COVID-19: Omicron Reaches Europe


COVID-19: Omicron Reaches Europe

By Neil Lock

For my latest COVID rant, I thought I would return to the 14 countries, including the UK, which together form the core of Western Europe. First, because I wanted to see whether there was any evidence in the data that the “omicron” variant in the UK, and perhaps some other European countries, has indeed – as is claimed – a lowered risk of requiring hospitalization. If so, that will be good news. Second, I noticed that different European countries have often been taking completely different attitudes towards lockdowns over the last six months, and I wanted to compare and contrast both these differing attitudes and their results.

I took the data from the Our World in Data and Blavatnik School of Government feeds on December 25th. The data runs up to December 24th.

Omicron

But first, a few words about the Omicron variant. According to the Guardian [[1]], it became the dominant variant in the UK (more than 50% of cases) around December 14th. (An excellent article, by the way; for once, a journalist has asked some of the right questions!) By December 18th, it was accounting for about 70% of new UK cases. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these estimates, since only PCR tests can actually distinguish between the omicron and delta variants, and these are only a minority of the tests being done. But I’m inclined to accept these figures as “the best I have.”

Moreover, according to Al-Jazeera [[2]], the UK hospitalization rates for omicron are about 50% to 70% lower than for delta. So, I’d expect at least some decline in the rate of COVID hospitalizations, and hence in hospital occupancy, to show up in the most recent data.

Cases

Much has happened in the three months since I last reported on COVID in these 14 countries. Here are the total cases per million population:

Prominent in the graph above is the separation of the countries into two groups. There are a number of countries – the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, also Ireland, Denmark and just recently France – which seem, relatively speaking, to have been “letting the virus rip.” It’s interesting that the acceleration of new case counts in the UK dates almost exactly to Sajid Javid’s take-over of the health ministry in June. On the other hand, countries such as Germany, Italy and Switzerland seem to be taking a far more cautious attitude.

Here are the daily cases per million:

The graph shows recent peaks for those countries which have locked down in the face of “unprecedented” levels of cases (Austria, Italy, Belgium). There’s a peak for Denmark as well, but this is not due to any lockdown. It is due to a major negative adjustment in the case counts, which appears in the figures for December 24th.

Notably, every single country in the list is above the WHO’s “endemic” threshold of 200 cases per million per day, above which they recommend no unlocking. The cynic in me is coming to think that this figure may have been deliberately set low, perhaps in order to prolong the epidemic and damage Western economies more as a result.

Vaccinations

I’m not going to say much about vaccinations today, for two reasons. First, as the list below shows, the differences between the countries in vaccination levels are not huge, except for Portugal:

Second, the omicron variant is rumoured to be able to evade the vaccines; which, if true, could turn out to be a game-changer. Reports from Denmark already suggest this is so. But I definitely don’t have nearly enough data yet to make any call on that particular issue.

Lockdowns

The picture on lockdowns has become rather confused over the last six months or so:

It’s worth comparing this list with the “stacked average lockdowns” list, which measures over the whole epidemic the propensity of each country to impose lockdowns of various types:

It’s generally the Catholic countries and Germany which have tended to lock down hardest, though the UK’s record is not brilliant either. And Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg have been consistently near the bottom of the stringency list.

Hospital Occupancy

Here are the hospital occupancies by COVID patients per million population (the Germans are not reporting this figure, as they only supply data on hospital admissions):

Here are the same numbers expressed as a percentage of available hospital bed capacity. I also added, for comparison, the list of peak hospital bed occupancy by COVID patients over the whole epidemic:

You can see which countries are under-provided with hospital beds! The UK, Italy and Spain.

Another metric I follow is hospital occupancy per new case, with an offset of 7 days, to allow for the gap between infection and hospitalization. Although this is expressed as a percentage, it would need to be divided by the average “dwell time” in days of COVID patients in the hospital, to give an idea of what fraction of cases require hospitalization. As I have no idea how long this “dwell time” is, or how it varies by country, I’ll simply show the metric as it is:

The French seem both to have more hospital beds available than others, and to use them for longer in each case. The UK’s very different positions in the lists of percentages full and occupancy per case suggest that despite the high number of new cases, the virus is not, right now, causing problems as serious as in some other countries.

ICU Occupancy

Here are the corresponding graphs and lists for Intensive Care Unit occupancy (Denmark does not report this). The offset between new cases and ICU occupancy is 14 days:

The numbers of ICU beds I have for Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain, at least, must be understated compared to the reality! But the downward trend in ICU occupancy per case virtually everywhere since mid-October is comforting.

Deaths

Here are the total deaths per million:

That blue line that suddenly accelerates upwards, starting in about October, is Austria. Germany, too, has had a strong rise in deaths recently. As I’ve said before, early success against the virus does not guarantee that success will continue!

Here are the daily deaths per million:

Here are the cumulative deaths per case:

Notice the UK’s constant slide down this unenviable ranking since June.

As I’ve said before, high cumulative deaths per case should provide a good indicator of poor performance of a health system as a whole. Though when the epidemic is over, I’d expect that the main metric on which politicians ought to be judged should be minimizing deaths per million; if not also minimizing loss of GDP.

Here is the excess mortality graph (from all causes, relative to the average of years 2015-2019). I won’t bother to show the latest values list, as different countries seem to report with very different lag times, and Italy in particular hasn’t reported any excess mortality figures for three whole months:

It’s noticeable that there have been quite a few countries trending upwards in excess mortality since about October, among them Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Lastly, here are the average excess mortalities for each country over the whole epidemic:

Interesting. Down at the bottom, there are both relatively low lockdown countries (Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden) and high lockdown ones (Ireland, Germany, France). But Italy, the strictest of them all on lockdowns, is right at the top.

Lockdown Effectiveness

Which leads me to the relative effectiveness of lockdowns in the different countries. Here are scatterplots of cases per million, deaths per million, cumulative deaths per case and average excess mortality against average lockdown stringency over the whole epidemic. As there are only 14 countries in the group, the “trend lines” I draw can have only qualitative value. Nevertheless, the results are interesting!

The negative correlation between cases per million and average lockdown stringency is not unexpected. Although not necessarily so in other parts of the world, it does seem that, within the core of Europe, lockdowns have had at least some effect of lowering new cases. However, the correlation between all three of the mortality metrics and average lockdown stringency is positive. In the past, I have been eager – perhaps too eager – to explain this by saying, “bad deaths figures cause politicians to lock down harder.” But, as I’m now starting to think, might there not be some feedback the other way, too? For example, might controlling early cases too hard lead to increased vulnerability to the virus later? Either because a more severe variant arrives – as arguably with the alpha and the delta – or because the virus then has more time in which to seek out the “low hanging fruit,” the people it was always most likely to get anyway? Could it be that “lockdowns cost lives” might be more than just a slogan?

Individual Country Case Studies

Now, I’ll look at the individual countries in more detail. For most, I’ll show just the weekly case growth and reproduction rate against lockdown stringency, and the hospitalizations and ICU data. I’ll also show the lockdown measures since July 1st 2021. Where necessary, I’ll add cases and deaths for the country, and/or hospitalizations per case.

Austria

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070149.07Schools: Some closed (Regional), Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 101-1000, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021081156.02Gatherings: Up to 101-1000 (Regional) Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021082558.8Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)
2021090949.07Gatherings: Up to 101-1000 Travel: No restrictions
2021091551.85Gatherings: Up to 11-100
2021091860.19Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021092951.85Travel: No restrictions
2021101860.19Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021110157.41International: Quarantine high-risk
2021110849.07Travel: No restrictions
2021111559.26Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional) Stay at home: Required with exceptions
2021112264.81Events: Mandatory cancelled Gatherings: Up to <=10
2021112767.59International: Ban some arrivals
2021121264.81Gatherings: Up to 11-100

It seems obvious why the Austrians locked down hard in the middle of November; they were approaching the practical limits of their ICU capacity. And why they banned some arrivals on November 27th; this was an attempt to keep omicron out. They seem to have done better at keeping omicron down than many of the countries around them. But the pundits are saying it’s only a matter of time before that changes.

Belgium

DateStringencyMeasures
2021073047.22Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required when with others
2021090143.06Events: Recommended cancelled (Regional) Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)
2021100140.28Events: Recommended cancelled Gatherings: Up to 101-1000 (Regional) Face covering: Required in some places (Regional)
2021101545.83Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional) Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)
2021111748.61Events: Mandatory cancelled Face covering: Required when with others
2021112753.7Workplaces: Mandatory closed Gatherings: Up to 11-100
2021113048.15Events: Recommended cancelled

Like Austria, Belgian ICU capacity was somewhat threatened in mid to late November. They decided to use the big stick, mandatory closure of workplaces. It has done the job – sort of – but at what cost to the people? And there are more curbs on the way: [[3]].

Denmark

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070247.22Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 101-1000, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021073138.89Events: Recommended cancelled International: Quarantine high-risk Contact tracing: Comprehensive Face covering: Required when with others
2021090129.63Workplaces: Recommended closed Gatherings: No restrictions
2021091024.07Events: Allowed
2021092824.07Face covering: Required in some places
2021110224.07Testing: If symptoms
2021111244.44Workplaces: Some closed Events: Mandatory cancelled Gatherings: Up to 101-1000
2021113038.89Events: Recommended cancelled Testing: Open

The Danes aren’t providing ICU occupancy figures, so I can’t tell whether it was ICU capacity that triggered the November 12th lockdown. But selective closure of workplaces was their weapon of choice.

Danish hospital occupancy per case has declined from a local peak of 29% in late September to under 7% by December 20th. That looks very good. But given the recent adjustment to cases, I wonder whether this will continue?

The latest news from Denmark, though, seems optimistic: [[4]]. And according to the Rio Times [[5]]: “The unvaccinated, about one-fifth of the Danish population, accounted for only 8.5 percent of Omicron infections.” This should be a big slap in the face for all those that have been pushing to make vaccinations compulsory against all ideas of human rights. In fact, there’s even a plausible suggestion that vaccinated people may be more vulnerable to omicron than the unvaccinated.

France

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070943.98Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed (Regional), Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional), Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional), Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places (Regional)
2021071243.98Face covering: Required when with others (Regional)
2021080960.65Public transport: Recommended closed Travel: Mandatory restrictions
2021081366.67Workplaces: Some closed Events: Mandatory cancelled Gatherings: Up to 11-100
2021092666.67Face covering: Required in some places
2021120472.22Public transport: Mandatory closed Face covering: Required when with others

Since August, the French have been trying out more and more stringent lockdowns. But ooh la là! none of it seems to have done them any good, as the cases graph shows:

Despite ever more stringent lockdowns, new cases are still heading north at an unprecedented rate. Do I detect, perhaps, the signature of l’omicron?

It isn’t worth showing the graph of hospital occupancy per case, as the detail of interest is so close to the axis that it’s all but invisible. However, this value has declined from 154% in the middle of October to 31% as of December 20th. Not immediately conclusive; but it’s even possible that the French have actually had l’omicron spreading among them longer than anyone, even themselves, had thought. When I look at the French raw case numbers, I think I see an explosive growth beginning around November 10th – more than two weeks ahead of the South African reports. Is omicron, perhaps, becoming omacron?

Post-script: Given reports that the Dutch had omicron earlier than the South Africans did – see later – I think it’s quite conceivable that the French may have had it back in November, too. That would suggest that the decline in hospital occupancy per case in France may be genuine evidence that omicron is less serious than delta.

Germany

DateStringencyMeasures
2021080164.81Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Recommended, Travel: Recommended not to travel, International: Quarantine high-risk, Face covering: Required in some places
2021080359.26Travel: No restrictions
2021082056.48Gatherings: Up to 11-100
2021082462.04Schools: Mandatory closed (Regional)
2021082860.19Workplaces: Some closed (Regional)
2021091154.63Schools: Recommended closed
2021100146.3Events: Recommended cancelled (Regional)
2021101037.04Public transport: Open Stay at home: No measures
2021101942.59Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)
2021102843.98Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional)
2021111045.83Schools: Some closed (Regional)
2021111955.09Stay at home: Recommended Travel: Recommended not to travel
2021112473.61Workplaces: Some closed Public transport: Mandatory closed Travel: Mandatory restrictions
2021112676.39International: Ban some arrivals
2021120284.26Workplaces: Mandatory closed Events: Mandatory cancelled Gatherings: Up to <=10

The Germans were slow to unlock, and very eager indeed to lock down again – hard. The ICU graph shows one good reason why; from late October, ICU occupancy was rising inexorably. The rises in cases and ICU occupancy have been staunched since then, but only at the cost of subjecting Germans to their second highest lockdowns of the entire epidemic.

Again I say, early success against the virus does not necessarily lead to success later. In this case, it looks as if the Germans may have shot themselves in the feet, by controlling the earlier waves too well. So now, with the lowest total cases per million among the 14 countries, they are further from herd immunity than anyone else.

Ireland

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070444.44Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 11-100, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required when with others
2021092040.74Workplaces: Recommended closed
2021102237.96Gatherings: Up to 101-1000
2021102844.44Workplaces: Some closed Events: Mandatory cancelled Gatherings: Up to >1000
2021120750Gatherings: Up to 11-100

In the first year or so of the epidemic, the Irish suffered some of the harshest lockdowns in Europe. Their initial strategy was, like the Germans, to control cases as hard as possible. Since then, though, there seems to have been a change of approach to a more liberal one.

Ireland has climbed fast up the cases per million ladder; and yet, their deaths per million have remained low, second from bottom among the 14 countries, and below even Germany’s. New delta cases seem under control, and hospital and ICU occupancy are middling compared with the other countries, though ICU occupancy still needs watching.

For the last six months, I’d say the Irish have done a good job. And the BBC say omicron is already dominant in Ireland: [[6]]. But there are still new curbs coming in on hospitality venues, cinemas and theatres. It’s wait-and-see time.

Italy

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070147.22Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 101-1000, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021071475.46Schools: Mandatory closed (Regional) Workplaces: Mandatory closed (Regional) Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional) Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional) Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional) Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021072075.46Face covering: Required when with others (Regional)
2021072367.13Face covering: Required in some places
2021073050Schools: Recommended closed Workplaces: Some closed Events: Recommended cancelled Gatherings: Up to >1000
2021080655.56Events: Mandatory cancelled
2021083056.94Gatherings: Up to 101-1000 (Regional) Face covering: Required when with others (Regional)
2021090160.65Schools: Some closed
2021100168.98Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021100967.59Gatherings: Up to >1000
2021101571.3Workplaces: Mandatory closed
2021101966.67Stay at home: Recommended Travel: Recommended not to travel Face covering: Required in some places
2021102366.67Face covering: Required when with others (Regional)
2021102571.3Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional) Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional)
2021120676.85Public transport: Mandatory closed

The Italian COVID experience has been the worst among all 14 countries. Second in deaths per million, first by a mile in cumulative deaths per case, heaviest locked down of all. And yet, second from bottom in cases per million, so very probably second furthest from herd immunity. Moreover, new cases are currently going through the roof:

That looks like omicron to me; as in France. And the lockdowns seem to be having no effect whatsoever.

Here’s the hospital occupancy per case:

Hospital occupancy per case has gone down since mid-October, but not by as much as in France. The Italians, I fear, are up the proverbial shit creek. So much for their high-lockdown strategy.

Luxembourg

The alphabet takes us to a more optimistic, if less sunny, clime.

DateStringencyMeasures
2021072037.96Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Recommended closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 101-1000, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021092137.96Testing: Restricted
2021092434.26Schools: Open
2021092737.96Schools: Recommended closed Testing: Open
2021101246.3Gatherings: Up to 11-100 Public transport: Recommended closed
2021121446.3Face covering: Required when with others

As their current daily cases per million is unexceptional, I surmise that omicron hasn’t reached Luxembourg yet, at least not to a significant extent. Though they have already announced some fresh curbs: [[7]]. Otherwise, this looks to have been a mostly sane and proportionate response to the virus; so far.

But the “Christian Democrat” party is agitating for compulsory vaccination! We’ll see what they do when omicron really hits.

Netherlands

DateStringencyMeasures
2021071036.11Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: No restrictions, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021072041.67Public transport: Recommended closed
2021073141.67Contact tracing: Comprehensive
2021081441.67Testing: Open
2021092547.22Events: Mandatory cancelled
2021100841.67Public transport: Open
2021111352.78Gatherings: Up to <=10 Face covering: Required when with others
2021112756.48Stay at home: Recommended
2021121963.89Schools: Mandatory closed

It looks as if the lockdown on December 19th was far more severe than just closing schools, see here: [[8]]. But that doesn’t show up yet in the Blavatnik data I took on the 25th.

I’ll need to show some more graphs here, because I found a very interesting report from last November about COVID in the Netherlands: [[9]]. It seems they had omicron at least as early as the South Africans did! So, here are the graphs of cases and of hospitalizations per case for the Netherlands:

Now, look at that last but one peak in the cases – the one in July. That very steep rise to the peak happened in many other European countries too, and was the “signature” of the delta variant. Given that the Dutch appeared to have the virus under control through August and September, it is not hard to hypothesize that the latest peak of cases was not delta, but something else.

Could it have been omicron, as the Reuters report suggested was possible? Could omicron have been in the Netherlands already, as early as October? In that case, if omicron genuinely is less severe than delta, we might expect to see a significant drop in hospitalizations per case since September. Hospital occupancy per case has indeed dropped over that period, but only from 20.5% to 11.5%. Possible, but not conclusive.

But there’s something else odd going on in the Netherlands, too. The reported daily COVID cases per million went down by almost half during the period from November 27th to December 21st. The raw data still shows cases dropping, right through to December 24th. COVID deaths per million, too, were dropping from December 12th onwards. So why has there even been talk of COVID cases “exploding,” whether omicron or otherwise? That may have been a fair comment a month ago, but certainly not now.

And where is the rationale for imposing any lockdown at all on December 19th? The only possible rationale I can see is that they aren’t sure they have enough ICUs to cope with another wave. But shutting the whole country down right before Christmas seems, to me at least, to be way beyond reasonable.

Portugal

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070274.07Schools: Some closed (Regional), Workplaces: Some closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled, Gatherings: Up to <=10, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional), Travel: Mandatory restrictions (Regional), International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required when with others
2021070565.74Travel: No restrictions
2021070963.89Schools: Recommended closed
2021080158.33Stay at home: No measures
2021082352.78Public transport: Open
2021090352.78Contact tracing: Comprehensive
2021091352.78Face covering: Required in some places
2021100144.44Gatherings: Up to 101-1000 International: Quarantine high-risk
2021102640.74Schools: Open
2021120143.52International: Ban some arrivals Face covering: Required when with others

On the face of it, not much to see here, except that case growth is starting to pick up. But the Portuguese have already announced “post-Christmas curbs”: [[10]]. The reason becomes obvious when you look at the cases graph:

Omicron, welcome to Portugal!

Spain

DateStringencyMeasures
2021071750.46Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Recommended closed, Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional), Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional), Public transport: Open, Stay at home: Required with exceptions (Regional), Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021072047.69International: Quarantine high-risk
2021072247.69Testing: Open
2021091542.13Stay at home: No measures
2021100143.98Workplaces: Some closed (Regional) Face covering: Required when with others
2021100941.2Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)
2021112943.98International: Ban some arrivals

This looks more than slightly similar to neighbour Portugal. And the recent government response is similar, too: [[11]]. The reason is plain:

Sweden

DateStringencyMeasures
2021070151.85Schools: Open, Workplaces: Recommended closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 11-100, Public transport: Recommended closed, Stay at home: Recommended, Travel: Recommended not to travel, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: No measures
2021071537.04Workplaces: Open Public transport: Open Travel: No restrictions
2021081137.04Contact tracing: None
2021092919.44Events: Allowed Gatherings: No restrictions Stay at home: No measures

There have been more restrictions brought in recently: [[12]]. Even the Swedes are in wait-and-see land now. But it’s absolutely clear that their laid-back, low-lockdown strategy has worked well compared with most of the other countries. If they hadn’t lost a lot of people at the very beginning of the epidemic, they would (and should) be laughing at the rest of us by now.

Switzerland

DateStringencyMeasures
2021072140.74Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Recommended closed, Events: Recommended cancelled, Gatherings: Up to 11-100, Public transport: Open, Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required in some places
2021091350Workplaces: Some closed Events: Mandatory cancelled
2021120546.3Workplaces: Recommended closed
2021122053.7Workplaces: Mandatory closed Face covering: Required when with others

Like the Austrians, their ICU situation made it inevitable that the Swiss would lock down. Otherwise, they seem to be using a similar strategy to the Belgians, with closing workplaces and cancelling events as their punishments of choice.

UK

DateStringencyMeasures
2021071943.98Schools: Recommended closed, Workplaces: Some closed (Regional), Events: Recommended cancelled (Regional), Gatherings: Up to <=10 (Regional), Public transport: Recommended closed (Regional), Stay at home: No measures, Travel: No restrictions, International: Ban some arrivals, Face covering: Required when with others (Regional)
2021091041.2Gatherings: Up to 11-100 (Regional)
2021101846.76Events: Mandatory cancelled (Regional)
2021121548.61Workplaces: Some closed Events: Mandatory cancelled International: Quarantine high-risk

Sajid Javid’s efforts as health secretary so far have, under the circumstances, been exemplary. And it is exceedingly rare for me ever to say anything nice about any politician! He has made his predecessor look like <insert swear word of your choice>. He even seems to have persuaded his boss to carry on with his strategy, at least in England and for now: [[13]].

Despite record new cases, my reading of the data is that he has steered the UK into a better position to deal with omicron than anyone else among the 14 except Sweden and Denmark. And as I write these words, the new UK cases for 25th, 26th and 27th December have come in on Worldometers. 113.2K, 107.5K and 98.5K, respectively. The apparent decline over the three days, I think, is probably spurious and due to late reporting over the holiday period. But at least, the situation isn’t getting exponentially worse, as the alarmists would have us believe. And even the Guardian has caught a mood of optimism: [[14]].

Meanwhile, here’s the graph of hospital occupancy per case:

Is that a slight “knee-bend” I see in the middle of November? Maybe; maybe not. What I can say is that hospitalizations per case were around 25% on November 10th, and have dropped to 12% as at December 20th. A drop comparable to that in the Netherlands, and certainly not inconsistent with omicron having a significantly lower risk of hospitalization than delta.

Turn of the COVID tide?

I won’t even try to write a “To sum up” section, because the data (not to mention the stories in the media) are all over the place. But I do share the Guardian’s optimism, about COVID in the UK at least. Turn of the tide? We shall see.


[[1]] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/23/if-omicron-is-the-dominant-variant-in-uk-why-is-the-number-of-confirmed-cases-so-low

[[2]] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/23/omicron-cases-at-much-lower-risk-of-hospital-admission-uk-says

[[3]]  https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/belgium-coronavirus-belgium-omicron-cases-belgium-omicron-variant-belgiums-new-curbs-as-omicron-cases-rise-to-30-of-new-infections-2666413

[[4]] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/12/24/denmark-coronavirus-omicron-variant/

[[5]] https://www.riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/modern-day-censorship/more-than-90-of-omicron-cases-in-denmark-are-vaccinated-individuals-government-data-show/

[[6]] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-59718822

[[7]] https://www.luxtimes.lu/en/luxembourg/lawmakers-set-to-approve-tighter-measures-as-omicron-spreads-61c58fd8de135b923656b584

[[8]] https://www.businessinsider.com/netherlands-lockdown-christmas-as-omicron-cases-explode-2021-12?r=US&IR=T

[[9]] https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/omicron-variant-was-detected-netherlands-before-s-africa-flights-2021-11-30/

[[10]] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/portugal-imposes-post-christmas-covid-19-curbs-omicron-cases-surge-2021-12-21/

[[11]] https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-12-27/the-perfect-storm-of-spains-sixth-coronavirus-wave-omicron-is-spreading-at-christmas-with-few-restrictions-in-place-and-waning-immunity.html

[[12]] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/sweden-tightens-covid-restrictions-cases-mount-2021-12-21/

[[13]] https://news.sky.com/story/covid-booster-drive-ramps-up-with-1-5-million-vaccine-slots-available-until-3-january-amid-new-rules-for-scotland-wales-and-northern-ireland-12504395

[[14]] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/26/omicron-bleak-new-year-or-beginning-of-the-end-for-the-pandemic

One thought on “COVID-19: Omicron Reaches Europe

  1. So hard for me as a colourblind person to make head nor tail of some of those spaghetti graphs. The hospitalisation was interesting and the way the Tories have run down the NHS is coming home to roost!! I hope you and the Guardian are right!!

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