We're beginning to see some early signs of what OMICRON can do. Bruce Arthur writes:
Omicron appears to be extraordinarily transmissible. Cases in South Africa are doubling every two to three days. [Dr. Peter] Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s independent volunteer science table, says if first-wave COVID had a basic reproduction number of 3 — meaning one case created three more, on average — then Alpha was a 4.5, and Delta is a 7, Omicron appears to be in the 10-15 range, meaning one case can cause 10 to 15 cases with no safety measures. A Christmas party in Oslo resulted in more than half of a fully vaccinated room getting infected. Measles, for the record, is a 12-18, and is so infectious that you could catch it standing in the same room.
Nonetheless, vaccination is the best tool we have to deal with it:
Vaccination remains our best tool, from what experts can discern. Juni has been going over data with South African colleagues and the table all week. And on the most central point, Juni is cautiously hopeful.
“The preliminary data we have clearly points towards that the protection against hospital admission continues with full vaccination also for Omicron,” said Juni. “The data on vaccination is limited: we have vaccination status of those admitted, so it’s incomplete data, right? But it’s a very clear pattern. So I believe even if the data to a certain extent are biased, we will continue to see what they’re seeing and you know, the data right now are accumulating on a daily basis.”
A lot hangs on how virulent Omicron will be. There are anecdotal stories of milder symptoms from South Africa, which is worth hoping for. But unless Omicron is much less virulent than Delta — perhaps 10 times less in the unvaccinated, according to Juni — the increase in transmission rate would likely swamp Ontario hospitals, in the absence of other public health measures.
This is no time to abandon public health measures -- regardless of what certain people tell you.