A lot is being made of the fact that there have been no deaths thus far from the Omicron variant of Covid-19. This is brilliant news and could bring hope of the end of the pandemic as a killing machine. Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare, the largest private healthcare provider in South Africa said: â€œIf in the second and third wave weâ€™d seen these levels of positivity to tests conducted, we would have seen very significant increases in hospital admissions and weâ€™re not seeing that. In our primary care clinics it is mainly people under 30-years-old. So I actually think there is a silver lining here and this may signal the end of COVID-19, with it attenuating itself to such an extent that itâ€™s highly contagious, but doesnâ€™t cause severe disease. Thatâ€™s what happened with Spanish flu.â€
But there are four very important caveats here:
Firstly the time period between first symptoms and death from Covid-19 is typically 2 to 8 weeks. And in this time period hardly anyone has had Omicron. Whereas now many thousands of people across the world have it.
Secondly most South African victims seem to be fit young males. When Omicron hits fat, middle and old aged, vitamin D deficient Europeans it could be a different story.
Thirdly getting Omicron might not protect a person against other strains of Covid-19.
Fourthly Omicron is still putting people into ICU:
There is a bit of science that could be very pertinent here. There is a HCoV-229E coronavirus that causes the common cold. A chunk of its genetic code was found in the Omicron virus when it was genetically sequenced by Nference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The theory is that the two different coronaviruses combined with one another when a person, probably immunocompromised, had both diseases at the same time. And it would go some way towards explaining why Omicron seems to be so mild thus far.
On November 26 the Norwegian renewable energy firm Scatec had a corporate event for 120 people in Oslo. It now looks like about half of those who attended caught Omicron. This disease is vastly more contagious than the earlier strains.
On 1 December 173 ICU doctors and nurses at Malaga Regional University Hospital had a party. 68 of them have subsequently tested positive. All who caught it had antigen tests (from previous infection) or the third booster vaccinations before attending the party.
What this means for us is that one person, unknowing carrying Omicron, can go to a pub or restaurant and infect half the people there. No wonder masks (which definitely work) have been mandated for public transport and shops. Within the next week thousands in the UK will have Omicron. Another week and Farrs Laws of epidemiology say that will be tens of thousands. Over the Christmas holiday hundreds of thousands.
Omicron symptoms often seem to be very similar indeed to those of the common cold. If you have a sniffle it could be either. So it is well worth getting a free pack of lateral flow tests, taking one before going out to meet people.
Then there is the contrarian view of just letting it rip, as we do for every other disease. Let everyone catch it and get it over and done with. Learn to live with Covid-19 as we do with the ‘Flu. This has a lot of merit.
The problem here is that we are still in the middle of a Delta version (which kills a lot of people) pandemic. And having had Omicron might not make people immune to Delta (and future variants), just as having had Delta might not make people immune to Omicron. So we could have two pandemics going on simultaneously. There remains huge merit in maintaining maximum vaccine status.
The measures taken recently by the British government seem measured and proportionate. Designed to slow the disease down whilst not impinging on our rights, freedoms and liberties as badly as in previous campaigns. Things are very much worse across Europe and in the USA. In Sweden people are having microchip implants in their hands to use as Covid passports.
Events are moving fast. A lot of Omicron science will soon be released by pharmaceutical company laboratories. We will then know much more about how this virus works.