The Omicron Variation

It’s nothing at all, if you’re a Republican who knows that Donald Trump is still president and will be reinstated as president any day now. It was all made up. It was all nonsense. And no one really died. Or, alternatively, it’s the end of the world as we know it, if you don’t believe any of that. This new Covid variant will ruin us all. This new Covid variant will ruin the world. So yes, here we go again. Masks and lockdowns and hospitals overwhelmed and another shutdown of the whole economy, sadly necessary, so that another million people don’t die this time.

Neither position is rational, but money talks. Sell everything if the economy is about to collapse. Get out now. Convert to cash. Or, if the economy is about to soar, or just grow slowly forever and forever, buy everything in sight while it’s still relatively cheap. Dive in. Get in on this early.

And money talked. This was the end of the world as we know it, but maybe not:

Stock futures moved higher in overnight trading Sunday following Friday’s big sell-off as investors monitor the latest developments related to the Covid omicron variant.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 243 points, or 0.7%. S&P 500 futures added 0.96% and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 1.19%.

Stocks are coming off a holiday-shortened session Friday in which the Dow posted its worst day since October 2020. The Dow was down 905 points, or 2.5%. The S&P 500 tumbled 2.3% and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 2.2%. The three major indexes were negative for the week.

The panic and apparent crash were a Black Friday thing, a day-after-Thanksgiving thing, a holiday-shortened half-day of trading thing. No one had time to think this through, but then they did think this through. Maybe this wasn’t the end of the world. But maybe it was. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were dropping by midnight. The gains would be gone by dawn. No one really knew what to make of this:

“The pandemic and COVID variants remain one of the biggest risks to markets, and are likely to continue to inject volatility over the next year(s). It’s hard to say at this point how lasting or impactful this latest variant will be for markets,” Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer at Truist Advisory Services, said in a note Friday.

The World Health Organization on Friday labeled the omicron strain a “variant of concern.” While scientists continue to research the variant, omicron’s large number of mutations has raised alarm. Preliminary evidence suggests the strain has an increased risk of reinfection, according to the WHO.

But no one knows for sure, and Kevin Drum suggests this:

The recently discovered Omicron variation of the COVID-19 virus provides us with two immediate options:

Calm down and wait for the epidemiologists to tell us just how dangerous it is.

Start the countermeasures now before exponential growth has a chance to really get exponential.

These are both bits of advice I’ve been hearing from people I trust to have reasonable opinions, but they are diametrically opposed to each other.

What’s the answer?

The Biden administration is working on that answer, or set of answers, as the Washington Post reports here:

The Biden administration is focusing on booster shots as a key weapon in efforts to protect the nation against a potentially dangerous coronavirus variant even as the extent of the threat remains unclear, the White House said Sunday.

Booster shots? That’s it? Well, that’s it for now, because no one knows much yet:

A group of senior health officials had a call with South African scientists Sunday to review the latest on the new variant and to help inform next steps, according to two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

In an update Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it is still too early to know whether the new variant, dubbed omicron, is more transmissible than the delta variant. There remains little understanding about the severity of illness caused by the variant and the rate of hospitalization. Scientists in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, said they expect more breakthrough cases in people vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In short, they don’t know much at all, but they do expect that this one will get around any defense from any vaccine. That’s their best guess. Now they need facts to confirm or deny that. But some things can’t wait:

Researchers could soon have a better indication of how well vaccines protect against the new variant. But the Biden administration is already moving to urge as many Americans as possible to receive booster shots in coming days as the best means to protect against omicron.

That campaign is likely to involve messages urging people to get boosters and efforts to make sure the shots are available in as many locations as possible.

Every single Republican will scream bloody murder. The Biden administration knows nothing yet, and this could be nothing. And vaccines are stupid at best and deadly dangerous at worst. They kill people. Just ask Tucker Carlson.

Biden listens to that other guy:

“The vaccinated people, the thing that we know for sure is that when you boost someone who’s been vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, you increase the level of neutralizing antibodies extraordinarily high – many fold higher than even the peak following the first two doses,” Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Fauci said “it is quite conceivable if not likely” that booster shots will provide at least a partial shield of protection against the new variant.

So, they’ll go with that. Better safe than sorry. Let every registered Republican in America scream:

Biden on Sunday met with Fauci and members of the White House covid-19 response team. Fauci told Biden it would take about two more weeks before there was more information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of the variant, but stressed that he believed vaccines would continue to provide a degree of protection, according to a White House account of the meeting.

The White House said the covid response team’s recommendation was for all adults to receive a booster as soon as possible and for unvaccinated adults and eligible children to get immunized. People 18 and older are eligible for booster shots.

But they know that almost all registered Republicans in America will refuse any such thing for themselves and their children. To be fair, there are many vaccinated Republicans. Donald Trump has been vaccinated. They’d just rather not talk about that. It’s the shame involved in giving in to the government, to the Deep State or whatever.

But this is just prudence:

Experts, including Fauci, have said it is highly unlikely that the vaccines offer no protection against the new variant. The WHO said it was working with “a large number of researchers around the world” to understand the impact omicron would have on existing vaccines and antivirals. Even if there is diminished protection compared with other variants, there is a benefit to increasing the number of virus-neutralizing antibodies by getting a booster shot, senior health officials and experts said.

“If you’re worried about omicron, do the same things as if you’re worried about delta. Get your boost and get fully vaccinated,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

So, that’s the plan:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased communication with state public health officials in recent days as federal disease trackers learned more from South African counterparts, according to a U.S. Health and Human Services official. That has included daily calls with state-level officials, including epidemiologists, lab directors and city and county authorities.

The White House is also organizing meetings with state health officials, members of Congress and governors during the coming days, a White House official said.

But that plan has a flaw:

While experts said boosters could be helpful in protecting against the omicron variant, some cautioned against using the additional shots at the expense of providing doses to countries where vaccination rates remain low.

Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases specialist who advised the Biden administration’s transition team on the covid-19 response, said boosters should be part of the response to the omicron variant if it is “truly immune-evading” because the additional shots significantly boost antibody levels.

But Gounder said a booster-heavy approach could mean much of the developing world remains unvaccinated, creating conditions for other variants to emerge.

You want fewer variants popping up? Get more vaccine to the developing world, and fully vaccinate the Deep South here. Think long term. Think about the next variant, and the next. Give those variants no large unvaccinated population where they can slowly mutate and then develop and grow and grow.

And forget the travel bans:

There was more blowback on the international front for the United States and European countries after nations closed their borders to travelers from southern Africa. They also faced words of caution from experts that the travel bans may be too late, with confirmed and suspected cases emerging as far away as Asia and Australia.

“By the time we have enough information to institute a travel ban, the cat’s already out of the bag, so to speak,” Nicole A. Errett, a professor at the University of Washington who has done research on public health emergency preparedness, said in an email. “Omicron has already been detected in other continents. A travel ban could in theory buy some time by reducing the spread of new seed cases, but we are talking on the order of days to weeks.”

But do something:

The appearance of a new and potentially more menacing variant raises questions about what lessons officials have learned in the two years since the novel coronavirus emerged, and whether they’re prepared for worrisome mutations that could evade vaccines.

On Sunday, Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said vaccines may be less effective against omicron, acknowledging “we just don’t know enough” about the new variant to understand the risk.

Starting Tuesday, face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England. The United Kingdom will also require all international travelers to take a PCR test, which can detect the new variant, and to self-quarantine until results are returned.

Europe is in the grips of an increasingly deadly outbreak of the fast-spreading delta variant that has prompted officials in some countries to revert to measures such as shutdowns used to control the virus in the early days of the pandemic.

This is doing more of the same, but this time catching things early:

U.S. officials said they jumped into action after learning that the new variant contained long-feared mutations and appeared to descend from a different genetic lineage than delta. Senior officials such as Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and others began discussions with government scientists, South African officials and vaccine manufacturers that intensified on Thanksgiving Day.

The world’s major manufacturers of coronavirus vaccines, including Pfizer and BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, said they are working to investigate the new variant and adapt their shots if needed.

But wait:

Experts cautioned that the flurry of activity to fight omicron may turn out to be largely unnecessary, as researchers learn in coming days whether current vaccines can ward off the variant or successfully limit symptoms.

“Not all covid-19 variants cause trouble. For example, lambda and mu have not taken off globally. So it is possible that the new variant, omicron, could hopefully fizzle out,” said Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious-diseases expert at the Australian National University.

But it might not fizzle out. Better safe than sorry. Some people do think that way:

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency Friday in response to a cold-weather surge of coronavirus infections and the threat of the newly detected omicron variant, making her state one of the first in the country to impose measures against the mutation that was recently sequenced in southern Africa.

As part of the emergency, the state’s health department will be allowed to protect hospital capacity by limiting nonessential and non-urgent care until at least Jan. 15. Hospitals with less than 10 percent staffed bed capacity, or those designated by the state, will be authorized to screen patients and restrict admissions to keep beds open for the most urgent cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that omicron had not yet been detected in the United States, but Hochul said of the variant: “It’s coming.”

She also urged New Yorkers to mask up in indoor public venues, get tested when appropriate and stay home when ill.

That’s not a mandate yet. But it might be one soon:

New York has fully vaccinated slightly over two thirds of its residents. Close to 80 percent of the state’s 20 million residents have received at least one dose, according to the governor’s office. But Hochul noted in her executive order that the virus is transmitting at rates not seen since April 2020, when New York was at the center of the global pandemic.

“This is a concerning development that we must watch extremely closely, and be prepared to address as a city, state and country,” said New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams said of omicron in a statement. “Our health officials must have response options available should it prove to be significantly more virulent.”

Keep all options open. Be prepared. Be a coward and hate freedom. James Downie covers the Republican view of this:

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads around the world, it’s worth remembering that its existence is a reminder of the importance of high vaccination rates. The omicron variant was first detected in southern Africa, which has been woefully under-vaccinated thanks to the failure of wealthier nations to deliver sufficient supplies of vaccines. If only Republican lawmakers, after more than 777,000 deaths in the United States and the overwhelming success of vaccines for millions of Americans, would finally stop undercutting mandates and other policies to boost vaccination rates here at home.

But that will never happen:

On Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Features,” for example, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) pointed to recent declines in covid-19 cases and deaths in Florida as a victory for “natural” immunity. “In some studies that I have read,” she said, “natural immunity gives you 27 times more protection against future covid infection than a vaccination. And so we need to take all of the science into account and not selectively choosing what scienc to follow when we are making policy decisions.”

Mace is likely referring to one Israeli study (not “studies”), which did indeed find what she claimed. But speaking of “selectively choosing what science to follow,” Mace didn’t mention that other studies have found the opposite.

More broadly, pitting natural immunity against vaccination is itself misleading Americans. As the Washington Post recently reported, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of more than 90 studies and papers found that “for people who have been infected, vaccination provides a boost in the immune response and further reduces the risk of a repeat infection.”

And at that point James Downie becomes Captain Obvious:

To imply that people should become infected rather than getting a shot is dangerous – especially when the former comes with a massive death toll.

But people do that. The conservative radio host Dennis Prager did just that – he went out of his way to get Covid-19 and did just that, as an alternative to any evil government vaccine, and then he took every known drug to recover, and lived. Others have died, but he lived. He recommends that, but Downie is more interested in others:

Over on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) similarly played with the gray area of natural immunity. “We have 1.6 million Mississippians that have been vaccinated. That’s not enough,” he admitted. “But in talking to our state health officers, we believe that somewhere between 80 to 85 percent of Mississippians have some level of immunity, either natural immunity or immunity from having taken the shots.”

So why not support vaccine mandates to boost that natural immunity and help those who don’t have it? Reeves argued that the president’s effort has backfired, “hardening those individuals who were not interested in getting vaccinated.”

Biden offended the common man’s idea of freedom. This is Biden’s fault, although Downie notes this:

It’s true that one’s vaccination status heavily correlates with their political views. But by his own logic, a united, bipartisan front in favor of mandates would go a long way toward softening that resistance. Instead, Reeves is silent.

But wait, there’s more:

Also silent is Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “Vaccines work,” he first acknowledged on Fox News Sunday. But then the man who styles himself “Wyoming’s doctor” repeated Reeves’s flimsy talking point that the president’s mandate “hardened” vaccine skeptics. He then tried to frame the mandate as an economic mistake as well: “We have 10 million job openings in this country and yet the president, with his mandate, wants to fire people who have been going to work every day since the pandemic started.” Never mind that the minimal job losses from vaccine-related firings would be dwarfed by job losses from a protracted pandemic.

Downie is a bit fed up:

Most politicians are acutely sensitive to public opinion, but usually less so when it comes to matters of life and death. Not so with today’s GOP. Just as it’s become trendy among Republican governors to fund projects protecting against “extreme weather events” – while refusing to utter the words “climate change” – it’s hard to shake the feeling that most Republican lawmakers know vaccines are by far the best hope for dealing with the virus, but are too scared of voters to support mandates or other policies that would boost vaccine uptake. Instead, they cite misleading statistics, accuse others of “politicizing” the issue and offer thin excuses.

And thus there will be new variants forever. That’s freedom!

That’s nonsense. Republicans admire tough-as-nails Israel, at least the Zionist Likud Party Netanyahu Israel that wants to wipe out the Palestinians everywhere in the world, and wipe out Iran too. They’re no sissies. They will laugh at this omicron nonsense, but that’s not what they did:

Israel on Saturday said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant, and said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told N12’s Meet the Press, “and that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”

Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said. The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday. A travel-ban on foreigners coming from most African states was imposed on Friday.

Better safe than sorry, and sometimes personal freedom is bullshit:

The Shin Bet counter-terrorism agency’s phone-tracking technology will be used to locate carriers of the new variant in order to curb its transmission to others, Bennett said.

Used on and off since March 2020, the surveillance technology matched virus carriers’ locations against other mobile phones nearby to determine with whom they had come into contact. Israel’s Supreme Court this year limited the scope of its use after civil rights groups mounted challenges over privacy concerns.

But they will still do what’s necessary:

Israel has so far confirmed one case of Omicron, with seven suspected cases. The Health Ministry has not said whether the confirmed case was vaccinated. Three of the seven suspected cases were fully vaccinated, the ministry said on Saturday, and three had not returned from travel abroad recently.

Israel isn’t going to mess around with this. We will. Better safe than sorry? We’d rather be sorry.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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