Saturday 27 November 2021

COVID Saturday November 27th 2021 - (not the) UK Briefing

COVID Saturday November 27th 2021 - (not the) UK Briefing 

I'm in a bit of a tricky spot today, as it's my son's birthday weekend, I'm in the pub, and Boris has called an emergency COVID briefing. I have been typing up what we know about the Omicron Variant as it emerges, and I will come back later and add any other salient points in the comments, but it is unlikely Boris, Chris and Pat will have any more to tell you than the below:

Soooooo, Omicron. It is still very early days. We know very little for certain, and we definitely shouldn't panic. Mainly it looks like it has potential to be super flipping catchy, even if you are vaccinated, and... erm... that's about it. 

Trevor Bedford, who is an epidemiology genius, has looked into where it came from, and surprisingly it is a bit of a wild card. 
The ancestry can't really be easily tracked directly backwards, the closest relatives we know of are incredibly old strains of COVID from May 2020.  
It appears to have evolved quietly somewhere where there is very little or no genome testing (definitely not South Africa), or (and this is very likely) it has evolved inside a single human being or just a few human beings who spent a very long time trying to beat COVID. 
Mr Bedford estimates Omicron escaped into the community around early October, the first case we've discovered tested positive November 11th.
Trev estimates unchecked (no masks, distancing, restrictions etc) doubling time to be 4.8 days, and he does believe it will have quicker transmission and be able to sneak past vaccinations - but to what extent, only time will show us. 

The good news is that people who are testing positive for Omicron aren't exactly dropping like flies. Anecdotal and other evidence is suggesting even fully vaccinated people who have recently had a booster are catching it, but they aren't necessarily falling very ill. South African health officials say of the very few cases known to be in hospital, they are virtually all unvaccinated. 
We already have that situation with Delta - most of us can still catch it, but very few vaccinated people get serious symptoms, and less than 1/10th end up in hospital. We have no reason to believe Omicron is any more of a danger. 

Omicron has now been detected in the UK. The first 2 cases are recently returned travellers, linked, but now in Chelmsford and Nottingham - where they are isolating as they should be, and surge testing will take place. It has also been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Germany (not yet confirmed).
I think we can assume it will be worldwide any minute. 

And to back that up, Dutch authorities are frantically sequencing samples from a staggering 61 passengers who have tested positive from just 2 flights back from South Africa. That is a huge amount of COVID positive people - and bear in mind they wouldn't usually have been able to board those flights without negative tests. Did they board just after catching it? Did they catch COVID at the airport? On the flight? Will it turn out they do all have Omicron? Is Omicron catchy as a catchy thing?
Well, it looks possible. 

The UK Government are still moving far more quickly than ever before, and from 4am tomorrow, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will join the travel Red List.

Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novovax have all confirmed they are ready to work on a version2 vaccine if we need it, and it would be ready within around 100 days.
To date, even though we have gone through Alpha, Beta, Delta, Mu and other variants, all vaccines created against original wild COVID have still worked to prevent the vast majority of severe illness and keep people out of hospital, so no tweaking has been necessary.

It's a virus. It simply isn't as clever as we are. It can get a lucky break, or even a lucky streak, but ultimately we will win. Again the main concern here is overwhelming hospitals because so many people become ill at once - and that's the main worry for everyone - especially nations not lucky enough to have vaccinations... 

Go and continue with your weekend. Worrying won't change a thing. 
Be sensib, and book your jabs if you have any coming up...

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