Five quick tweets on the new variant B.1.1.529

Caveat first: data here is *very* preliminary, so everything could change. Nonetheless, better safe than sorry.

1) Based on the data we have, this variant is out-competing others *far* faster than Beta and even Delta did 🚩🚩
2) This is coinciding with a wider rise in cases in South Africa.

Again, currently we’re talking about small numbers (both of B.1.1.529 and of cases in SA overall), but there’s a clear upward trend. This may be a blip, but this is how waves start.
3) Aside from its rapid rise in South Africa, the other key reason for concern here is that the specific mutations that B.1.1.529 has are — based on what we’ve seen with other variants — known to be associated with greater transmissibility & immune evasion
4) Caveats
• This variant wasn’t known about *last week*. V early days
• Case rates v low when it emerged, so some of this could be a founder effect. Nonetheless it’s outcompeting Delta
• Urgent search for more data means some growth could be due to targeted testing/sequencing
5) But what data we do have is clearly cause for concern.

Our preliminary story, from @donatopmancini @mroliverbarnes…
And see this thread from @PeacockFlu that first raised the alarm
To be clear:
• I dearly hope this turns out just to be a blip
• If it does I’ll gladly walk thru the charts I’ve made here & talk thru why they looked alarming at the time despite not ending up to be significant, and what that would mean for future variant emergence charts/data
Oh, and for people who’ve looked at this chart of cases in South Africa and their jaw hit the floor: that spike on Nov 23rd is an error in the data. It should be 868 cases, not 18,586…
Nonetheless numbers are really rising. Tuesday 868, Weds 1,275, and since I posted the first tweet Thursday’s figure has come out: 2,465.

Which means the wave chart now looks like this:

• • •

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More from @jburnmurdoch

24 Nov
NEW: detailed thread on Europe’s winter wave and the contrast vs UK

What’s happening? Why the difference? Can boosters help?

First, the wave itself: cases, hospitalisations & deaths surging in Europe, several western countries shooting past UK 📈

The situation is even clearer when plotted on a log scale:

UK is broadly a flat line, with European countries cutting up steeply through it. France, Italy & Spain all on course to pass UK for cases. Germany now above UK for daily deaths and Netherlands set to follow.
So why these exponential surges across Europe but not in the UK?

There’s increasingly little difference in social mixing behaviour between the countries, and where we do see differences e.g in mask-wearing, they’re generally more virus-friendly in the UK 🤔
Read 24 tweets
18 Nov
The good thing about this story is that any time I see someone sharing it as evidence that wearing masks cuts Covid incidence by 53%, I know they haven’t read the paper it’s based on and aren’t fussed about the quality of evidence as long as it produces the right number 🙃
What do I mean by this?

Let’s start by saying that yes, we have good evidence that masks reduce Covid incidence 😷🦠📉😀

BUT it points to nowhere near a 53% reduction. As today’s @bmj_latest states, the best evidence — randomised controlled trials — point to more like a 10% cut
Indeed, here is the BMJ’s take on today’s paper:
• Most of the studies included in the meta-analysis from the Guardian story are poor quality and subject to major biases
• We need more & better research [like the mask-wearing RCTs which have consistently found a smaller effect]
Read 6 tweets
15 Nov
NEW: @UKHSA study finds Pfizer booster is extremely effective against symptomatic infection, both compared to the unvaccinated and to those with 2 doses…

Whether first 2 doses were AZ or Pfizer, a Pfizer booster sends vaccine efficacy up to 93-94% 💪 Image
Study was on people aged 50+, comparing those boosted ~5+ months after dose 2, to those @ 5+ months unboosted.

AZ efficacy was 61% after dose 2, waning to 44% @ 5 months.

Pfizer was 82% after dose 2, waning to 63% @ 5 months.

2 wks after Pfizer booster, both groups -> 93-94%!
Best way to think about booster impact is not to look at going from 44 to 93 with AZ, i.e roughly doubling, but invert the numbers and go from (100-44) to (100-93), i.e from relative risk vs unvaxxed of 56% to just 7%

That’s an 87% increase in protection *relative to two doses!* Image
Read 8 tweets
11 Nov
NEW: England has recorded 18 successive days of week-on-week declines in cases, its longest sequence of declines since February, suggesting its autumn/winter wave may have peaked…
Crucially, hospital admissions, patient numbers and deaths are now also trending downwards, as the fall in case numbers has shifted from being youth-driven into all age groups.

These acute indicators look to be topping out at 10-20% of last winter’s peak levels.
A key factor here has been England’s booster rollout.

Antibody levels in the oldest groups (vaccinated the earliest) had been slowly eroding as the months passed, but in the last 5 weeks they have shot back up as third doses have gone into arms 💉💉💉💪💪💪
Read 18 tweets
5 Nov
NEW: Covid cases, hospitalisations & deaths on the rise again across Europe, with rates of all three metrics surpassing the UK in many countries

Starting in the west: Belgium, Netherlands & Germany in particular experiencing sharp increases in not only cases but ICU & deaths too
And the picture worsens as we move further east.

In central Europe, cases were a fraction of UK levels over summer, but have now rocketed past, with ICU occupancy and deaths also climbing fast.

Vaccine coverage is generally lower here than in western Europe.
In eastern Europe, the situation is dire.

Romania, Bulgaria & Latvia all set new records for daily deaths in recent weeks, and deaths are 10x current UK levels.

In much of western Europe it can feel like the pandemic is an echo of its past self. Try telling that to the east
Read 8 tweets
3 Nov
🚨all of is free to read today, so if you like the glimpses you see on Twitter but want to go deeper, now's your chance!

Beyond Covid, read our best work on climate, politics, inequality & culture. Apparently there's even stuff on economics & finance! 🚨
Throughout the day I'll be sharing links to some of the pieces I've enjoyed most this year, starting with this brilliantly clear column by @TimHarford demonstrating how a carbon tax would be a game-changer in the battle to curb emissions
Another great piece to read 🔓#FTfreetoday:

Off the back of Squid Game and Parasite, @crsdavies took a deep dive into the huge success story that is South Korea’s entertainment export industry, and the decades of strategising that led to this point…
Read 5 tweets

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