We’ve all been bracing for the arrival of the omicron storm here in Ireland. I has been like waiting for a tsunami know is coming and praying that the flood defences are strong enough to hold.

The wave now seems to be here, with 11,182 new cases reported today. That is by far the highest figure reported during the entire pandemic so far and it has dragged the 7-day average up to 6776.4 from yesterday’s figure of 5697.3.

I think it’s probably true to say the worst is yet to come. So far, though, the number of hospitalizations and deaths has not increased hugely; the former has, if anything been falling, and the latter is only rising slowly:

The number of Covid-19 related deaths reported in the last week was 55, which is an average of about 7.9 per day. We won’t know until the New Year whether the latest surge will drive these curves up.

There is some good news in that the omicron variant may be less likely to lead to severe illness than the delta variant. This is non-trivial to assess because one has to allow for factors other than the infecting variant (such as age, underlying health and vaccination status)  before one can see the true effect of this one variable. Comparing sickness and mortality rates now with earlier stages of the pandemic is virtually impossible for this reason. However, because the UK has allowed very large case numbers of both delta and omicron to occur for several weeks, there is enough data to see some difference between omicron and delta in hospitalization rates.

It also seems that while a booster seems to be needed to prevent infection by omicron, a standard two-dose vaccination still seems to be effective at preventing serious illness.

There are grounds for optimism, then. The problem as I see it is that if the number of people infected with omicron goes through the roof then there will still be lots of very sick people around, some of whom will die. Say a combination of vaccination and less severe variant reduces the mortality rate per case to 10% of what it was last January, which seems reasonable. If there are ten times as many cases, the number of deaths will be similar to last January so we’re still in for a terrible New Year.

We’ll just have to wait and see. I recommend staying as drunk as possible over the next week or ten days so as to avoid thinking about it.