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What the British experience with Omicron mean

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What the British experience with Omicron mean


A call for boosters at London’s Euston Station.Image: keystoneWill there be an escalation with Omicron? Or is everything not so bad? A look at Great Britain, where the new virus variant first “ran riot” in Europe, gives cause for cautious optimism.ConsequencesSwitzerland is preparing for a monster wave. Taskforce President Tanja Stadler designed a dramatic scenario on Tuesday. The Omikron variant could result in several thousand hospital admissions and up to 300 intensive care patients per week in January. There will be staff shortages “at every corner and end”.>> Corona virus: All news in the live ticker
In view of the highly contagious virus variant, experts do not speak of a wave, but of an omicron wall. However, Stadler outlined the extreme case. Federal Councilor Alain Berset said on Wednesday that the situation was “uncertain and difficult to interpret”. There is “no reason for alarmism or the all-clear”. If you look abroad, you are inclined to agree with the Minister of Health. In Europe, the omicron wave seems to move from west to east. Nevertheless, it is irritating that in France the number of cases is shooting through the roof and hospital admissions are also increasing, while the situation in Germany is (still) manageable. It may be worth taking a look at Great Britain, where omicron was first detected in Europe and the wall is already there had “piled up” in December. The capital London was hit particularly hard. A week before Christmas, Mayor Sadiq Khan declared the state of emergency. Every tenth inhabitant is said to have been infected with omicron. But how does it look today?

The case numbers

Omicron has “pulverized” the contaminations with Alpha and Delta. Immediately after the New Year, the value of 2500 cases per million inhabitants was exceeded. Recently, however, the curve has been declining. According to the BBC, this may be due to the fact that the number of tests is not keeping up with the number of infections. In Switzerland, too, the number of unreported cases is likely to be higher.

The hospitals

The situation in the hospitals is much more meaningful, and here it actually looks as if the omicron peak in Great Britain has been exceeded. The number of hospital admissions had risen from under 1,000 in mid-December to around 2,200 per day, but recently there has been no further increase. There was a decline in the “hotspot” London. The experts still do not want to give the all-clear. They refer to the return to schools or to the workplace. There could also be a renewed surge if the UK government lifts the relatively mild restrictions it imposed ahead of the bank holiday. But the feared extreme scenario is unlikely to happen.

The children

There are disturbing reports that Omicron is leading to increased hospitalizations of children. They mainly come from the USA. The experiences from Great Britain can partly confirm this. In particular, children under the age of 5 who cannot be vaccinated have been increasingly hospitalized since the beginning of the wave. The good news is that serious illnesses are rare. According to “iNews”, government experts assume that in most cases the children only have to go to the hospital as a precautionary measure. There are also significantly fewer hospitalizations for children up to the age of 18 than for all other age groups, especially those over 65.

The mutations

On Wednesday, Alain Berset peddled the often-heard assertion that mutations are generally becoming increasingly less dangerous. It is hardly shared in the professional world, because previous experience with Corona also speaks against it. The kingdom experienced its worst phase a year ago with the alpha variant discovered in England. At the beginning of 2021, hospital admissions peaked in London. Image: keystone Delta also led to an escalation in many countries. There is no guarantee that a more dangerous mutant will not appear again after the probably rather “mild” Omicron. Because viruses mutate, that’s in their nature. And as long as the virus is circulating in such large numbers and many people are not immune, the danger will not be averted. The good news is that vaccination still offers good protection. Although the number of antibodies seems to decrease relatively quickly even after a booster, the so-called T cells are considerably more robust. And they work against omicrons, as a study by the University of Cape Town shows. This also protects the hospitals from overload.

The immunity

Great Britain had one advantage: Even before Omicron, only about five percent of the population was neither vaccinated nor recovered and therefore without immune protection. Most of the serious omicron cases fell in this group, writes the Guardian. In Switzerland, according to figures from last October, around 80 percent were “infected”. In some cantons such as Vaud, it was perhaps 90 percent. This results in a relatively large risk potential. The “horror scenario” of the task force is not entirely out of thin air. And even if the wave is brief, Omicron will not simply disappear. Nevertheless, the experiences from Great Britain are encouraging. Declining case numbers in combination with basic immunity and antiviral drugs could lead to overcoming the crisis. “We can definitely plan for a future where we treat Covid like other diseases, but we’re not there yet,” Edinburgh University epidemiologist Rowland Kao told The Guardian.

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