At the start of July, one in eighteen people in the UK were infected with Covid because of two new Omicron sub-variants. How worried should we be about rising cases?
“Now BA.4 / 5 does seem to be turning out to be a bigger problem than people had anticipated, indeed than I had anticipated, there are increased hospitalisations…”Dr John Campbell, retired A&E nurse and YouTuber
That’s Dr John Campbell. He’s a retired A&E nurse known for his YouTube videos commenting on the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Now new cases of Covid are the highest in the UK now, today, than they have ever been in the entire pandemic. We’re setting new records with these omicron variants…”Dr John Campbell, retired A&E nurse and YouTuber
And he’s right to raise the alarm.
In the first week of July, around 3.5 million people were infected with coronavirus in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics.
That’s one in eighteen people.
But it’s not just the UK experiencing the latest coronavirus wave.
“Covid-19 cases making a comeback and climbing nationwide as the CDC now estimates that 65 per cent of those cases are linked to the newest sub-variant of Omicron BA5, that number believed to be even higher considering the results of most at-home tests go unreported.”abc News report
Over the last two weeks, global cases of Covid have increased by 30 per cent according to the World Health Organisation.
The driver behind that rise?
Two Omicron sub-variants called BA.4 and BA.5.
So, how worried should we be?
“The dominant variant was first BA.1 then BA.2 then BA.2.12.1 and on and on, then you get to BA.4 BA.5 which clearly has a transmission advantage.”Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to US President Joe Biden, MSNBC News
That’s Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to US President Joe Biden, speaking to MSNBC.
“It’s something we absolutely need to take seriously, it has a transmission advantage over the prior variants that were dominant.”Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to US President Joe Biden, MSNBC News
The latest sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, are very similar to each other.
They were first spotted by scientists in South Africa in April, and have since been detected in dozens of countries.
BA.4 and BA.5 each carry their own unique mutations, which include changes to what’s known as the viral spike protein.
The viral spike protein is a bit like a disguise.
It changes its shape to dodge our immune defences, which is why people who are vaccinated or have already had Omicron are still getting infected.
Here’s Dr John Campbell again.
“Omicron is poorly immunogenic. That means that catching it offers little protection of catching it again. This is not what we had expected. We’d expected herd immunity, it clearly is not happening because of all these new variants, we’re moving to endemicity but it’s very disappointing this has happened.”Dr John Campbell, retired A&E nurse and YouTuber
And not only does this latest mutation help dodge our immune defences, but it’s also increased its transmissibility.
Contagious diseases are measured by the basic reproduction number, R0.
This is the average number of people an initial case infects in a population with no immunity.
The original Wuhan strain for Covid had an R0 number of 3.3, the Delta variant was 5.1, the first Omicron variant was 9.5. And a study that’s due to be published in South Africa suggests BA.4 / 5 has an R0 number of around 18.1.
That’s similar to measles, which until the coronavirus pandemic, was the UK’s most infectious viral disease.
So, how is the government responding?
“Two new variants and the unpredictable nature of the virus means anyone over the age of 50 will now be offered a booster vaccine in the autumn.”ITV news report
The UK government has announced that anyone over the age of 50 will be offered an autumn covid booster and a flu jab.
Frontline health and social care workers, as well as adult carers will also be offered the jabs.
The decision came after guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Here’s Professor Anthony Harnden who sits on that committee speaking to ITV News.
“It will be more than a year since they had their vaccination and actually we’re seeing quite good evidence of weighing immunity, particularly to new variants after about three or four months, so we thought we’d take a precautionary approach. We don’t know quite what other viruses are going to be circulating and what interaction they may have with Covid.”Professor Anthony Harnden, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, speaking to ITV News
But apart from another round of jabs for some, the government is doing little to slow the spread of the latest sub-variant.
That’s despite a rise in the number of Covid patients being admitted to hospitals, which is putting pressure on an NHS that’s already tackling a huge backlog from the pandemic.
Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.