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What sort of Covid Christmas will it be?

6 December 2021

Exactly a week ago, well ahead of the mainstream media, I suggested in this column that the new omicron variant of CV19 could be a good thing.

A variant of the virus that produces far milder symptoms and is far more transmissible could effectively act as a vaccination that might protect the people of the world from other strains that hospitalise or kill.

This is apparently how the Spanish Flu pandemic effectively disappeared into the background after ravaging the world's population early last century so there are good grounds to believe that we're seeing the same thing happen again right now.

Latest reports from South Africa are cautiously optimistic.

Hospital admissions of patients with CV19-omicron have risen significantly in the past week or so but these headline figures are somewhat deceptive.

Apparently most of these admissions are "incidental" CV19-omicron cases.

This means that they were not admitted as a result of suffering from CV19, they were actually admitted for other reasons but, on testing, have been found to also be infected with the virus.

Given the high levels of HIV in that area, chances are that many of the admissions were for a range of other symptoms and CV19 was only picked up as a result of the mandatory screening for all new admissions.

Elsewhere in the world we're seeing a massive growth in the number of CV19-omicron cases but there has yet to be a corresponding uptick in hospitalisations or deaths.

Of course it is early-days and there is always a 10-14 day lag between infections and hospitalisations so it is still too early to definitively state that omicron is the variant that will effectively spell the end of the pandemic. However, many fingers are crossed and so far things are looking exceptionally good.

If things are as we hope, this will leave the New Zealand government with a very tricky decision to make.

Do they continue to work hard to keep CV19-omicron out of the country or do they welcome it with open arms and leave it to do its work as a natural immunisation agent?

What a dilemma!

Almost certainly some will die of omicron (likely those who are very old or have pre-existing conditions) but many others could be saved as a result of the milder immunising effect of this strain. The abilty of omicron to effectively sidestep the effects of vaccination means that the vulnerable could still be at significant risk if they catch this (hopefully) milder variant

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Once omicron becomes well established in New Zealand, do we simply dismantle all the protections (masks, vaccine passports, gathering limits, etc) so as to ensure it spreads as quickly and widely as possible? Or do we continue to try and restrict its spread and just hope that we don't get yet another variant appearing that revives the severity of symptoms before herd immunity is complete?

I strongly suspect that our political overlords will keep the current protection mechanisms in place for as long as they can because that carries the benefit of plausible deniability if it turns out to be the wrong choice.

Whatever the outcome it's starting to look as if the nature of the pandemic is about to change significantly in the next 4-6 weeks. By the end of this time we'll either be almost back to normal or things will be bad, very, very bad.

Fortunately I'm an eternal optimist so I'm looking forward to ditching these damned masks on hot summer's days.

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