OPINION - Omicron: Better for you, worse for the NHS?

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

The data, revealed by Politico this morning, confirms what has been cautiously suspected for weeks. The Omicron variant generally leads to less severe symptoms than Delta.

The thing is, we don’t yet know why. Is it inherently more mild? If so, very cool. Or is it simply that, in Britain and South Africa at least, it is encountering populations with either high vaccination rates or widespread previous infection, or a combination of the two?

Whatever the reason, we mustn’t shift our focus away from the central problem with Omicron: it’s sheer transmissibility. Because a small percentage of a large number is still a very large number indeed.

For even if you, on an individual level, have a smaller chance of requiring hospitalisation with Omicron, the number of people infected may be so great that patients who do require treatment simply overwhelm the health system. In that scenario, more people could die not due to its severity per se, but because the NHS ran out of critical care beds.

That conundrum – not guesses around Omicron’s severity differential over Delta – is why you are likely to be reading this newsletter from home, why you may not be visiting grandma this Christmas or seeing the Nutcracker at the London Coliseum.

It is also why, frankly, people are losing patience with the unvaxxed. As we write in today’s leader column, we cannot go on being held hostage by unvaccinated refuseniks.

Omicron is so contagious that triple-vaccinated, mask-wearing, Christmas party-cancelling folk are still catching it. But they stand a much, much better chance of staying out of hospital compared with the unjabbed, who are occupying 80-90 per cent of critical care beds in some London hospitals.

On Times Radio this morning, Tony Blair, the great communicator in-chief, a man who in office revelled in constructing unlikely coalitions and persuading the unpersuadable, said of the unvaccinated, “You’re not just irresponsible, you’re an idiot“.

If there were a large cohort of unvaccinated Blairites (or even Blairites), this would still not be a promising communications strategy. People generally don’t respond well to being called dumb.

A better solution – alongside a more French approach to Covid passes – would be to talk to people you know and like (in a well-ventilated room) and try to convince them otherwise. Never forgetting, there is no form of communication more powerful than that of one trusted friend talking to another.

In the comment pages, Maureen Lipman thinks cancel culture is killing comedy. Don’t make me laugh, writes arts critic Bruce Dessau.

Meanwhile, City Editor Oscar Williams-Grut reflects on 2021: the year of Reddit traders, inflation and private equity.

And finally, it wasn’t a vintage year, was it? Still, what with Bennifer 2.0, Squid Game and the rise of Emma Raducanu — it wasn’t all bad.

Laura Craik picks out some highlights, a few of which I took the liberty of date stamping to confirm they did really take place in 2021 AD.

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