It’s been a while since I wrote anything about COVID-19 however, I thought it might be worth a little update. Since I stopped updating charts daily, there have been substantial changes to testing and reporting including the ending of free Lateral flow tests. For that reason, I am not going to report on positive test results here. Indeed, as we move from pandemic to endemic COVID such figures become less and less significant because what really matters now is first of all the pressure on health services and secondly the risk of serious mortality.
Here’s the most up to date hospital admission data.
As you can see, following the drop off from the initial Omicron spike in December, cases began to climb again after the February half term break. This fed through into hospital admissions and we were back in a similar position to late December. There seem to have been a few potential causes to this.
First, there are different strains of Omicron circulating and some seem to be even more virulent still. Secondly, we always expected the Omicron wave to keep transmission high into the Spring partly because of vaccine waning and partly because people would be circulating more as restrictions were fully relaxed (at this time of year it was likely to be primarily indoor mixing). Thirdly, the booster jab probably helped to dampen transmission significantly as well as reduce disease severity but there were early indications that benefits in terms of transmission reduction would be short lived. So there will be some immunity waning.
You may remember that I personally expected the real drop off in Omicron cases to come from April onwards helped by the Easter holidays, improvement in weather.
However, admissions provide only part of the picture, not least because these include incidental admissions where patients are admitted with rather than because of COVID. A less deadly but more widespread/faster transmitting strain is likely to lead to more people going into hospital with the illness even though that’s not the primary cause. So, what we really are concerned about is the impact on ICU beds where people require mechanical ventilation.
As you can see, even the first spike in Omicron cases did not lead to a spike in ICU care and this later second surge in cases has had even less of an impact here. COVID as it stands now is a much less serious threat to health and life than it was prior to the vaccination programme.
Our final chart looks at mortality
Once again, we can see that the latest wave has peaked. Furthermore, this chart again emphasises that COVID no longer carries the same serious risk to life that it did during the first two waves (Spring 2020 and Winter 2020-21).
There is of course always the possibility that a new variant will change things again, there may be a vaccine evading variant which transmits more easily and causes more serious illness. However, it is also possible that as with Omicron future variants will prove no more deadly and in fact cause less of a risk to health. This is because increasingly through a combination of vaccine and repeat exposure, we are building up immunity to a not so novel virus.
There are a couple of implications for this. First, there are still some people living in real fear of the virus and there are those who stoke this fear with repeated calls to bring back restrictions. I think the evidence is strong that people do not need to live in fear and that going about your normal business without facemasks and such like is perfectly legitimate.
Secondly I think we have a clear idea of what our future response to the virus should look like. It is highly likely that there will be further seasonal waves of the virus. This does not need to bring a halt to normal life. It remains my opinion that we should build in surge capacity so that the NHS can cope. Additionally, effort should be put into reducing the number of patients who need to become inpatients and ensure that more and more cases are treated at home.