Omicron is not mild

Written By: - Date published: 6:10 am, February 24th, 2022 - 76 comments
Categories: covid-19, long covid - Tags:

RNZ talked to New Zealand epidemiologist Rod Jackson yesterday,

Jackson told Morning Report there was “no doubt” New Zealanders were not taking Omicron seriously.

“The standard thing I hear these days is ‘Oh this is just a mild condition, it’s like a mild flu’, and it’s just not true.

“In the (United) States, for example, more people have died from Omicron, than died from Delta.

My emphasis. Less severe disease in many individuals, but far more spread.

“It spreads like wildfire, and I guess that’s the other important issue when we’re thinking about the comparison between the flu and and Omicron is that the R value, the number of people that one infected person with the flu is going to infect, is less than two.

“With Omicron, we don’t even know how big it is. It’s certainly much bigger than Delta, which was about six (people infected per person), so this is a very different disease from the flu and we need to take it seriously.

Yesterday, Huhana Hickey, lawyer, disability advocate and academic, posted this essential reading thread on twitter from Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, where she had been admitted for a non-covid infection.

She describes delays in admission, no triaging of covid and non-covid patients, a security guard deciding who was urgent, mistakes with meds, staff remaining professional but obviously under a lot of stress (including concerns about getting covid), no covid test for 3 days,  the impact on people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, and a health system buckling under pressure from not just covid but decades after National’s destruction in the 90s.

Newshub reported on Middlemore yesterday as well, Coronavirus: One in five people presenting to Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department have COVID-19. The pressure is on staff, hospital and beds. Elective surgeries are being postponed to free up beds (elective means planned rather than emergency).

For those still not getting it, here’s the experience of a woman in Wellington Hospital this week having to deal with unmasked visitors to her ward,

Fed up with the situation, the woman built up the strength to speak up, passing a note to a nurse asking if she could be given a mask to wear.

However, due to her recovery and situation, the nurse said she was not allowed to wear a mask. This then led the woman to burst out into tears.

“I burst into tears, I don’t know how else to express it but the helplessness in her [the nurse’s] eyes,” she said.

For the people saying omicron is mild and that vulnerable people should protect themselves, or be protected while everyone else carries on as normal, you can’t actually do that when you’re immobilised post-surgery and helpless.

We’ve had multiple reports this week of systems under strain. Checkpoint on RNZ yesterday reported on the impact of covid on ambulance staff and services in Auckland, Omicron outbreak takes toll on paramedics, ambulances parked.

Urgent code red calls were waiting up to 40 minutes and it was even longer for those supposedly less urgent.

“Orange, which is less immediately life threatening but we’re still supposed to be there within 20 minutes – were just waiting hours and hours.

“A lot of patients were being told ‘can you try to get in the car?’ … the staff, we’re just worn out, we’re just going around and around trying to get to who we can, and then apologising every time.”

In Dunedin at that start of the University year, police have had to intervene to prevent a Covid-positive party, where students who had tested positive were intending to get together. The Otago Daily Times also reports,

Police are reminding first-year students in Dunedin that “now is not the time to party” after hundreds congregated in North Dunedin yesterday.

This comes after police on Friday slammed a student party in London St, calling it “blatant stupidity”

I’m about done with this level of stupid and selfishness. We’ve had two years to understand what being in a pandemic means, and still people are running willful ignorance between their ears and doing stupid shit.

Also from the ODT in the past few days,

Yesterday we had 3,297 new cases in New Zealand. RNZ reported on new modeling,

The peak of Covid-19 in the Omicron outbreak in Auckland and Northland could reach 4000 daily cases, if transmission is low, or 9000 if it is not, new modelling shows.

The modelling by Counties Manukau DHB population health director Gary Jackson predicts about 400 cases in hospital in a low transmission scenario.

There were 1802 new community cases in Auckland yesterday, and 36 in Northland. There were 128 patients in Auckland’s hospitals.

Dr Jackson said this was tracking reasonably well to the low transmission scenario, with the peak expected in mid-March.

However, he said it could be difficult to know the true extent of transmission as testing facilities reached their capacity.

However, nationwide, processing of tests at labs is said to have already reached capacity.

While the number of people in ICU is thankfully very low, here’s epidemiologist Rod Jackson again,

There is this general view, that I hear, isn’t omicron just like a cold?

Look, for some people it’s very mild, for some people it’s asymptomatic. But people die of this.

Look at the hospital rates. Every New Zealander should have a look at the graph of the number of the number of hospitalisations. And if you look at it in the last week or two, it’s going almost vertically.

Voila,

As always with covid, there is so much we just don’t know. Here’s my obligatory warning about Long Covid: we don’t know yet how omicron relates to long covid, in large part because omicron is still so new. But doctors are starting to get a sense. The Harvard Gazette,

Meanwhile, those who care for long COVID patients say mild initial illness may offer little protection because the majority of cases appear to stem from infections that didn’t require hospitalization. The head of one clinic is starting to see Omicron-related cases and says he has little reason to think the variant will differ from earlier versions of the virus in its ability to generate long COVID.

And as with the mistake in the original framing of omicron as mild, whereas in reality it’s worse for society because of the much higher numbers, so too long covid,

“Because there are so many people infected with Omicron, we expect those cases, unfortunately, will lead to more cases of long COVID,”

“I don’t think there’s anything that has been seen about the virus itself, the Omicron variant, to say that it won’t cause long COVID.”

If conservative estimates are that 1 in 10 people who have covid will have serious long term effects, it’s bonkers to be saying that omicron is mild.

The article from The Harvard Gazette includes this which New Zealanders should be paying close attention to,

But the jury is still out on whether the virus itself causes less-severe illness, as hinted in animal studies, or whether the milder effects are actually due to higher levels of population immunity.

The need for the precautionary principle is as great as ever.

What all this says to me:

  • it’s not hard to see how things can get out of control fast.
  • we, collectively, still have a choice about just bad this is going to get.

Not everyone is going to contract covid in this wave, and there is great value to individuals and society in slowing spread and avoiding getting covid where possible.

And that’s the point, we are in a collective crisis. What we do matters, not just for our own wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of all of us. And even for those that don’t care that much, this post shows some of the ways in which the flow on effects will and are spilling out into society. None of us are immune to that.

Get maximally vaccinated.

Wear a well fitted mask, wash hands.

Socially distance where appropriate.

Stay away from and don’t organise non-essential gatherings.

If you have symptoms, self-isolate and follow Ministry of Health instructions.

76 comments on “Omicron is not mild ”

  1. You are so right about long Covid Weka.

    The proof that this is a major issue is that pro-business apologists like David Seymour never ever mention or address this issue in any way. It doesn't fit with their lies that Omicron is mild, that all Covid should be treated like flu, and so we should "live with it" and get on with making money.

    In fact many people (1.3 million in the UK alone) are having to live with the 200 symptoms of long Covid for extended periods, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

    • Blazer 1.1

      '

      are having to live with the 200 symptoms of long Covid for extended periods, in some cases for the rest of their lives.'

      This is extremely concerning…200!!

  2. Just Saying 2

    Yes, we are in a collective crisis and we are woefully unprepared. And those who were already struggling are at the coalface, because this virus is super-infectious.

    And we are also facing unprecedented distrust and the usual suspects are in the frontline of blame and disdain. As if we've learned nothing as a species, or more frighteningly, we've learned the ugliest of survival of the in team.

    I was certain there would be civil unrest months ago when the scapegoating campaign first began.

    This is the time for leadership, not scapegoating. Like right now. We need unity.

    And we can.

    The song that has been playing on a loop in the back of my mind:

    https://youtu.be/jLB8cMaSIJM

    Citizenship we got memories,
    Citizen ship, we got pain.
    Cast adrift from the citizen ship,
    lifeline denied, exiled this castaway.

    I was caught like a moth, with its wings outta sync.
    Cut the chord. Overboard. Just a refugee.
    Lady liberty, lend a hand to me, I've been cast adrift.
    Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift.

  3. PsyclingLeft.Always 3

    Hi Weka, thanks for doing this. I had done a short link to Prof Rod Jacksons story yesterday..but didnt have time for more.

    And having previously had pneumonia …I have some idea what the serious means…

    https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/p/pneumonia/

  4. roy cartland 4

    “In the (United) States, for example, more people have died from Omicron, than died from Delta.

    I heard that too. It needs to be said much louder, as I had no idea. Has anyone come across a link to the numbers? I only found variations on this story, or this which are daily trends, not total deaths.

    • Sabine 4.1

      From January

      “You can have a disease that is for any particular person less deadly than another, like Omicron, but if it is more infectious and reaches more people, then you’re more likely to have a lot of deaths,” Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told The Wall Street Journal.

      A CDC study released on Tuesday showed nine deaths per 1,000 cases during the Omicron surge, compared to 13 deaths per 1,000 cases during the Delta surge and 16 deaths per 1,000 cases during last winter’s deadly surge.

      The current seven-day average of cases is 692,400 per day, a 6% slight dip from the previous week, while deaths went up 21% from the previous week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said Wednesday at a White House news briefing.

      https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20220127/deaths-due-to-omicron-higher-than-from-delta#:~:text=A%20CDC%20study%20released%20on,during%20last%20winter's%20deadly%20surge.

      The issue is not that Omicron might be milder or not, the issue is that Omicron travels faster and infects more, and thus more people will get seriously ill and risk death. That is something that has been pointed out before by commentators here and elsewhere , that despite its 'milder' nature, Omicron can/will be more deadly due to the sheer numbers that they infect.

      Milder is an attribute given to the obvious symptoms. Also the US has a pretty unhealty population – even by our standards, has a health system that will bring people to hospitals only when they are actively dying, has a hospital system that is running on fumes by now – many of the nurses that i know are done and holding on by fingertips – something that will happen here too, and the only thing that we have in our favor is that we have a high rate of jabbed people and so lets all hope that the jabs do their job. Because otherwise the next few month will be very hard, never mind that we might see the same as elsewhere that Omicron 2.0 will replace Omicron 1.0 and will re-infect people that just had Omicron 1.0.

      Omicron 2.0 already in the country. https://www.1news.co.nz/2022/02/17/over-300-ba2-cases-but-original-omicron-still-dominant-in-nz/

      And well a few of the particularities of Omicron 2.0 https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2022/02/01/heres-what-we-know-about-stealth-omicron-ba2—the-more-infectious-subvariant-better-able-to-infect-vaccinated-people/?sh=57ec7594ab5e

    • weka 4.2

      I read the same kind of stories eg this from Jan 28,

      Omicron, the highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across the country, is driving the daily American death toll higher than during last fall’s delta wave, with deaths likely to keep rising for days or even weeks.

      The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been climbing since mid-November, reaching 2,267 on Thursday and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.

      Now omicron is estimated to account for nearly all the virus circulating in the nation. And even though it causes less severe disease for most people, the fact that it is more transmissible means more people are falling ill and dying.

      “Omicron will push us over a million deaths,” said Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine. “That will cause a lot of soul searching. There will be a lot of discussion about what we could have done differently, how many of the deaths were preventable.”

      Omicron symptoms are often milder, and some infected people show no symptoms, researchers agree. But like the flu, it can be deadly, especially for people who are older, have other health problems or who are unvaccinated.

      “Importantly, ‘milder’ does not mean ‘mild,’” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this week during a White House briefing.

      https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/omicron-has-caused-higher-increase-in-u-s-daily-death-count-than-delta-variant

      The takeaway here for NZ is that when we look at a country like the US which has had a very high death toll and a big chunk of its population resistance to protection measures, we see how it could be for us if we go with 'omicron is mild'.

      Unfortunately, because this is a collective crisis, the burden will fall unevenly, which is why I want to give Dunedin students (the stupid, selfish ones) a slap, along with people who have promoted 'omicron is mild'. Otoh, if the LG concerns turn out to be true, some of those students are going to pay a price too.

    • Kiev.nz 4.3

      Try using the data from: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

      Assuming all deaths post 22 Feb 2021 to 1 Dec 2021 were Delta deaths, the figure is 287,390 deaths for that time period. Then from 1 Dec onwards to now, assuming that all deaths post Dec 1 are Omicron, the number of deaths is 151,264.

      Rod Jacksons math & statement appears to be very wrong.

  5. RedLogix 5

    This data is very helpful in understanding how the various waves have behaved. The graph for each of the countries suggests the Omicron death rates and totals are not as scary as the OP would have us believe.

    • Muttonbird 5.1

      Great. Now do one for Queensland.

      • RedLogix 5.1.1

        The nurse who took my RAT at PA Hospital admissions on Saturday told me that the number of positive results had declined substantially that past week. Same with the major COVID testing centre directly across the road from my workplace – two weeks ago a huge queue of cars lined up for hundreds of metres down the road, yesterday no queue and immediate service.

        Otherwise the QLD data you asked for is here. Maybe if you want Our World in Data to add in other countries to that page you could ask them directly.

  6. Treetop 6

    I am not surprised in the least how scarce the hospital resources are and how the health workers will cope.

    Something I have given some thought on, is getting enough sleep to assist the immune system in fighting Covid.

    • Incognito 6.1

      Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and this works both ways, i.e. the immune system can also affect the brain and influence behaviour and how we cope with stress (and sense pain!). This communication between different functions of our body appears to be influenced in a major way by the so-called “gut-brain axis”. Think of the billions of bacteria that live in your gut and interact with your immune system there. It’s a fascinating area of very active research and I’d expect many major breakthroughs in future.

    • weka 6.2

      yes, sleep and stress management are high on my list too. Am very fortunate to be able to focus on that.

  7. Reality 7

    Nick Leggett of trucking fame says the government should not be involved in Omicron decision making. Yes of course, as he and others want complete freedom to make money regardless of the health and welfare of New Zealanders during the pandemic.

  8. Tricledrown 8

    A student in her early 20's in Dunedin contracted covid this week she was double vaccinated and had just received her booster she said contracting covid was like getting the flu then getting hit by a bus.Unable to get out of bed for 4 day's and still foggy and lethargic after the worst symptoms passed.

    Warning others that covid is far worse than seasonal flu.

  9. Is Omicron more deadly than the common flu? According to this article it may not be:

    https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Scientists_believe_Omicron_could_be_less_deadly_than_flu

    "UK, London – England's Daily Mail newspaper is reporting that scientists believe the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus could be less deadly than flu, giving a boost to hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over."….

    "According to the Daily Mail, one former Government adviser said Friday if the trend continues to drop then “we should be asking whether we are justified in having any measures we would not bring for a bad flu season”. But other experts say coronavirus is much more transmissible than flu, meaning it will inevitably cause more deaths.

    The Mail also reported that researchers at Washington University modelling the next stage of the pandemic expect Omicron to kill up to 99 per cent fewer people than Delta, in another hint it could be less deadly than flu.''

    That is not to say that Omicron can't be serious, just as the flu can be serious in terms of health outcomes; According to the article, common flu kills one in one thousand who get infected. So, the flu itself is by no means a mild disease, especially for the vulnerable.

    And, the other issue is that Omicron is far more contagious than common flu.

    But, if this article is correct, and we are highly vaccinated against Covid, would a better strategy be to ensure that the most vulnerable are least exposed to Omicron as possible.

    • weka 9.1

      Did you read the post? Because it looks like you didn't. You're referencing the Daily Mail and ignoring the issues in the post.

      Tell us, how do you think the most vulnerable can be identified, and then "least exposed to Omicron as possible" other than what we are doing (or a more stringent version that we've used in the past)? Details please.

      • tsmithfield 9.1.1

        I didn't say Omicron was mild, but perhaps less serious than the flu which also is a serious disease. Seasonal flu can have complications similar to long Covid. So, in itself can be very serious.

        https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-complications

        If Omicron is similar to the flu, even if not quite as deadly, the fact it is more contagious is what makes it worse.

        We do have negative pressure isolation rooms to contain Covid in our hospitals.

        https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/126307820/covid19-how-hospitals-care-for-coronavirus-patients-in-negative-pressure-isolation-rooms

        So, having those patients who are vulnerable located in wards where Covid patients are in negative isolation rooms would seem sensible, rather than having them in general wards where they may be more exposed to the virus.

        Identifying those at risk patients should at least be more easy to do in a hospital setting.

        There are obvious areas of risk such as retirement homes that are self-identifying.

        Other at risk patients should be identifiable through their health records with their GPs which I understand feed into a general health data base from my experience in the ED and hospital system where my records, and records of my family members have been accessed.

        • weka 9.1.1.1

          So, having those patients who are vulnerable located in wards where Covid patients are in negative isolation rooms would seem sensible, rather than having them in general wards where they may be more exposed to the virus.

          Sure, but do you not realise that we are already hitting the limits of the health system, including in hospitals, and we're not even close to peaking the omicron wave yet. (this is basically what the post was about)

          We need multiple ways of protecting the population, which includes vulnerable people. Vulnerable people are better protected by collective actions in addition to individual ones, rather than just individual ones.

          • tsmithfield 9.1.1.1.1

            Yes, I do understand we are nowhere near the peak.

            And for that reason, I think we should be very concerned about the delays in PCR testing, which means it makes it much more difficult to identify patients that could pose a risk to others in the first place.

            We are now seem to be relying much more heavily on RAT tests. But, as we know, these are a lot less accurate than PCR tests. So, in a hospital setting, it could be very difficult to ensure that at-risk patients are isolated from potential Omicron cases.

            I think RAT tests are more suited to workplace screening and the like. So, I am concerned to see them being relied on more in contexts where I don't think they are so well suited.

            Perhaps the government should start contracting RAKO science for their saliva based PCR tests.

            https://www.rakoscience.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA09eQBhCxARIsAAYRiymsC_Eb_RWVnXvDyMG9yvVkc3zjQG-5Mx03F9jlQ1SdPyIWWuMhmEcaAv45EALw_wcB

            I think, in order to isolate at risk patients, we need to first ensure that we have accurate methods to identify the patients that pose greatest risk.

            • weka 9.1.1.1.1.1

              This really is ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. In the post I am saying that if we take omicron seriously and stop with the 'omicron is mild' narrative, then we will protect society and everyone better.

              Yes, protocols around ward management and testing need improving, but I am willing to be most people involved in those systems this week understand that, they're just at the limit of what is possible. This is why we need the whole country doing the right thing. We're in mitigation land now.

              • It seems to me our system for identifying Omicron/Covid is broken.

                So, I think it is stupid for potentially contagious people to be heading out into the community to get a test that they may not know the result from for up to five days atm in terms of PCR tests (by which time they may have recovered).

                And have them go out to collect RAT test that they then take home with them is also nuts. Again, this involves potentially contagious people heading out into the community. What is to stop them doing a bit of shopping on the way home etc?

                If we are to the point where our testing system has to resort to RAT tests, would it not be better to have a system where people could ring in, or go online to register their status as symptomatic or a close contact and have tests delivered to their mail box or left at their front door?

                If we did this, people would just stay home and keep isolated.

                Seems like a no-brainer to me.

                • weka

                  It seems to me our system for identifying Omicron/Covid is broken.

                  Yes, but this was predicted and planned for, hence the changes with the three phases.

                  I think we're about to move into phase three, Ardern is making an announcement of something this afternoon apparently.

                  • weka

                    we've been warned that this is going to be very hard. I think we're starting to see this, and I'm not sure we are prepared. There's no good option here in terms of the things you want to be better. The flood is already around our knees, we don't have time to redesign whole systems.

                    But there is a lot we can all do in terms of mitigation. I’m very pleased to see that in one of the two outbreaks in Otago, lots of people have just stopped going out to restaurants, pubs and cafes. I would suggest people avoid flying unless really necessary. Supermarkets and such seem relatively low transmission places. It’s sitting close together for a long period of time, or doing things that spread the particles like dancing and singing.

                    • weka

                      I know of people from my community that are at the Wellington process. They will be flying back and then travelling to where they live. I expect this is how omicron will arrive here (and maybe delta). Can't do much about that, but we can all keep on with the things that we know make a difference.

                  • “Yes, but this was predicted and planned for”

                    As I posted the other day, it looks like the government got the testing capacity badly wrong. So, I am not so sure this situation is as well predicted and planned for as we might like:

                    I don't know what happened to the extra 20000 tests per day they had supposedly added to bring the capacity to 58000 tests per day. Because we are nowhere near that and the system is already broken.

                    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2022/02/covid-19-government-accused-of-misleading-kiwis-over-testing-capacity-as-lab-worker-union-says-some-tests-won-t-be-processed.html

                    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/covid-19-omicron-pcr-testing-capacity-increased-by-20000-a-day-with-outbreak-looming/TSDO47VDGUUBESPYPISL5KJ63U/

                    • And from the second link, surge capacity was supposed to be able to cope with 77600 tests for a seven day period:

                      ''The testing boost takes the daily maximum of the Government's preferred Covid-19 tests from 39,000 a day to 58,000, with the ability to surge to 77,600 tests where necessary for a seven-day period.''

                      Serious questions need to be asked about how they could be so far wrong.

                    • Treetop []

                      Keeping track of the Covid case count is already falling over.

                    • weka

                      I don't care that much about the details of testing, tbh. It's not a surprise to me that we are struggling across multiple systems. This is a consequence of decades of neoliberalism undermining the health system.

                    • "This is a consequence of decades of neoliberalism undermining the health system''

                      I am not sure you can blame decades of neglect for the government getting basic figures so badly wrong. Figures that would surely be core to their planning.

                      So far as RATs go, I think the way they should ideally be used will help slow the spread considerably.

                      We have been lucky enough to source some, assuming they aren't "diverted" before we get them.

                      Our plan is to use them as a screening test, testing our critical workers twice per week. If any show positive, they will obviously stay home.

                      If we were able to multiply that across all businesses, schools etc then a lot of the problem would be solved.

                    • weka

                      the government departments that have the responsibility for the pandemic response, including testing, have been messed with by neoliberalism for a long time.

                    • I heard one of the top bods from the testing side of the equation interviewed on the radio not long after the government had given their figures, and he said there was no way the figures they had stated could be achieved.

                      And so it has turned out.

                      So, I really don't know where the government got their numbers from. But the testing people didn't seem to think it was possible from the get go. So, I am not sure that being messed around by neoliberalism is a valid reason.

                    • weka

                      as a long term beneficiary and recipient of care via the health system, I have low expectations of government departments. They're under huge stress and unlike most of us, haven't had a break for over 2 years now. Mistakes seem normal given that, and the fucking with the various government departments from the last 4 decades is most definitely a big part of the picture.

                    • I guess we are where we are now for whatever reason so far as tests go.

                      But, I think the lack of accurate testing now is a huge problem, and strikes right to the heart of the issue.

                      That is because it is very difficult to know the extent of the problem and what the next move should be if we can't get accurate, timely results test results. I know we are moving to stage three. But what to do from that point becomes a problem without accurate information.

                      If we don't know the extent of the problem, then any attempts to solve it start becoming more and more like guesswork as time goes on.

                      It seems like driving a car blindfolded to me.

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 9.2

      "According to the article, common flu kills one in one thousand who get infected."

      My emphasis. And that's the thing. Rod Jackson:

      "It spreads like wildfire, and I guess that's the other important issue when we're thinking about the comparison between the flu and and Omicron is that the R value, the number of people that one infected person with the flu is going to infect, is less than two.

      "With Omicron, we don't even know how big it is. It's certainly much bigger than Delta, which was about six (people infected per person), so this is a very different disease from the flu and we need to take it seriously.

  10. Koff 10

    The "Omicron is mild" trope ignores the fact that vaccination rates and (in NZ's case, at least, booster rates) were high to very high in most countries when Omicron arrived. Experiments infecting populations who were unvaccinated compared to vaccinated cannot be done, so there is no way to know just how severe Omicron (and its offspring) really is compared to other variants. The best guess is that it is equivalent in severity to the original variant but much more transmissable. I mentioned in an OP a couple of days ago that the Solomon Islands has only recently succumbed to an Omicron outbreak* after keeping the virus out since March 2020. It has very low vaccination rates (arund 20%) and has been very badly hit (70 deaths so far). This compares to a similar outbreak in Tonga just after the tsunami. Tonga has comparatively high vax rates (around 90%) and no-one has died yet and the outbreak while not under control, not too bad.

    • weka 10.1

      thanks for this. I think you posted this the other day and it got lost in mele of protest commenting. I hope this continues for Tonga.

    • Julian Richards 10.2

      "Experiments infecting populations who were unvaccinated compared to vaccinated cannot be done, so there is no way to know just how severe Omicron (and its offspring) really is compared to other variants."

      Really? You seem to ignore the origins of the omricon variant. Sth Africa's experience with this variant doesn't have weight? Sth Africa had under 30% vaccination rate when omricon began… And still does!

      https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/south-africa/

      Perhaps we ignored their experience..? Why?

      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-60039138

      As Bill Gates said recently "“Sadly, the virus itself, particularly the variant called omicron, is a type of vaccine, that is, it creates both B-cell and T-cell immunity, and it’s done a better job getting out to the world population than we have with vaccines,” he lamented.

      “That means the chance of severe disease, which is mainly associated with being elderly and having obesity or diabetes, those risks are now dramatically reduced because of that infection, exposure,” he said.

      https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2022/02/20/bill-gates-omicron-is-a-type-of-vaccine-getting-out-to-the-world-faster/

      He started this by saying "sadly"? Really? It's sad to him nature is doing better than artificial tech???

      • Obtrectator 10.2.1

        Of course it's "sad" to him. Nature can't be monetised! Not that particular aspect of it, anyway.

        • Barfly 10.2.1.1

          FFS mate maybe he considers it sad because the resistance to the disease is not paid for with money it is paid for with DEATHS

          • julian richards 10.2.1.1.1

            'The death rate in those infected with the omicron coronavirus variant in South Africa peaked at 14% to 15% of the rate seen when the country was experiencing a wave dominated by the delta variant, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.'

            'Of those in the hospital with Covid-19 during the country’s fourth wave, about 32% had severe disease compared to 63% in the delta-led third wave'

            The percentage of people in the hospital with Covid-19 in the omicron wave that have died has also dropped significantly, to about 10%. That compares to 26% in the delta wave.

            “What’s also very striking is that even using excess mortality, we didn’t see the rise in deaths as we did in the second and third waves,” Jassat said.

            https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-14/omicron-deaths-in-south-africa-peaked-at-15-of-delta-wave

            Sth Africa has below 30% vaccination rate, a third world healthcare system and prevalence of other co-morbidities including obesity and HIV.

            NZ has a vaccination rate of over 90%, a first world healthcare system and generally speaking a healthy population.

            Of course each situation and each country has some unique characteristics, but… If we're to 'trust' the (new) system going forward, it must 'perform' well.

            • UncookedSelachimorpha 10.2.1.1.1.1

              Regarding the "SA was only 30% vaccinated" comment.

              South Africa was thought to have had a lot of acquired immunity from previous infection, when Omicron hit. So their immunity was vaccines+previous infections.

              The "previous infection" protection doesn't come cheap. SA has lost about 1688 people per million to covid to date, compared to NZ 11.4 per million. You can likely add at least 0.4 per million who have died due to the vaccine in NZ – making us around 12 per million all up, for our current level of protection.

              "Omicron is often Mild" has at least the caveats – if you are vaccinated and boosted, or survived previous infection (and preferably vaccinated as well).

              • julian richards

                There's been a number of studies released that show this outdated media article linked to got it wrong.

                It's been shown that individuals previously infected with Delta variant could contract omicron, while the ones who caught Omicron could not catch Delta.

                Here's one below:

                https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.12.20.21268121v1

                Another lab study also confirmed this:

                https://secureservercdn.net/50.62.198.70/1mx.c5c.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/MEDRXIV-2021-268439v2-Sigal.pdf

                Your comment "So their immunity was vaccines+previous infections" is factually incorrect.

                • UncookedSelachimorpha

                  From a data review reported this month, my emphasis:

                  we found that the effectiveness of previous infection in preventing reinfection with the alpha, beta, and delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 was robust (at approximately 90%), findings that confirmed earlier estimates.1-3 Such protection against reinfection with the omicron variant was lower (approximately 60%) but still considerable. In addition, the protection of previous infection against hospitalization or death caused by reinfection appeared to be robust, regardless of variant.

                  Neither of your papers investigated the effect of previous covid infection (delta or otherwise) on subsequent Omicron mortality or morbidity. They mainly considered reinfection risks.

                  The first notes that Omicron is better at reinfecting people who have previously had Delta. The second is an antibody study (and of course antibodies are only part of the acquired immunity story that reduces illness). It shows that Delta-derived antibodies do not neutralise Omicron as well as Omicron-derived antibodies. Neither of this is news and neither shows that previous infection with non-omicron covid is not protective against severe disease.

                  I'm not saying Omicron isn't less severe, but I am saying that concluding that all the reduced disease seen in some countries is solely due to lower virulence of the variant, is likely untrue. Previous infection and vaccination is playing a big role too.

                  • julian richards

                    I hear what you're saying. Thank you for the info/links, really interesting to see this study!

                    In light of this, yes I'd be crazy not to accept and acknowledge that previous infection also helped in Sth Africa.

                • Shanreagh

                  Here's one below:

                  https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.12.20.21268121v1

                  Just a point, it is a bit early to say that the article above can be relied on to support your argument. This article is what they call a preprint and more critically it has not been peer reviewed. Research in the science/health sector is particularly strong on peer review and readers etc generally caveat their views when referring to such an article.

                  You seem to have assumed it was a fully peer reviewed paper and thus could be relied on. It cannot. It says in the intro that the article is in pre print stage

                  'This article is a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed [what does this mean?]. It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice."

                  When you click on the link about peer review it explains what the limitations of the study are because it has not been peer reviewed.

                  https://www.medrxiv.org/content/what-unrefereed-preprint

                  Bearing this in mind I believe you should be a bit more guarded in what the study may be telling us.

                  I will look for/at the remaining study and see if it has been peer reviewed.

    • Molly 10.3

      Solomon Islands dominant variant appears to be Delta – Solomon Islands government website 16/2/2022:

      Health authorities have confirmed that the deadly delta variant of covid-19 is infecting the country through rapid community transmission since January this year.

      This followed the 10 recent samples sent to Australia for genomic sequencing that confirmed the presence of the delta variant from those samples.

      Health and Medical Services Minister Dr. Culwick Togamana confirmed the results on Tuesday.

      “More recently, we had sent 10 more samples to Australia and all the samples showed the presence of the delta variant, so we can now be reasonably sure that the Delta is the variant that is currently circulating in Honiara and in the Provinces,” Togamana said.

      Scientifically, Delta is believed to be more than twice as infectious as previous variants, and studies have shown that it may be more likely than the original virus to put infected people in the hospital.

    • Craig H 10.4

      A good reminder also that Delta is still here in NZ, and since the testing capacity and sequencing are overwhelmed now, Delta will also be circulating.

  11. James Simpson 11

    I agree with what you say.

    However there is a narrative that it is mild and nothing to worry about. Just look at what is happening in Dunedin right now with the students.

    I live in Raglan, which is one of the lowest vaccinated places in New Zealand. A major issue here in anecdotes and stories. You may recall there was a delta outbreak here in September and October and from that came the stories of people being "forced" into MIQ when they had no symptoms, That has created a narrative and culture, at least in this small part of the country, that there is nothing to worry about from contracting, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    It worries me greatly

    • weka 11.1

      I suspect it's something like with climate change. The scale and complexity, and now it's been two years, and people are tired and yearning for a normal life. But as Sanctuary points out, in NZ we just have no idea of how bad it could be if we don't do everything we can to lessen and slow spread now. It worries me too.

  12. Sanctuary 12

    I just heard a person who I had met back in the day at several events died of covid. That makes three acquaintances overseas – two Americans and this British chap – who I have heard have died of covid. We've got no idea.

    • weka 12.1

      Likewise in a year's time when kiwis start grappling with the fact that people they know have long covid. Deaths tend to be move on from by the wider community, disability is generally ignored, but the pandemic might put this right in our faces.

  13. Just Saying 13

    Vulnerable people are better protected by collective actions in addition to individual ones, rather than just individual ones

    I've heard some say there is comfort for the vulnerable in everyone is isolating and living restricted lives, even the fit and young. There is something really mean-spirited in this. I say this not to be critical. I've been severely isolated, in pain, often bad pain, awaiting surgery to fix failed surgery, and unable to do much of anything since before the first lockdown.

    And what helps, what really really helps me is community.

    I'm aware that far too many of our most vulnerable have lived similarly, but either, warehoused away from the main world, or isolated and looking out at a world that ignores them, feeling terribly alone. For freaking years or lifetimes. And bitterness is understandable.

    But I don't feel people are understanding the potential long-term consequences of ramping up excessive fear and, at the same time encouraging scapegoating.

    This should be a time of communities being more, not less involved. Anyway, I've got a couple of big pumpkins and other veges and loads of jars, and a freezer, so its time to make soup. I can mind older kids with two sick parents…. And I know I'm luckier than so many.

    This is not a time for exclusive bubbles and paranoia.

    It is beyond time to be more, not less involved, more not less informed, more not less empowered. And certainly not infantalised.

  14. Obtrectator 14

    "More people in the US have died from Delta than Omicron."

    The above is taken from the front-page panel (sorry, don't know the correct technical term) promoting the story. Shouldn't it read the other way round?

  15. From the press conference (Hipkins/Bloomfield) – more to come at 1.00pm over 5000 new cases and 205 in hospitals.

    Hipkins says the hospital figures will be featured more highly in the figures around the spread of Omicron. These figures will be key to understanding the spread and how we are coping.

    205 wow!

    The grounds around Parliament ie the protest have featured in a location of interest from exposure on Sat/Sun.

  16. Poission 16

    Mild disease reduces delta to near extinction,concomitant with rise in hospital admissions.

    https://public.flourish.studio/visualisation/8737786/?utm_source=showcase&utm_campaign=visualisation/8737786

  17. Herodotus 17

    Weka – I don't care that much about the details of testing, tbh. …" But the government has informed us that we are to trust only info sourced from them "The Podium". The public have allowed the government to wide ranging powers based on they know best. When what we are told is a LIE and based on nothing. Then the trust and goodwill from the people in the government erodes. That to me is a very strong reason why to care about the details.

    And as you have taken time to publish this regarding Omicron in not Mild (I can attest in some degree to that) then there is even more reason to have been prepared instead of foolish crap that the government has spurted out, they are losing the narrative and their appearance that they are in some way prepared. “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”― Soren Kierkegaard

    25 Jan 22 "New Zealand's capacity for PCR lab testing had increased from 39,000 tests per day to 58,000 per day, and up to 77,600 per day with surge capacity for up to seven days, she(The PM) said.

    https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/national/watch-prime-minister-jacinda-ardern-gives-a-post-cabinet-meeting-update/ar-AAT6Hhl

  18. Whispering Kate 18

    For folk who are fortunate and do not have underlying conditions and keep generally excellent health it must be extremely difficult to understand what its like to be seriously sick. One has to experience the hell of it of it to believe it to be.

    Personally I know what its like to be chronically short of breath, to have a low respiratory peak flow even on really good days so I behave myself and keep my head low and am vaxxed to the eyeballs. When one doesn't know where their next breath is going to come from then they appreciate the good days and do as they're told.

    We were all young once and thought we would stay bullet proof forever. The anti-vaxxers frankly are in for one hell of a shock if and when they get sick. Influenza is bad enough (got Hong Kong flu in '69 in UK) but on steroids I just can't imagine how bad it is. Hospital is the last place I want to be if I get sick so I live like a hermit and make the best of life at home. As we get older we toughen up and just enjoy very day as a bonus. Hang in there everybody – onwards and upwards of course we can do it.

    • Absolutely Kate. I haven't had covid, sure as hell don't want covid and will do all I can to avoid getting covid, including 3 jabs.

      But you don't have to go far on the net to read stories of people who get omicron. The host of sorryantivaxxers.com came down with it. His comment:

      Over the past four days I've been more sick than I've ever been. It's definitely the worst sore throat I've ever had. This virus sucks. I don't know why they all say it's "mild"; it's anything but mild. I know two other people who got it at the same I did, all of us fully vaxxed, and all of us were more sick than we'd ever been.

    • Pukahu Road 18.2

      Thank you Whispering Kate for your heartfelt words of reality and inspiration.

      It is very true that for some the struggle of living with chronic illness instills an inner confidence which results in a stronger than normal mentality.

      Kia Kaha.

  19. julian richards 19

    The long-covid issue is an interesting one…

    Symptoms seem to be driven by the immune system or by the persistence of the virus in the body. Importantly, these aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s likely that both factors are at play and interconnected, together with a number of other mechanisms.

    "Flurries of microclots — tiny blood clots — observed in the blood of people with acute and long Covid may be fueling the immune system’s reaction.

    Having clots in circulation can cause the whole vascular system to become inflamed, ultimately choking off the supply of oxygen to cells and leading to a range of issues throughout the body. “Many of the symptoms that are related to long Covid can actually be traced back to a general oxygen deprivation state”

    https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12933-021-01359-7

    "No one knows exactly how many people have or had long Covid. Estimates so far are “wildly disparate” in part because researchers define the condition differently and because the people seeking care may only be a small portion of those affected" Nahid Bhadelia, an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine. Studies on the conservative end have found that 10 to 20 percent of Covid-19 survivors get long Covid, while others report 50 percent.

    The sheer range of symptoms reported by people with long Covid — more than 200 across 10 groups of organ systems, according to one patient-led survey — makes uncovering their biological origins a gargantuan task.

    https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(21)00299-6/fulltext

    Recent research identifying the people who are most at risk is especially promising though. A small study recently published in Cell named four factors that may put people at higher risk for long Covid: higher levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the blood in the early stages of infection, Type 2 diabetes, reactivated Epstein-Barr virus (which infects over 90 percent of the global population), and the presence of certain autoantibodies — which target the body’s own cells as if they were intruders. Other risk factors could include low levels of antibodies called IgM and IgG3 and preexisting asthma.

    https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0092-8674%2822%2900072-1

    Yale University immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, Putrino is studying the blood of long-haulers for evidence of an abnormal immune response that might be throwing the autonomic nervous system off track.

    The headline that 'Omricon is not mild' does seem somewhat inflammatory though to some degree, it is much milder than previous variants in terms of incidence of severe illness and mortality rates (approx 10-15% that of delta variant), but you are right to state the obvious that severe illness and deaths may increase overall resulting from the relative highly infectiousness nature of the variant. It is milder at an individual level but still dangerous at a societal and systems level.

    Nobody is certain at this point regarding long-covid, what we do know is that it is a problem that will present itself to NZ, that's undeniable, as undeniable as the fact that most of us will contract the omricon variant (no matter our vaccination status https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/infections-record-high-hospitalisations-low-omicron-sweeps-israel-2022-01-06/ )

    The impact on people with disabilities and chronic health conditions is very problematic in the sense that artificial systems like vax pass etc will not stop the virus, this must be recognized as fact by watching the world from afar. What do we do about this collectively, hard to say? Individually, there may be only one way (isolation)?
    Add to this, there needs to be both discussion on life and livelihoods at stake, if we can find that level of maturity as a nation? It'll be a thin line to walk, but overall I feel we'll grow as a society immensely from a mature, intelligent and open debate.

    I'm sure there's so much more to add to this, in the story so far…..

  20. Pukahu Road 20

    Thank you once again Weka for a well researched post.

    I still talk to people who have never heard of long covid and that is disappointing.

    But as an advocate for the at risk in our community your posts not only inform but encourage healthy debate.

    Long covid will be an everlasting reminder for some and the health system must be prepared to cater for a new category of patient.

    Much appreciated Weka.

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