Shortcuts / 13 January 2022

COVID in 2022

It’s a new year, but an old story… COVID is still here, and now the Omicron variant is ripping through our communities and the world at a rapid pace. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we take a look at the latest on Omicron, what Omicron’s game-plan might be, and what’s being said about when this pandemic will be over.

So Omicron’s quite a thing, eh?
It sure is… It was just a few weeks ago that Omicron was the shiny, bewildering new thing to hit the COVID scene, and since then it’s made its mark.

You can say that again…
Yep, it’s exponential mathematics in action. It was just 2 weeks ago that Australia hit 10,000 cases a day for the first time. And then very quickly, we were up past 100,000 cases a day.

So where’s the tally up to?
At the start of December, Australia had recorded just over 200,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. By the first of January there had been 430,000 cases recorded, and this week we cracked one million cases.

Is that right? Because getting tested has been difficult…
It has, and a lot has been said about officials losing control of the count because it’s thought that many Aussies have gotten COVID in recent weeks and they didn’t get a PCR test because the queues have been incredibly long. Registering positive take-at-home rapid tests is now a thing, so we’ll have to see what numbers come from that. 

And there have been a few changes to the COVID rules too, right?
Now that vaccination rates are high, there’s been a whole raft of changes made in recent weeks because of how Omicron has taken hold, including who is considered a close contact.

What’s the latest on that?
These days, you’re a close contact if you live with someone who has COVID. And there are changes for those deemed close contacts, with many able to return to work if they are in critical industries like food transport and distribution. 

And high vaxx rates mean plenty of restrictions have been lifted which has contributed to the spread…
They have, but some like crowd limits have been reintroduced during this period. 

What’s the deal with hospitalisation rates?
So with all those cases, it’s hardly surprising that the number of people in hospitals has increased, especially in NSW and Victoria. There are currently 5,000 people in hospital with COVID and 306 of those are in intensive care.

What do officials have to say about that?
That the intensive care rate is lower than during the Delta outbreak, and that the majority of people in intensive care have the Delta strain of the virus.

And most of those in hospital are unvaccinated?
Yep, and that’s something the World Health Organisation backs up. It says that of those experiencing severe cases worldwide in recent weeks, 90% are unvaccinated.

In terms of that surge of cases, Australia’s not on its own with what we’re experiencing with Omicron…
We certainly are not – the WHO says global cases has increased by 71% in the last week on the week before. And one notable development to call out: this week the US recorded more than one million COVID cases in 24 hours.

Wow… So what do we do?
We’ve heard advice from officials saying “get prepared” and have your paracetamol and ibuprofen to hand because it’s not unreasonable to expect we’re going to get it.

Is that what other countries are going through?
Yes. To use South Africa as any example (and remember it is a few weeks ahead of us on this) – it saw a rapid explosion of infections followed by a swift, sharp decline.

So why don’t cases just keep rising?
That’s because the virus spreads to so many people so quickly that the people who are infected don’t get to see enough susceptible people before they recover. Sydney University infectious diseases expert Robert Booy says “the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long”.

Gotcha. So that’s a good thing, right?
The experts say no. That’s because of the pressure it puts on the health care system. That rapid speed of infection means more people get it at the same time, which is a real strain on health resources – and across the economy.

And we’re seeing that play out now…
We are. It’s been a real struggle in areas like food distribution and keeping essential services open.

We’re soon to enter the 3rd year of the COVID era. Are we any closer to putting COVID behind us?
Well, international travel’s restarting, and domestic borders are open or due to open soon. And we’ve been told that lockdowns are a thing of the past. So we’re all set for 2022 being the year for COVID-normal to kick in.

Why do I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming? 
But… There is some way to go for the COVID pandemic to become endemic.

What’s that?
It means a disease that’s regularly found, but the virus is behaving more predictably and mildly thanks to high rates of immunity.

So COVID’s still circulating?
It is – all the time. But it’s not a huge deal because the outbreaks are not spreading much beyond specific pockets of the population. 

Right. It would be good to get to that phase ASAP…
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And that all comes down to our immunity, how long it lasts after an infection or vaccination, and if recurring booster shots will be needed.

And is that why some experts have said that Omicron may not necessarily be a bad thing?
Yep, so those including our Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly say the spread of a mild form of COVID wouldn’t be a bad thing because it could help boost the world’s immunity.

And is that Omicron?
Maybe. But the WHO has warned the world not to get too cosy with the variant. They just don’t know enough about it yet. 

Can you give me a date for when this will go from pandemic to endemic?
No one can give us a date. Some say a couple of years. Others say it could take a bit longer depending on how quickly vaccinating the world’s developing countries can be done.

Ugh…
We hear you… But the WHO says 2022 could mark the end of COVID’s acute stage.

That’s something, but it seems like we’re in it for the long haul…
That’s for sure.

Squiz recommends:

Pfizer chief Albert Bourla’s interview with the Wall Street Journal’s podcast The Journal

How to MeditateThe New York Times

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