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  • Writer's pictureRichard Cree

Omicron

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

28th November 2021

UK COVID Deaths – Daily 51 / 7-Day average 121

Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 144,775

Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 167,927 (up to 12 Nov)

James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths –709

All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 62

James Cook Critical Care

COVID cases – 7 (5 ventilated)

Non-COVID cases – 43 (20 ventilated)


The pandemic has taken a new turn this week, with the discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa. Despite sounding like an 80’s Bond villain, this new variant of concern is worrying Governments all around the world. The reason for the alarm is because of Omicron’s unprecedented number of mutations, many of which are to be found in the virus’s spike protein.


It is the spike protein that allows the virus to enter human cells and cause infection. Any change to the spike protein can help it evade the antibodies that are generated by vaccines and previous infection. Our current vaccines all target the spike protein that was found in the original ‘Wuhan’ strain of the virus. The emergence of a variant with a substantially different spike protein may, therefore, result in these vaccines becoming less effective and the emergence of a virus that is both more infectious and more likely to cause serious illness.


However, even if our current vaccines become less effective, there is no danger that they will stop working altogether. Vaccines result in the production of antibodies and T-cells. Whilst these may not be a perfect match for any new variant, the large amount of both that are generated following three doses of a vaccine should still be enough to prevent serious illness and death in the majority of people. It’s a bit like training crack troops to fight a specific enemy. Even if your enemy were to discover your Achilles heel, all is not lost - throwing more and more of your troops at the enemy can still overwhelm them and lead to victory.


The potential threat posed by the heavily-mutated Omicron variant has galvanised the UK Government into action. They have added ten southern African countries, where Omicron is rife, to the red travel list. There is to be a return of PCR testing for everyone entering the UK and those who have been in contact with anyone infected with the Omicron variant will have to self-isolate. Compulsory mask-wearing will return in shops and on public transport and we can expect the country’s booster vaccination programme to go into overdrive.


I have to admit that the Government’s response has worried me a little. Back in April this year, they did bugger-all to prevent the initial arrival of the Delta variant. It took three weeks for them to place India on the travel red list and the current, uncharacteristic, decisive action that they are taking now has made me a little concerned that they know more about the Omicron strain than they are letting on. Of course, it could be that the leopard has changed its spots and the Government is, at last, simply following the science? Perhaps it’s nothing more than a desire to save Christmas or, at least, not be accused at a later date of ruining it?


Saving Christmas presumably involves limiting the spread of Omicron until the festive season has passed. After all, no-one wants a more infectious variant under the mistletoe this year. Of course, if Omicron really is more infectious than the now ubiquitous world-wide Delta variant, then we won’t ultimately be able to stop it. Restricting travel from Omicron-infested areas and re-imposing some measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may slow down its arrival and buy us a bit of time, but like King Canute, it won't stop the tide. There have already been three confirmed Omicron cases within the UK and more and more are cropping up throughout Europe.


The battle to save Christmas may also help a beleaguered NHS. The existing Delta variant still poses a definite threat to the health service and many of us have been worried about a post-Christmas rise in hospital admissions. Steps to limit the spread of Omicron will, hopefully, lead to fewer Delta cases and reduce hospital admissions. Super-charging the vaccine booster programme will also serve to protect more of our vulnerable population.


So how alarmed should we be? There are conflicting reports of how much danger we face. Some in South Africa claim that the Omicron variant may be less lethal than the Delta variant and the world is over-reacting. Up to 90% of all infections in the Johannesburg area are now caused by the Omicron strain but they have not yet seen any significant rise in hospital admissions. This seems at first glance to be good news but South Africa has a much younger population than the UK and so this may not be as reassuring as it seems. Any virus that spreads easily but is less lethal may well end up causing more fatalities than a more lethal, less contagious one.


At the hospital, things are better than they have been. We have been looking after fewer patients recently and the daily struggle to find beds for everyone has eased a little. The last few days have seen an increase in the number of COVID patients needing CPAP on the wards but the number of COVID patients being admitted each day remains fairly static.

Whether this fall in COVID numbers is a result of the reduction in cases that was seen earlier this month or whether we are approaching something like ‘herd immunity’ remains to be seen. One thing is for certain - we could really do without a significant rise in cases before Christmas – the household mixing that will occur over the festive period and the subsequent rise in infections and hospital admissions that we might see in the New Year remains a very palpable threat, even without Omicron’s arrival.



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33 Comments


peter.nms
Nov 29, 2021

Omicron cases to date (from cnn.com) ....



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Richard Cree
Richard Cree
Nov 29, 2021
Replying to

Yes – I suspect that sadly, we are already too late. Richard

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peter.nms
Nov 29, 2021

Hi Richard (again 🙂),


Excellent entertaining post!


As for Omicron, it might not stay as Omicron for long once it recombinants with Delta, bird flu, seasonal flu.


Apparently there are 3k cases in SA, I assume they don't perhaps test as much, I am not sure.


Unfortunately I am somewhat concerned, here in Little England we have fewer hospital beds (2.4 per 100k, Germany has 9.2 per 100k), a more unhealthy nation and so many people not taking this seriously. Not to mention the worse government in history.


Having said that, we could all hide in pubs and restaurants because apparently Omicron is too scared to enter ... no masks required so that it the only assumption I can assume…


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Richard Cree
Richard Cree
Nov 29, 2021
Replying to

Thank you! I would dearly love for Omicron to turn out to be the beginning of the end for the pandemic but I suspect we won’t be that lucky. Cheers Richard

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peter.nms
Nov 29, 2021

Thank you for the excellent post Richard.


Firstly, I don't know if you speak to anyone about vaccines but for those living in the Bishop Auckland area the nearest booster site is Darlington.


I know it's only 12 miles but it's a struggle for my girlfriend who has severe health issues.


It also means I can't get my booster because I can't leave her for the time it would take to drive there and back and wait to have it


Elderly people with no transport will have to travel on public transport and risk getting infected.


Please note this isn't a complaint against yourself or the NHS, just the out sourcing of the vaccine programme.

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Richard Cree
Richard Cree
Nov 30, 2021
Replying to

Hi Peter Thank you. I’m sorry to hear about your brother and his relationship with the NHS. It does sound like he should try and see another GP and get his AF properly looked at. AF, even if triggered by something else, can often be due to some underlying heart disease which would put him more at risk from serious illness from COVID in the future. Sorting out the AF and then getting him vaccinated is probably the way forward. I am very worried about the legacy of long-COVID. The NHS is not good at dealing with poorly understood, new conditions to which there are no easy solutions. A 10 minute GP appointment just isn’t going to cut it. With luck there…

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propshopne
Nov 29, 2021

Hi Richard, can I ask what your thoughts are on The Great Barrington Declaration and their focused protection approach?


http://gbdeclaration.org/

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Richard Cree
Richard Cree
Nov 29, 2021
Replying to

Whilst I’m not as vociferous as Peter, there can be no doubt that the Great Barrington crew’s opinions have been thoroughly discredited! Cheers, Richard

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Lorna
Nov 29, 2021

Thank you as always Richard. We are inundated with information and Joe Public, like me, are confused as well as worried about where all this will go. Appreciate so much your views, and I think our government has reacted rather quickly to this Variant, rather than sit on the fence as in the past. Life has to go on though, many families apart for most of the year, will need to be together during the festive season. My own family miles away and we will take precautions. Will sanitise everywhere daily all the house, and I live alone, so it becomes a bit 'over the top'.

Let's hope we escape, we have done in the past when unidentifiable pandamics have…

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Richard Cree
Richard Cree
Nov 29, 2021
Replying to

Hi Lorna Thank you. It looks like all adults are going to be offered a booster vaccination three months after their second dose – this is by far and away the best way to protect yourself. Cheers, Richard

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