Philip Thomas

Unless Omicron changes everything, Covid is on the way out

There are good reasons to be concerned about the Omicron variant. For starters, this strain has 50 mutations, twice as many as Delta. Early reports from South Africa, where the virus has been circulating for a while, suggest it’s outcompeting Delta and spreading rapidly. There is a concern, too, that it could blunt the vaccines, because more than half of the new mutations affect the spike protein that the jabs are designed against. But all of this is theoretical: we need real-world data. So we won’t know whether it really is more transmissible, or how the vaccines perform against it, until long after Christmas. The concern, for now, remains Delta, as Chris Whitty said last week.

On that front, the news is better. My mathematical model, which I developed at the University of Bristol, has been charting and forecasting the pandemic. Called the Predictor Corrector Coronavirus Filter (PCCF) it has been pretty accurate so far. Today, it shows that cases stopped rising at the end of October.

There is better news, still. Despite the R-rate rising every day for the past three weeks, it has so far stayed below the critical value of 1.0 during November (above 1 and the pandemic grows; below 1 and it shrinks).

The key question is: how severe will illness from Omicron be? The initial information on this front is encouraging.

What’s more, is that daily new cases reported in England on Saturday, Sunday and Monday each fell below what they were a week before. The PCCF model suggests that the R-rate has now stabilised below 1.0, so cases will continue to fall.

The PCCF is also predicting a gradual fall in daily hospitalisations from now on (though there may be a slight rebound caused by extra mixing over Christmas and New Year). But we are not likely to see many days when more than 800 people are hospitalised in England from now on.

Deaths are likely to follow a similar general trend.

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