Dealing With Uncertainty Regarding Omicron Variant

Labyrinthine Covid Reminder System Is The Real Reason For The Delays

The race is on to understand the new variant identified by scientists in South Africa and Botswana, dubbed Omicron (the next Greek letter was “naked”, but this could have been mistaken for “new”). Fears include further spread, more serious illness, or reduced effectiveness of treatments and vaccines.

Increased transmission can result from two factors. First, there is an intrinsic advantage, with a high “base reproduction number” R0; in a susceptible population, this is the average number of people infected with each case, although after 20 months of the pandemic this has become a notional concept. It was about 3 for the original wild-type virus, compared to about 6 for Delta and maybe a little more for Omicron.

Second, a variant may show a better escape of existing immunity, whether it is a vaccination or a past infection. Only one in four South Africans has received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine, but the country has already suffered three major waves and around 270,000 additional deaths since May 2020. Despite this wall of existing immunity, confirmed cases and positivity tests have increased. . Such increased transmission could arise of different combinations of these two factors, but the increased ability to evade immunity is of concern.

Some claim Omicron infections mean milder cases, but lags between infection and hospital attendance make it difficult to assess quickly and hospital admissions with positive tests are on the rise in the province. by Gauteng. Like compound interest, increased transmissibility means more cases generation after generation and even a reduced share going to hospital can still result in more admissions. And an extraordinarily rapid scan indicates that the risk of re-infection is significantly higher than in its first wave.

With these possibilities, it is reasonable to be cautious while waiting for the fundamental uncertainties to be resolved. Like Alpha, which got spoiled last Christmas, the progress of the variant can be roughly monitored from its specific pattern of PCR test results and UKHSA reports that an army of scientists are already planning 20 studies. Soon this article will be history.

Judging by the variant’s rapid dominance in South African streaks, the Omicron era has begun.

David Spiegelhalter is President of the Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication in Cambridge. Anthony Masters is Statistical Ambassador of the Royal Statistical Society


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