Oz for Dummies: Week 1, 2022

(January 2–9) Omicron, Omi-gone soon? / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz (and France/Germany)

It’s been quite the week, from the brouhaha over Novax Djokovic (which completely dominated the headlines in the land of Oz) to the never-ending news about Omicron and the havoc it causes world-wide, thousands of flight cancellations and all. Stressed health systems, too.

/ Omicron, Omi-gone soon?

A (not-yet-refereed) Danish study, looking at nearly 12,000 Danish households in mid-December 2021, confirmed what was already widely believed based on other data (see last week’s write-up): that Omicron evades immunity better than the Delta variant of SARS-Cov-2. Interestingly, the authors claim that this evasiveness rather than an inherent increased transmissibility is the key driver of its success. (This claim seems hard to reconcile with the dramatic surges most countries have seen.) We learned from the same study that Omicron is 2.7–3.7 times more infectious than Delta among the vaccinated but that the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is half that of Delta. We also learned that the booster-vaccinated are less likely to transmit the virus (and to be affected by it both in terms of risk of hospitalization and severity of hospitalization outcomes).

Evidence also suggests that T-cell responses elicited by vaccines and boosters will protect against Omicron, as observed for other variants, even if anti-bodies fail. A very good write-up on T-cells and this research here.

/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

Last week not only brought a dramatic surge in cases (and infections if the positivity rate is a reliable indicator as it seems to be) to numbers unimaginable just a couple of weeks ago.

The numbers re-heated old discussions between the usual alarmist OzCagers/OzRagers who predicted the end was nigh and other more sensible folks who understand trade-offs. Note that these old discussions raged during outbreaks that in the above graph hardly register!

The dramatic surge in cases led to a reversal of some decisions that the Perrottet government in NSW implemented in mid-December after the initial two-week pause in the first half of December. From yesterday, singing and dancing are prohibited in hospitality venues (including pubs, clubs, nightclubs, bars and restaurants), entertainment facilities, and major recreation facilities, with some notable exceptions. Major events might also be postponed based on individual risk assessments. Similar restrictions were also reintroduced in Victoria. Spending data from Melbourne and Sydney suggest that the large majority has already adjusted their behavior. Personal responsibility — it’s a thing.

An interesting discussion of the driver of the blowout in numbers in NSW was provided by a writer for New Zealand online mag stuff. It’s a worthwhile read that draws among other sources on the excellent work of Michael Fuhrer. He has pointed out that much of what transpired in hospitals was driven not by Omicron but by the Delta variant that many people seem to have forgotten about in their excitement about Omicron. Fuhrer has estimated (based on the current positivity rate) that current daily infections in NSW are in the neighborhood of 200,000 infections, with reported cases now approaching 50,000 and a positivity rate of about 40%!) Note that one intriguing implication is, assuming that people with symptoms go for testing, that the majority of infections is actually asymptotic.

If indeed the conjecture is true that we have seen NSW infection numbers inf the low six-digits for several days now (and I believe the case for that is strong and well-made), then the current death numbers, while they have started to show up in the data, suggest an infection fatality rate of below 0.05 percent. And that even with the important confound that Omicron currently accounts for a small fraction of ICU patients only.

It is everyone’s guess when the peak might be reached and whether the fall of the Omicron wave will be as swift as its rise. The opinions are all over the place. (My best bet is that NSW will see it in a week or so but well before the end of the month.)

Meanwhile, I fully agree with this excellent opinion piece (full of interesting facts) by two infectious diseases paediatricians and senior lecturers at the University of Sydney: It’s time for children’s lives to return to normal — schools must stay open.

/ Pandemic normality in France/Germany

France’s Omicron wave is expected to peak in about a week. I will write more about it when back in Paris this coming week. Meanwhile, here is a good source on incidence and positivity rates in France. More on Germany, Czech Republic, and other European countries also next week — the news are rather diffuse and ever-changing and so are the regulations. Germany just introduced a new country-wide restriction called 2G+: from now on those who recovered from an infection (“Genesen”), and those that have received only two jabs (“Geimpft”), are required to take a RAT on top of it if they want to visit a pub or restaurant or the like. Exceptions: if you are boostered, you are free to go as you please. That’s me. Hallelujah!

And that’s the wrap for week 1 of 2022.

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Greetings from Prague!

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Andreas Ortmann

Andreas Ortmann

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EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …