Laboratory research from South Africa strongly suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant escapes antibody immunity induced by the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) vaccine, but that considerable immunity is retained in people who were both vaccinated and previously infected.
“The clinical implications of these important laboratory data need to be determined. It is likely that lesser vaccine-induced protection against infection and disease would be the result. Importantly, most vaccinologists agree that the current vaccines will still protect against severe disease and death in the face of Omicron infection. It is therefore critical that everyone should be vaccinated,” said Africa Health Research Institute executive director Professor Willem Hanekom.
The research has been submitted to medRxiv. To access an advance copy of the manuscript, click here.
“The threat from Omicron is enormous”. NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg says the Omicron variant of the coronavirus can cause a lot of infection and disease, “perhaps more than before in the pandemic”.
“It seems to be easier to infect vaccinated in addition to unvaccinated,” says Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg says that it now seems that people will not get sicker from the new variant, but that more people will get sick and that this means that more people will become seriously ill as well.
The situation is serious. The government fears that a further increase in infection will lead to the health service not being able to provide all help.
– The infection must be limited so that not many people need health care at the same time, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and outlined new measures and recommendations:
– We encourage everyone to reduce the number of close contacts.
– The one meter rule is back, keep your distance.
– Recommends a maximum of 10 people at home, and 20 on Christmas Eve or another party at Christmas (if you can keep a meter distance between the guests)
– Training should take place outdoors.
– Take the vaccine.
Mandatory for facemasks if you can not keep a distance of one meter.
– Mandatory facemasks and restrictions on guests do not apply to children, who can invite more than 10 people from those they are still in a cohort with in kindergarten and school.
Very intrusive coronary restrictions are now being introduced that affect many companies. It is good that the government is acting quickly and introducing a national compensation scheme for November and December. But companies need further measures, says NHO director Ole Erik Almlid.
NHO wants to put in place a scheme for wage support, to avoid mass layoffs before Christmas.
NHO otherwise understands that the development of infection and the situation around the omicron variant necessitate new restrictions.
But Almlid is very worried about what it means for the restaurant and nightlife bars that you now get cancelled Christmas dinners and large falls in turnover.
“The death toll has increased week by week now… we are falling behind in the fight against infection,” said the chief physician at the University Hospital of Northern Norway, Mats Gilbert. “The number of corona inpatients who need intensive care is higher than before, and it seems to be increasing”.
He also pointed out that even though Norway has high vaccination rates, it does not seem to stop the new variant from advancing. The corona pandemic has so far claimed 1,093 lives in Norway. About 17% of the deaths have occurred in the last month, the newspaper Klassekampen writes.
Norway, in terms of daily numbers, are seeing their highest ever casualty rates from Covid – up to 50 deaths on some days.
Norway and Denmark have both seen a steady increase in Covid deaths since early November, before the Omicron variant was discovered. Vaccine waning and seasonal effects on the Delta variant could be a cause, but a more infectious SARS-CoV-2 strain couldn’t have come at a worse time for either country.
We identified .. a more pronounced reduction in grey matter thickness, and … a greater reduction in global measures of brain size and increase in cerebrospinal fluid volume.
“we identified respectively 68 and 67 significant longitudinal effects associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in the brain, including, on average: (i) a more pronounced reduction in grey matter thickness and contrast in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (min P=1.7×10 -4 , r=-0.14) and parahippocampal gyrus (min P=2.7×10 -4 , r=-0.13), (ii) a relative increase of diffusion indices, a marker of tissue damage, in the regions of the brain functionally-connected to the piriform cortex, anterior olfactory nucleus and olfactory tubercle (min P=2.2×10 -5 , r=0.16), and (iii) greater reduction in global measures of brain size and increase in cerebrospinal fluid volume suggesting an additional diffuse atrophy in the infected participants (min P=4.0×10 -6 , r=-0.17). When looking over the entire cortical surface, these grey matter thickness results covered the parahippocampal gyrus and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and extended to the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex, supramarginal gyrus and temporal pole. The increase of a diffusion index (mean diffusivity) meanwhile could be seen voxel-wise mainly in the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior insula, the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala”
Max Planck: “When both wear a surgical mask, while the infectious is speaking, the very conservative upper bound remains below 30% after 1 h, but, when both wear a well-fitting FFP2 mask, it is 0.4%”
We find, for a typical SARS-CoV-2 viral load and infectious dose, that social distancing alone, even at 3.0 m between two speaking individuals, leads to an upper bound of 90% for risk of infection after a few minutes.
If only the susceptible wears a face mask with infectious speaking at a distance of 1.5 m, the upper bound drops very significantly; that is, with a surgical mask, the upper bound reaches 90% after 30 min, and, with an FFP2 mask, it remains at about 20% even after 1 h.
When both wear a surgical mask, while the infectious is speaking, the very conservative upper bound remains below 30% after 1 h, but, when both wear a well-fitting FFP2 mask, it is 0.4%.
We conclude that wearing appropriate masks in the community provides excellent protection for others and oneself, and makes social distancing less important.
The outbreak with the corona variant Omicron is now so widespread in Viborg Municipality that the municipality can no longer stay within the Danish Agency for Patient Safety’s guidelines.
The rules from the Danish Agency for Patient Safety say that both those infected with the Omicron variant, close contacts and close contacts to close contacts must be in isolation. However, as Omicron has already spread a lot in the municipality, the many repatriated employees create problems, especially in elderly care.
“We have to break the guidelines. We encourage close contacts to close contacts to show up at the nursing homes, and then they get a full suit, bandage or visor on. We do it, because otherwise we can not maintain the critical operation,” says municipal director of Viborg Municipality Lasse Jacobsen.
There has been a significant rise in new SARS-CoV-2 infections in the Gauteng Province in the last four weeks which has been attributed to the new Omicron variant announced on 24 November 2021. The first cases of Omicron were detected in the Tshwane District and coincided with the sharp rise in new infections, heralding the onset of the fourth wave in Gauteng.
Tshwane has been the global epicentre of the Omicron Outbreak and the Gauteng Province Fourth Wave with the weekly number of cases rising exponentially over several weeks, reaching just over 8569 cases in Epi Week 47 (21 November -November 27 and 41 921 by 3 December before the end of Epi Week 48 (28 November to 4 December). The exponential rise in cases has continued with 9929 new cases reported in Tshwane in the last 5 days from 29 November to 3 December 2021 (Figure 1).
We report on the early experience of the patient profile at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria, in the heart of the Tshwane District.
South African health care workers are raising concern about the growing number of children being hospitalised with moderate to severe symptoms of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Head of Intensive Care at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, Dr Rudo Mathivha says the situation is worrying because the hospital isn’t built to admit a high number of sick young children.
She says a 15-year-old died after the child’s condition deteriorated rapidly following a COVID-19 infection, and a 17-year-old is in ICU with coronavirus-related pneumonia.
Update: 4th December 2021
“Sometimes my entire body feels like it’s humming and trembling. It’s like I’m sitting on a huge speaker with the volume all the way up.”
“Internal vibrations started about 3 weeks after. They started in my back and back of upper thighs. It felt like I was sitting on a vibration massage chair. They never went away but would vary in intensity. February 2021 I started having restless left arm at bedtime where my left arm would ﬂap until I fell asleep. On [May 2021] it progressed to full body myoclonic movements lasting up to 30 minutes.”
“My brain shakes after a few hours inside my head, my face starts to tingle and numb, and then the full head shaking seizures start. I have severe head pain and nausea constantly from all the seizures.”
“That week of unrelieved spasms left my body barely able to move. Like paralyzed. I had 3 natural child births. I could not fake such 10/10 pain. I have never felt such intense pain, I thought my back would break and my right arm would be completely dislocated twisted out of socket. I could not breathe at times due to the Laryngeal spasms and diaphragm spasms.”
“She [Ferrer] said it was like somebody inserting a cell phone into your chest and turning off the vibration function, but they have the ability to turn it on randomly at any point in the night,”.
Two weeks ago, the department of intensive care, surgery and anesthesia at Sahlgrenska University Hospital had a training day with a closing party at a hotel in Gothenburg. The theme for the event was Covid-19. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was invited to give a lecture and should have been on site for four hours.
A few days later, several of the staff fell ill , Göteborgs-Posten reports . Of the 30 people confirmed infected with covid-19, 20 were party participants.
The head of the department, Peter Dahm, tells the newspaper that he can not deny that the infection may have spread during the party. He also says that they followed the recommendations carefully and that they saw no reason not to carry out the party. Now that staff have fallen ill, however, it may be necessary to have stricter routines in the department again, such as requirements for mouth guards or visors.
Lakartidningen.se report (in Swedish)
Norwaytoday.info report (in English)
332 individuals were identified who had three suspected infections. Most of these individuals initially tested positive during the first wave, with suspected reinfections associated with waves two and three. One of these individuals had four suspected infections. Among the individuals who have had more than one reinfection, 47 (14.2%) experienced their third infection in November 2021, which suggests that many third infections are associated with transmission of the Omicron variant.
WHO: “The overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high.”
“Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high. Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID‐19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place. The overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high.”
Coronaheadsup from August 2020:
Is Omicron another Plague Island export? Both the Alpha and Delta variants were exported across the globe from the UK because of its laissez-faire attitude to border controls. Now, it’s beginning to look like the UK may have exported another Covid variant abroad, this one mistakenly attributed to South Africa – the Omicron variant.
There is accumulating evidence that some of the Omicron cases turning up in the UK predate the first cases announced in South Africa. Why are we not surprised by that revelation?
“Scientific advisers are bracing themselves for hundreds of UK cases of the Omicron Covid variant to be confirmed in the next week or so, the Guardian has learned. Some of them may predate the earliest cases of Omicron found in South Africa last week but could still be linked to travellers returning from the country, it is understood. Evidence of community transmission also emerged on Monday.”
“According to scientists, the first indications of the new Omicron corona variant came from the African state of Botswana. In a statement at the end of last week, Botswana’s Ministry of Health emphasized that the first suspected cases involved four foreign diplomats whose nationality was not disclosed.”
N-tv.de report (in German)
Botswana’s government said Friday 26th November 2021 that the four B.1.1.529 cases reported last week actually originated with fully vaccinated diplomats who visited from elsewhere. Their home country still is not identified.
“The new virus was detected on four foreign nationals who had entered Botswana on the 7th November 2021, on a diplomatic mission,” said Botswana in a statement. The four diplomats tested positive for COVID-19 on November 11 as they were leaving, and genomic sequencing confirmed the variant on November 24.
Statement from Botswana Ministry of Health:
The BNONews Omicron tracker shows the latest infection numbers for Omicron. How can the UK have “hundreds” of cases of a variant that was first announced by South Africa less than a week ago, and that was first sequenced from samples given by four diplomats in Botswana just 18 days ago?
Omicron samples apparently have a “common ancestor 1-2 months ago”
The resulting tree has one big polytomy and a small number of notable clades.
Most sequences are within one or two mutations of the main group.
Though masking might lead to underestimates of the diversity, the resulting tree suggests a recent common ancestor 1-2 months ago. 3/5 pic.twitter.com/MytVn2yHYo
— Cornelius Roemer (@CorneliusRoemer) November 29, 2021
Evidence of the spread of Omicron earlier this summer:
Sequencing data from UK shows 2 surges of this mutation. The first was in late August (due to Alpha), and the second was in late September (not due to Alpha). Both are followed by an increase in COVID-19 cases, but more so after the second event
— Jorge A. Caballero, MD (@DataDrivenMD) November 29, 2021
Lift off in early November 2021 in North Yorkshire?
— 𝚃𝚘𝚖 𝙻𝚊𝚠𝚝𝚘𝚗 💙 (@LawtonTri) November 30, 2021
It would be quite something if Omicron started here.
— Fionna O'Leary, 🕯🇪🇺 (@fascinatorfun) December 1, 2021
Omicron was already in Europe on November 19th 2021, before it was first sequenced in South Africa:
“The omicron coronavirus variant was already in the Netherlands a week before South Africa reported the new variant to the World Health Organization, according to a Dutch health agency. The variant was recently identified in retests of samples that were taken on Nov. 19 and 23, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, or RIVM, announced on Tuesday.”
Omicron has been spreading for “weeks” apparently:
7 more cases of Omicron in England, now 42 in total. @UKHSA expects numbers to rise significantly. Some officials fear the numbers could already be in the "hundreds" and it has been spreading for weeks, I am told. pic.twitter.com/4OMA2K5UEz
— Shaun Lintern (@ShaunLintern) December 2, 2021
Triple jabbed doctor infected with Omicron after flight from London:
First London Omicron case had already left the country when confirmed infected:
Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder calls for drastic nationwide measures to break the fourth wave. “Unfortunately, to protect our health system, we have to shut down the whole country even more,” said the CSU head.
“The Leopoldina’s* warnings are a wake-up call,” he says*. “We now need consistent contact restrictions for the unvaccinated, a lockdown for hotspot regions, masks in all schools and football games without spectators.” The CSU boss warns: “Every day of waiting and hesitation is a wasted day.” The whole of Germany is headed for an emergency, “the coming federal government must no longer stand idly by”.
- The National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina recommends immediate comprehensive contact restrictions in view of the dynamic corona infection. “From a medical and epidemiological point of view, it is immediately effective to significantly reduce the number of contacts for a few weeks from the beginning of the coming week,” it says in a statement . “Due to the decreasing immunity, these measures would have to apply temporarily to vaccinated and convalescent people who have to receive a booster vaccination during this time.”
N-tv.de report (in German)
Belgium is now seeing its highest covid case rates ever, and, along with the Netherlands, it has already gone into some form of lockdown: