Oz for Dummies: Week 50, 2021

(December 13–19) Omicron, oh Omicron / Pandemic normality in the land of Oz (and Paris)

Less than 72 hours before my scheduled departure, UNSW gave me permission to travel. Somewhat to my surprise, I have to admit, as in late November I was asked to move my trip to Europe, via Bangkok, to after December 15.

After two days of traveling early in the week, I am writing from Paris where pandemic normality means that the joie de vivre has been visibly dialed down but you see none of the hysteria that is on display in the land of Oz. Life marches on although, as in Sydney, many places are shuttered down. Sad.

People in Paris are pretty good about mask wearing in closed spaces and social distancing to the extent possible (metro not so much, best to a avoid it where possible).

A friend (an American living in Paris) warned me that I needed to have the pass sanitaire if I wanted to visit restaurants or some such. Alas, there were so far only a couple of situations where I have been asked for it and they all accepted my cute little yellow “Impfbuch”.

I never had to call in the heavy artillery (say a printout of my Aussie immunization history, or for that matter log into mygov/medicare.)

Supermarkets etc in France are not required to check for the pass sanitaire or to register people visiting. Laissez faire …

/ Omicron, oh Omicron

The latest SARS-CoViD-2 variant has changed a number of things and it has done so within a week. An intriguing beast it is. New cases are soaring everywhere (NSW in particular, Denmark, France, Britain, the Netherlands (now in lockdown!), South Africa, etc.) and many countries have in consequence introduced new restrictions (e.g., Western Australia which pulled up the draw-bridge to all of Australia and every other part of the world (earlier), and in France which pulled up the draw-bridge to Lil Britain Friday). Germany, where case numbers have started throughout the week to drift down from high but very heterogeneous levels, has put France, Britain, and several other countries into the highest-risk category.

It is still unclear how exactly Omicron works although some intriguing evidence suggest that, while it is highly infectious and 70 times more likely than delta to invade the bronchi, it is ten times less likely to invade the lungs, at least according to this study. Could that be the reason why some reports suggest (last but not least from South Africa) that its consequences are comparatively minor? We will find out in a week or two …

The evidence from NSW suggest that maybe there is something to that narrative. That said, the notorious alarmists from the Imperial College team have provided estimates that the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is 5.4 times greater than that of the Delta variant. Ferguson — yes, that very same Ferguson — has argued that this level of immune evasion means that “Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health.” Once an alarmist, always an alarmist, I guess: The higher rate of breakthrough infections does not necessarily mean a correspondingly higher rate of hospitalizations, ICU referrals, and/or deaths. As the NSW numbers suggest: while hospitalizations in NSW tracked cases closely through the Jun — Oct wave there now seems to be a disconnect. More data clearly needed though …

Meanwhile the definition of what is fully vaccinated is changing and now includes a booster shot within six months after the second jab. Pretty much everywhere.

/ Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

Case numbers in NSW have really shot up. They moved sideways for almost a month in the low hundreds but then dramatically shot up and are now firmly in the low thousands, with the real possibility of going much higher. Expect a similar development in Victoria next week, only starting at a much higher base. (I take bets.)

The Perrottet government has stood firm and not revised the ease of restrictions originally announced for December 1 and then paused until December 15. No re-introduction of QR code check-ins, or mandatory masks inside (although there is some mixed messaging going on.) In fact, fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer have to quarantine for 72 hours starting Tuesday, December 21, the premiers of NSW and Victoria announced Thursday in a joint statement.

And that’s the wrap for week 50 of 2021.

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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 …