(January 23–30) Omicron and how to live with it / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz (and NZ and Europe)
I have been in Europe for more than six weeks now, travelling without a single problem from Frankfurt to Paris and then to the Prague, via Germany, and then back to Paris on the reverse itinerary. Yesterday left Paris for Wuerzburg, en route to Frankfurt from where I fly back to Sydney, via Bangkok, tomorrow early arvo. So Thai Airways will. (It would not be the first time they changed one of my flights. In fact, not even the second or third time. Korean, when are you back in business?)
Traveling in Europe has become routine even though Omicron case numbers here are way higher than in Straya on a per-capita basis. More about this below. Mask wearing is mandatory on public transportation in France, Germany, and the Czech Republic, and also in cafes and restaurants. As is vaccination to the extent that it is checked. (And it is to different degrees.)
Overall, being able to travel again was a liberating and enjoyable experience. Productive, too.
/ Omicron and other Covid-19 variants
While Omicron has faded from the headlines in Europe, it seems to remain a dominant theme in the Aussie news (except when Grace Tame triggers a national meltdown and Ash Barty and the Special Ks give occasion for some national celebration). Too often, both in Europe and AU, the focus remains on cases although the evidence keeps accumulating that the disconnect of cases and hospitalizations, ICU referrals, and deaths is huge and beats consistently the most optimistic forecasts. Key graph:
And here are Michael Fuhrer’s daily updates:
Also check this daily update — how encouraging is that?!
What continues to become clearer is that three jabs (AZ, and mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, or some mix of them) are decisively better than two. After six months, effectiveness against symptomatic infection from AstraZeneca and Pfizer declines dramatically. How much it declines depends on the timing both between the initial jabs and the jabs and the booster. It’s complicated but this is a useful primer (once again by the science reporter for The Age and The SMH, Liam Mannix.) To repeat the most stunning insight from last week, data from several studies, reviewed by Kirby Institute folks, suggests an mRNA booster is likely to offer about 86 per cent efficacy against symptomatic infection from Omicron and 98 per cent efficacy against severe infection. These numbers are in line with accumulating anecdotal evidence. Brilliant. Get vaxxed, folks.
Liam Mannix also had a piece titled, The way we treat COVID has changed completely. This is how we do it now.
Eight different drug treatments are now approved by the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce. That does not count a new antibody cocktail, approved in December, and two new antivirals from Merck and Pfizer, approved by Australia’s drug regulator last week, that scientists hope could be the best of the bunch.
A good read.
/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz
Some alarmists have claimed for weeks that around Australia/Invasion Day there would be more lockdowns. The West Australian dingbat of a health minister claimed that for all practical purposes there was a lockdown in the East. Which led to considerable amusement among those having watched AO tennis in Melbourne or January 26 activities in Sydney. Others alarmists changed their narrative claiming that self-lockdown is close enough to formal lockdown for “most of us”. Sounds like that dingbat of WA health minister.
The same alarmist is also on a rampage against school openings. Most paediatric infectious disease experts seem to be in favor. In fact, it is encouraging that the OzCagers and OzRagers have lost what little influence they had and that NSW and Victoria pursue almost identical strategies about re-opening of schools, informed by science. It seems to be lost on the alarmists that both Victoria-Dan and Queensland-Anna have adopted the NSW-Gladys-Dom playbook for months.
Meanwhile WA is paying a high price for its insane zero-covid position. McGowan’s cancellation of the promise to open the borders in early February has tangible economic consequences and of course does not just cause massive disruptions to those 20,000 travellers locked out after McGowan delayed the re-opening indefinitely. “Scores of lives saved”? Oh, please …
/ Pandemic normality in New Zealand
It seems that even Ardern has finally given up on the zero-covid pipe dream. It will be interesting to see how this will play out.
/ Pandemic normality in Europe
There seems to be a broad consensus in how to deal with the pandemic (base vaccination and booster shots to as many people as possible, often with simultaneous restrictions on the unvaccinated).
Key policy differences stem from the question of how to deal with those that are not fully vaxxed (i.e., do not have the booster shot). In France in particular, where elections are impending, it has become a means of political product differentiation, with Macron not taking prisoners and letting his opinion about the unvaccinated run free.
The number of cases in France are staggering (reaching half a million cases about a week ago, and for much of the remainder of this week at around 400k and 300k each day). If my math serves me well, then about 12–15% of the French population are captured in the January cases statistic alone. Given that quite possibly the number of infections is 3–5 times that, we should soon see a dramatic decline of these numbers.
In Germany case numbers are also skyrocketing but here, too, we see the same disconnect of cases and deaths.
A puzzling picture emerges if one looks at the geographic distribution of the incidence rate where Saxony and Thuringia (which have very low vaccination rates) do surprisingly well. What’s going on?
And that’s the wrap for week 4 of 2022. Next weekly missive will be from Sydney.
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Greetings from Wuerzburg!