Michael Simmons

Sturgeon: all cases will be Omicron by Christmas

Sturgeon: all cases will be Omicron by Christmas
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Nicola Sturgeon has said that Scotland should expect a ‘tsunami’ of Covid cases, so has said Christmas parties should be cancelled and household contacts of any positive case — Omicron or not — should isolate for ten days regardless of vaccination status. Given that Scotland and England have very similar Covid profiles (both in waves and vaccination) this is relevant to the whole of the UK. But what especially jumps out is the prediction from Scottish government modelling that Omicron will account for all Covid cases by Christmas.

Her document: Omicron in Scotland — evidence paper released during Sturgeon’s TV appearance pointed to modelling to suggest that half of new cases could be Omicron by Monday.

By Christmas 100 per cent of cases would be Omicron under the modelled scenario. They work this out by looking for one trait of Omicron: the S-gene dropout (PCR tests look for three markers: the S-gene is one of those three. The Kent (Alpha) and Omicron variants both have two of these three as positive but the S-gene as negative). On Wednesday 7 per cent of Scottish Covid tests had S-gene dropout. A day later it had nearly doubled to 13 per cent. Extrapolating this trend has led Sturgeon to her grave warnings.

Scotland’s modelling is based on estimates that doubling time is two days. It squares with the experience of South Africa where Omicron became dominant less than two weeks after it was first discovered.

If this proves true for the rest of the UK — officials think Scotland is a week ahead of England — then it would suggest Omicron will account for all British Covid by the new year. This also raises questions about the point of the “red list” which is supposed to protect the UK from Omicron. That particular cat seems to be out of the bag.

Those wondering what Boris Johnson has in store for England’s Christmas should keep a close eye on Sturgeon as the Prime Minister's vaccine passports scheme is a carbon copy of the one announced in Scotland in September (which a 70-page evidence document found not to have made any measurable difference.)

What remains to be seen is the severity of the Omicron illness. Is it worse than Delta, or far milder? Early data from South Africa points to the latter, but it should not be long until we have some UK data. Whether Johnson will wait for those figures before cancelling English Christmas parties is another question.