Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 2 December, 2021

 

The news this week has understandably been focused on the new Omicron variant.  If you missed it, I had a considerable amount of early coverage of it in Sunday’s diary entry, and I’m happy to say there’s not anything I’d change from then until now.

We still don’t have an accurate handle on how more infectious the new virus form is.  The data out of South Africa, while superficially alarming, is still very preliminary and not yet at the point where we can confidently interpret what is happening and predict a future.

However, as you can see, cases do appear to be skyrocketing in South Africa.  The question isn’t whether the Omicron variant is more infectious or not, it is rather a question of how much more infectious it is.  Twice?  Four times?  Ten times?  Somewhere in that range, most probably.

Happily, there remain no reports of unusually serious illness from people coming down with the new variant.  Although this article describes people as experiencing only “extremely mild” symptoms, there is not yet anywhere near adequate data to start to prognosticate on this with any degree of confidence, and the cases discussed at present seem to be in younger people or in vaccinated people and so those are groups you’d expect to have milder cases in any event.  For now, though, my sense remains that the Omicron variant is no worse and possibly slightly less severe a version as was the Delta and earlier variants.

Is Omicron a Blessing in Disguise?

This gives rise to an interesting thought.  Noting comments such as this – the Omicron variant will dominate and overwhelm the world in 3 – 6 months – while that seems terrible, perhaps it isn’t.  Maybe that’s a good thing?

If the hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by very sick people, maybe it is a good thing that those of us who don’t yet have adequate natural immunity or vaccine-type immunity will get the virus and get it over and done with.  Might it mean that as we approach summer next year, everyone who is likely to get the virus will have got the virus?

That’s far from impossible, and maybe not as catastrophic as it seems.  Perhaps it is like removing a bandaid – better to quickly yank than slowly peel?  Think about it – if a massive Omicron outbreak means we have perhaps 2 – 4 weeks where a sizeable proportion of people in our country are unable to work, would than mean the end of the world as we know it?  No.  Sure, many of us would need to stock up in advance, with toilet paper of course, and baked beans, and so on, and we’d have to anticipate some weeks with no power nor perhaps other utilities, but after, let’s say, a month of privation, things would then return back to normal.  Normal as in 2019-style normal, not 2020/21 style “normal”.

This has been a concept that countries (particularly Britain) have toyed with since the start of the pandemic, almost two years ago.  I thought it criminally foolish then, but now, things are very different.  Perhaps it is time to consider this concept.  Let me explain.

The big thing that has changed is the drop in the number of people still out there and at risk of infection.  How many?  That’s not an easy number to answer, but whereas, in the early days of the pandemic, the number was somewhere in the high nineties of percentages, now it is much lower.  Plus, whether it be ivermectin, expensive new drugs, or whatever else, we’ve got much better at treating people who suffer a severe infection.

Let’s look at some numbers.

In the US we’ve now had 15% of the population who have been officially recorded as having had the infection.  This time last year, and earlier, there were ridiculous claims that I always laughed at suggesting that maybe as many as ten or even twenty times the official count of people had actually been infected. – it was easy to say that when only 5% of the population had officially been infected, but now, with 15% officially having had the virus, clearly ten times that would come to a number impossibly more than 100%.

But I do accept there is some number of people who have been “silently” infected, and some additional number of people who have activated immune systems due to having previously had some other sort of similar coronavirus.  Should we say there’s another equal quantity of people who have had the virus, and/or who never will have the virus?  I’d probably accept that.  So that brings us to 30% of the population with some degree of natural immunity – some people would say this number should be higher, but let’s be conservative for now.  I discuss the value/benefit/extent of natural immunity in the extra material below.

Then there are the people who have been vaccinated.  Currently the US is reporting 59% of the population fully vaccinated, and the rate of vaccination is picking up.  There is another 11% of people who have either had one dose or who have had two doses but who not yet waited out the two weeks after the second dose for immunity to build up to max.

There is also 13% of the population who have had a third/booster dose, which is supposed to give really impressive immunity.  It is being suggested that even if Omicron can break through the vaccine defenses, perhaps it won’t be as impactful as it would be if we weren’t vaccinated at all (also discussed in the extra material).

So we can probably say that most of the 13% with a third/booster dose are unlikely to be much affected by the virus, and perhaps half of the 59% + 11% will only be mildly affected by the virus, too (35%).  While it is clear the vaccine is not stopping infections, it might be true that it is reducing severe infection and death – although strangely, the US still seems to be suffering death rates similar to before – see the additional material, below.

Now let’s also note that children are almost 100% not at risk of the virus at all.  There is about 20% of the population aged 15 or younger.  Some of them might have been vaccinated, but let’s ignore that, because most everyone under 20 are almost 100.000% safe.

So, what does that mean?  We’ve 30% with some degree of natural immunity, 13% with boosted vaccinations, 35% with strong unboosted vaccinations, and 20% not at risk anyway.  (Yes, I know some people fall into more than one of those four categories.)  Add that all up, and it seems 98% of the population has some sort of protection.

Keep in mind also that by the time we reach “peak virus” another two or three months will have passed, so our natural immunity and vaccinated numbers will be still higher than the calculation I’ve just done.

But now, let’s reduce the number from 98%, because some people are in two or three categories and so have been counted two or three times.  Call the final number of people with some degree of protection any number you like.  My point is that the worst case scenario for the US is probably less than 50% of the population at risk, and of that 50%, perhaps less than a tenth at severe risk.   (High risk people are more likely to have either already been infected or to have been vaccinated.)

So while our cases will probably soar, our hospitals might not be as impacted as we fear, and although we might have a month or so where all sorts of things fail and don’t get quickly repaired/replaced, and where there’ll be shortages galore of many essential things, there’s light at the end of that short tunnel.  That’s very different to the situation we’re in at present, prior to any changes Omicron brings to us, isn’t it.  Ongoing ritualistic incantations by officials to get more and more vaccine shots, to keep wearing masks everywhere, and to always be worried and paranoid, with no end in sight at all.

Also that month might not be a month.  With typically 5 – 10 days between symptoms developing and coming out the other end of an infection, a disruptive month would be enough time for “four generations” of cases to all get sick and recover, and if it does take four generations, that is actually good, because it lessens the percentage of people out sick at any given time.

What do you think?  The more I think about this, the more I feel that perhaps Omicron is a blessing in disguise.

Preparing for Omicron’s Onslaught

First, no matter where in the world, the chances are the Omicron variant is already in your country and feverishly multiplying.  Two days ago, news in the US was of one case being discovered – a person who had returned from Africa some days earlier.

One day ago, a second case was reported, and it was very significant – it was in a person who had not been to Africa, and who had no obvious contact with people who had been to Africa.  That “community” type transmission told us all we need to know – that Omicron is untraceably out there and randomly working its way through the country.

Today, news is of five cases appearing in New York, and I’m sure, if I searched, I’d find news of more cases appearing in other states too.  The NY governor sought to “reassure” New Yorkers by telling them not to worry, she’d not be calling for any lockdowns in response.  I’m not sure if that is reassuring or not!

So it seems clear that it is a case of “when” rather than “if” Omicron invades your community and gets close to you.  What should you do?

Vaccinating?

If you’ve not been vaccinated at all, and you’re middle-aged or older (or younger with a “comorbidity”) I’d certainly get vaccinated now, and, as always, I’d consider the Johnson & Johnson shot, especially because of the timings involved.  All vaccines might not completely stop the Omicron variant, but it might at least spare you from a severe/life-threatening experience, something you definitely want to avoid if the hospitals are going to be at capacity.

Vaccine Booster Shot?

If you’ve been vaccinated before, should you get a booster shot?  On the face of it, maybe you should, and that’s certainly what the authorities are advocating.  I’m waiting as long as I can, myself, before taking a booster.  I want to know just exactly how effective the current vaccines are against Omicron, and what other vaccines are likely to be appearing in the next month or two.

My concern is people who have had two shots already, then get a third booster shot, then maybe a fourth shot (there is a growing move to make booster shots something to take every three months) then be required to take a new set of vaccines updated for Omicron – just how many doses of this mRNA stuff can we safely take?

We are being told that new mRNA vaccines customized for the Omicron variant will probably appear in about three months time.  But we’ve not yet been told they’ll be needed (although that is almost certainly what we will be told – do you really think the vaccine companies will pass over a chance to sell billions more doses of vaccine, whether it is needed or not?).  “Out of an abundance of caution” will be the ruling concept and the justification for sending us back to get still more chemicals of uncertain provenance injected into us.

Certainly, for the next few weeks, even if the Omicron numbers are doubling every three or four days, there’s a very low level of risk of catching it, so I’m going to wait and see.

Stocking Up?

Prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.  What would you do if your water, septic, power, gas and internet all failed for several weeks?  And if the supermarkets had nothing on their shelves?  It is unfortunate we’re going in to the depths of winter now, but hopefully, any severe breakdowns in essential services won’t happen for a couple of months and maybe not for longer – and quite possibly/probably, never.

But it might be prudent to think about low impact solutions to some parts of these problems.  Wearing extra layers of clothing is good, but if you’re without heating for a number of days, and if it is below freezing outside, the temperature inside your house is going to drop down to not much more than it is outside, and that’s becoming very hard to live in.  Do you have a fireplace in which you could burn wood?  Some other heat source that is self-contained and doesn’t rely on normal utilities being available?  Do you have an electricity generator for at least some lights and basic cooking?  Do you have the ability to store a gallon of water for each person in your house times some number of days (at a bare minimum)?

If you’re in an apartment, a makeshift toilet facility will be more difficult than if you have a bit of land in which to dig a hole and build some sort of privacy shield around.  Best to do at least some of that “gardening” before the ground freezes, by the way!

What sort of food can you prepare/cook and eat without much in the way of heat sources?  And don’t expect your freezer to help out – it takes my freezer only about 36 hours without power for the temperature to rise to where the food is all thawing out and going to spoil not many days later.  Think canned and dried foods.

What about your vehicle?  How much gasoline do you need to be able to use it, occasionally, for a few weeks without going to a gas station?

One more thought.  Although the internet is a more high-tech and therefore vulnerable service, and cell phones are vulnerable too, and for that matter, the same will apply to (cable) television, good old-fashioned radio stations are likely to be able to keep broadcasting, or perhaps at least for reduced hours each day.  Do you have a battery operated radio and sufficient batteries?  If things really start to fail, radios are likely to be the most robust remaining form of communication and getting updated about what is happening.

Consider also getting a shortwave radio receiver.  If things get really terrible, you might be reduced to getting your Travel Insider news via short wave broadcasts from me (40m and 20m bands probably).  Get a ham license and a radio transmitter too if you’re really keen!

Let’s hope none of this happens.  But if it is convenient, maybe buy a few more cans of food each time you go to the store at present, and start gently boosting your resilience level.  Make sure you’ve a good supply of essential medications, and anything/everything else that you use in the normal course of life.

Because of the likely geometric progression of the virus, the period of time between when it gets “serious” and when it gets apocalyptical is probably only a week or so.  The first many doublings of numbers will be invisible, then the next many doublings of numbers will be noticed but not viewed as cause for alarm, then all of a sudden, there’ll be long lines at supermarkets and gas stations, and rationing on how many rolls of toilet paper and packets of pasta you can buy, same as happened early last year.

Do yourself a favor.  Buy things that you’ll use/eat anyway – buy them gradually, now, over the next few weeks, before any shortages and panic buying, not in three months time.

Current Numbers

There were no changes in position in the minor country list.

Belgium moved up two places in the major country list, and the US moved down two.  France moved up one place, and will probably move up another place by Sunday.

The death rate list saw Poland push Italy out for bottom place.  I don’t think Poland has been on the list before.

And the case activity for last week table had plenty of movement, with numbers being higher for all placed countries.

In Europe, cases rose a moderate 4%.  Is Europe passing through the worst of its current cycle?  It is starting to seem that way, but that’s before Omicron enters the picture, of course.  France registered the strongest case growth for the week, with a 55% rise.  Spain had 45%, Norway 29% and Italy 24%.  At the other end, once terribly afflicted Romania enjoyed a further 40% drop in new cases (and 44% drop in deaths), Slovenia dropped 29%, and also terribly afflicted Austria dropped again, by 28%, the same as Albania.  The UK rose a modest 3%, and Germany rose 4%.

In North America, Canada had an unfortunate 15% rise in cases.  Mexico dropped 11%.  After a sharp drop over Thanksgiving, the US made up for time with an even greater rise, and so had about a 3% overall increase for the week.

South Africa reported a 388% rise, and the world overall had a 3% increase.

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Montenegro (248,344) Montenegro (251,312)
2 Seychelles Seychelles
3 Andorra Andorra
4 Gibraltar (210,589) Gibraltar (217,478)
5 Georgia Georgia
6 Slovenia (197,804) Slovenia (204,530)
7 Lithuania Lithuania
8 San Marino San Marino
9 Estonia Estonia
10 Maldives (164,526) Maldives (165,864)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (192,056) Czech Republic (204,271)
2 Netherlands (147,437) Netherlands (156,192)
3 USA (146,830) Belgium (153,196)
4 UK (146,546) UK (151,028)
5 Belgium (142,281) USA (148,962)
6 Sweden (117,468) Sweden (118,754)
7 Argentina France (118,719)
8 France Argentina
9 Portugal Portugal
10 Spain Spain
11 Brazil Brazil
12 Turkey (101,353) Turkey (103,239)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Peru  (5,979) Peru  (5,984)
2 Czech Rep  (3,029) Czech Rep  (3,103)
3 Romania (2,929) Romania (2,975)
4 Brazil (2,859) Brazil (2,865)
5 Argentina Argentina
6 Colombia (2,484) Colombia (2,491)
7 USA (2,393) USA (2,416)
8 Belgium Belgium
9 Mexico Mexico
10 Italy (2,212) Poland (2,240)

 

Top Rates in New Cases Reported in the Last Week (new cases per million) for Countries over one million population

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Rep  10,935 Czech Rep  12,185
2 Austria  10,732 Belgium  10,927
3 Slovakia Slovakia  10,171
4 Belgium Netherlands
5 Slovenia Austria
6 Netherlands Croatia
7 Croatia Hungary
8 Hungary Georgia
9 Georgia Slovenia
10 Ireland Ireland
11 Denmark Switzerland
12 Germany  4,625 Denmark  5,220

 

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Items below include more research on the benefits of natural immunity, the FDA’s decision on molnupiravir seems counter-intuitive, an article that condemns but doesn’t explain why, the benefits of hayfever, South Africa hoards vaccines rather than dispenses them, is 6’ enough or too much/little distance, a new possible Covid treatment, available at Amazon, conflicting claims about virus efficacy against Omicron, how often should be get booster shots, AZ now admits to a problem with its vaccine, a German study on vaccine deaths points out a surprising fact, virus sequencing rates, how many Amazon employees have been infected at work, and does Covid target specific races?

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