research Council and a modelling exercise by a Danish institute. All four studies suggest Omicron will lead to less severe illness than Delta and less hospitalisation.

The results, which are provisional, look like a bonus for the NHS which is usually rammed to the rafters in winter and this year faces bigger than usual staff shortages due to self-isolation.

The studies are a huge boost for Boris Johnson, who’s premiership has been on the line over Covid restrictions (along with the loss of the North Shropshire by-election). He must make a decision in the next few days whether to follow Scotland and Wales in increasing restrictions, including cancelling New Year. His instinct will be to impose minimalist intervention rather than face letters of no confidence from his backbenchers.

But unless we “Jab the World” we are at risk of more waves of infection.

Covid-19 cases are soaring across much of the UK, especially in London. Yesterday, we began to receive the first estimates of the severity of Omicron. A study published by Imperial College estimates suggest people catching Omicron are, compared to Delta, 15% less likely to attend hospital and 40% less likely to be hospitalised for a night or more. It is not possible at this early stage to judge the impact of Omicron on admissions to ICU or on death rates. A South African study, also published yesterday, suggested there are reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease in people infected with Omicron than Delta. A smaller Scottish study posited that Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk hospitalisation when compared to Delta. Danish modelling also points to Omicron not being as severe as Delta due partly to prior infection or immunisation. The level of community and individual protection is a factor in reducing the severity of disease in all the studies.

From what we know so far, this a cracker of a Christmas present. But it doesn’t yet put us into a safety zone. Omicron is more transmissible and is spreading faster than Delta. It also has a degree of vaccine escape. Data suggests that 15% of people who have had three jabs could still catch Omicron.

There are dangers with good news. Some areas of the UK have very low levels of vaccination. Around 11 million eligible people in England have not received a dose of vaccine. In London, where Covid rates have shot up at extraordinary rate, just 62% of those aged 12 or over have had two doses of vaccine compared to 82% in the UK. Just a third of those in London have had three doses (35%), compared to 54% across the UK. There have been anti-vax and anti-lockdown protests across the world, including in London.

On 19 December, more than 8,900 NHS hospital staff in London were on sick leave or in self-isolation, up by nearly a quarter since the beginning of the month – 43% of absences were Covid related. Better news is that 8% of Adult General and Acute Beds in London were unoccupied on the same date. Across England, just 1% of beds were free.

While we might feel that we can relax a little after the latest news, we are far from getting to the other side of this pandemic.

We must also look at the broader picture and the months and years ahead. There is some suggestion from scientists that the evolution of the virus and growing immunity to Covid-19 may mean that another significant variant of concern is unlikely to emerge.  The lack of vaccination in poorer countries potentially will create populations where new variants could emerge. I agree absolutely with Gordon Brown when he says the failure to distribute vaccines to poorer countries is a “stain on our global soul”. Rich countries are allowing huge numbers of people in poorer countries with limited access to health care to go unvaccinated. This must be tackled urgently.

The best Christmas present we can give to the world is vaccine. It is perhaps time for Bob Geldof to remake his Christmas song. Coronavirus doesn’t know it Christmas at all. We still need to “Feed the World” but we must also “Jab the World”.

Note the different vertical scale for this graph

Notes

The bar charts use a 7-day rolling average shown in red. Data for the last 5 days, the grey bars, show provisional data. The red line is usually a good indicator of trend.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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6 Comments

  • >…15% less likely to attend hospital.
    Good news if the numbers catching Omicron are the same, or fewer, as Delta. Otherwise…

    >Data suggests that 15% of people who have had three jabs could still catch Omicron.
    Anecdotally, I know of eight people across England who currently have Covid. Six double-jabbed, two triple-jabbed. Haven’t needed hospital, but wouldn’t call it ‘mild,’ either.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Dec '21 - 5:40pm

    We are a long way from being out of the woods with Covid, give some people an inch and they will take a mile, ( in old measurements), but glad Omicron seems to be less severe, my wife and I still do not feel secure given the suggestion that the booster shots potency seem to diminish 10 -15 weeks after vaccination? The pressure on the NHS will still be severe given the number cases being reported at the moment.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Dec '21 - 10:40pm

    “Good news if the numbers catching Omicron are the same, or fewer, as Delta. Otherwise…”
    But that doesn’t appear to be the case – we’re being told that Omicron is spreading very rapidly, risking a smaller percentage (than for Delta) of a potentially much larger number of cases over a particular time needing hospital treatment, risking a large number of people needing hospital treatment at the same time. I’ve heard this being pointed out repeatedly in the media.

    It would be helpful though if there wasn’t so much use of relative statistics. ‘Up to 70% lower rate of hospitalisation than for Delta’ isn’t very helpful without the numbers for Delta as well. Needs percentage hospital rates and number of new cases during a particular time interval for both variants to enable proper consideration of the numbers and risk of the NHS being overwhelmed with Covid cases (even if the patients don’t need to be in hospital for as long as for earlier variants)

  • The problem faced by the NHS that so many seem to overlook.
    If Hospitals are faced with large numbers of admissions of covid patients, regardless of whether they were admitted for covid or went to hospital for some other reason and were found to also have covid, is the logistics and what to do with so many of them.

    You cant have someone who has been admitted to hospital with multiple broken bones and undergoing surgery and has been found to also have asymptomatic covid being placed on a hospital ward next to a non-covid patient who just undergone a Gall Bladder removal and is severely sick and vulnerable to any infection….

    The logistics of keeping thousands of Covid Patients who have been admitted to hospital ( for whatever reason) away from non-covid patients some of whom are extremely vulnerable due to accident or sickness is a nightmare. But as usual the covid denying and anticlock down types will refuse point blank to acknowledge any of this.

    Our hospitals have been run at near capacity for years, however, Hospitals cannot operate at 100% occupancy, as spare bed capacity is needed to accommodate variations in demand and ensure that patients can flow through the system properly.
    This has been exasperated by a lack of secondary and social care beds to discharge patients too and further blocking up the system..

    The threat Omicron now poses if we see large numbers of patients in the system albeit on a smaller percentage, which has been offset by the sheer volume of people infected, on top of staff shortages due to sickness and we could be in very tricky waters.

    I witnessed first hand the other month when my own father was critically ill in hospital for over 3 weeks, problems with staff shortages, lack of nurses and nursing assistants, on some days there were 3 nurses and 2 assistants to a ward with 9 Bays and 6 beds to a bay which I am sure must be against all safety protocols. The Hospital was in lockdown to visitors, however as my fathers carer I was exempt…Watching other patients not getting the care and attention they deserved was heart-breaking and I saw some things that I would never want to repeat let alone witness again……
    I am just glad my Dad is out of there, but it still haunts me now thinking what state the hospital was like then ( before this new omicron) and imagining what it will look like in a few weeks when things get worse.

  • TODAY we are told the booster starts to lose effectiveness after 10 weeks and plans are afoot for a fourth jab as in Israel. Some folk received their booster 15 weeks ago, so they are becoming more and more vulnerable.
    The problem is that we are seemingly on an ever ending cycle. It appears that the more boosters a body has, the more it will gradually work to reject them. Effectiveness will reduce with each jab, so the time frame between each will get shorter and shorter.
    The government is getting into a rare old corner.
    Just to exemplify this were the catastreophic results in the two by elections yesterday where they lost 50% or more of their poll and were hammered. In the Guisborough we managed almost 75%$ od the poll, sadly we had no candidate in the New Forest, something very hard to explain.
    These two results combine to suggest a huge protest against the Government which could well allow Reform to win Southend West.
    There is going to be a by election there.We must stand. We will win. The party needs to deliberate on this over Xmas otherwise an opportunity will be missed, which we could well later regret.

  • Perhaps at the end of all this regardless of the great saintly project the government and the Lib Dems have the vaccine programme should have been rolled out only to the vulnerable and say over 50s. South Africa (as well as Sweden/FL) will show that the best outcomes would have been focussed protection and allowing Alpha and Delta to progress through the healthy population.

    I was struck to hear pro lockdowner scientists say `Because we didn’t go for herd immunity it’s best to take boosters`. What? So if we hadn’t plunged millions into vaccines Omircon would have been nothing to nearly everybody?

    In two or three years time when the dust has settled and the brown envelopes are opened we will look back and despair. A lot of politicians are going to be looking very silly.

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