New Data: Omicron BA.2 More Contagious and Severe than BA.1, Yet Officials Committed to Relaxing Protections

A new pre-print study in BioRxIv by a team of Japanese researchers, plus emerging data from the UK and South Africa, point in the same direction: that the Omicron variant BA.2 is not just outcompeting “original” Omicron, variant BA.1, but is also more pathogenic.

The article estimated BA.2 as 1.4 times as contagious as BA.1, which is consistent with BA.2 managing to gain a lot of ground against an already fabulously contagious variant. From the abstract:

Statistical analysis shows that the effective reproduction number of BA.2 is 1.4-fold higher than that of BA.1. Neutralisation experiments show that the vaccine-induced humoral immunity fails to function against BA.2 like BA.1, and notably, the antigenicity of BA.2 is different from BA.1. Cell culture experiments show that BA.2 is more replicative in human nasal epithelial cells and more fusogenic than BA.1. Furthermore, infection experiments using hamsters show that BA.2 is more pathogenic than BA.1. Our multiscale investigations suggest that the risk of BA.2 for global health is potentially higher than that of BA.1.

This study is consistent with worrisome real-world BA.2 sightings, such as:

If you read the thread, you will also see that South African officials were nevertheless trying to spin BA.2 as no worse than “mild” BA.1.

And from the UK:

This writer is unhelpfully melodramatic, but the simple point is BA.2 is on the march in countries credited with heretofore doing a pretty good job of Covid containment:

Now to the new paper, which is getting a lot of media play. Keep in mind that this study performed a considerable number of in vitro tests to try to understand the mechanics of BA.2, plus also infected hamsters to approximate in vivo effects in humans. So on the one hand, these findings are not yet dispositive. But on the other, these various tests pointed generally in the same direction, that BA.2 is both more evasive of existing immunity (vaccine and infection conferred) and more dangerous than BA.1. Consider this discussion:

BA.2 was almost completely resistant to two therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, Casirivimab and Imdevimab, and was 35-fold more resistant to another therapeutic antibody, Sotrovimab, when compared to the ancestral D614G-bearing B.1.1 virus (Fig. 2d). Moreover, both BA.1 and BA.2 were highly resistant to the convalescent sera who had infected with early pandemic virus (before May 2020; Fig. 2e), Alpha (Extended Data Fig. 3a) and Delta (Extended Data Fig. 3b). These data suggest that, similar to BA.1, BA.2 is highly resistant to the antisera induced by vaccination and infection with other SARS-CoV-2 variants as well as three antiviral therapeutic antibodies.

Admittedly, humans may be less susceptible to BA.2 lung damage than hamsters, but the hamster results indicate that BA.2 attacks the lungs more than BA.1 did. We could be back to the old normal of long stays in hospitals to try to contain Covid-induced viral pneumonia:

As shown in Fig. 4b, viral RNA loads in the two lung regions, hilum and periphery, of BA.2-infected hamsters were significantly higher than those of BA.1-infected hamsters…. These data suggest that BA.2 is more rapidly and efficiently spread in the lung tissues than BA.1…

To investigate the pathogenicity of BA.2, the right lungs of infected hamsters were collected at 1, 3, and 5 d.p.i. and used them for haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining and histopathological analysis12, 23. All histopathological parameters including bronchitis/bronchiolitis, haemorrhage, alveolar damage, and the levels of type II pneumocytes, of BA.2-infected hamsters were significantly higher than those in BA.1

Recall that it was not just the number of Covid infections but also their duration that pushed hospitals to the brink during pre-Omicron-BA.1 surges. Covid cases then were often hospitalized for 2-3 weeks, tying up capacity and draining staff, not just due to worry about contracting Covid but also due to the acute distress these patients often exhibited.

As scientist GM put it:

As suspected, BA.2 is more severe than BA.1.

And to be noted, this is just the spike, they don’t have a clinical isolate for BA.2 so just cloned the spike into whatever virus they had. So whatever effect the ORF6 mutation has, it’s not in this comparison.

What wasn’t suspected is how much more severe it is, at least in hamsters. I suspect this is actually an exaggerated difference relative to the difference in BA.1/BA.2 severity in actual people, but the hamsters are not vaccinated, while the people mostly are, so that might have something to do with it.

And it is more fusogenic, but not because of increased cleavage, it’s some other mechanism.

So the trend towards worse variants is resuming.

Basically evolution just resumed its usual course for these viruses.

BA.1 seems to have benefited initially from a founder effect relative to BA.2, although they appeared around the same time. Those early superspreader events in Pretoria must have been all BA.1, and from then on it got an early start around the world.

And it swept through because of its gigantic advantage on immune escape. It is not actually more contagious than Delta in a naive population (there was a study from Denmark on secondary attack rates in unvaccinated households, and that was shown there), it’s just that Delta never encountered a naive population — in India itself half the population had been infected prior to the Delta wave, and everywhere else it went, it found a population that had been some combination of infected+vaccinated. And with Delta you do get a 50-80% (depending on the time point and the age group) protection from reinfection, so vaccines did actually reduce transmission. And NPIs had not yet been completely dropped.

So you never saw it exploded the way it could have, the R_t was always dampened by a factor of at least two.

Then BA.1 comes and it has a shorter serial interval but actually has a lower viral load and it’s not all that fit of a variant in absolute terms, but it is a complete escape variant. And it encounters a population that has given up on NPIs and relies entirely on vaccines, vaccines that now have precisely zero effect in terms of infection control.

So it spreads like wildfire and looks unstoppable — because nobody tried to stop it (curiously the Chinese are not having all that much difficulty putting out the fires with their usual methods).

But that is the new starting point, from here on the trend is toward higher viral load, once again back to more cell-to-cell fusion, and thus more severity. Because higher viral load means both more transmissibility and higher severity.

And thus BA.2 displaces BA.1

What comes next is anyone’s guess.

So even assuming not all of the negative findings in this study pan out, two things do seem clear. First, BA.2 is more contagious and just about entirely scapes current vaccines and prior infection. That alone translates into a new big wave of infections which will overload hospitals by virtue of raw number. Second, BA.2 is more severe, which means on the same number of infections, more hospitalization and probably other morbidity. Even “not that much worse” will have a big impact.

With this background, it’s hard to find words sufficiently caustic to describe the abject negligence of officials who have the temerity to depict themselves as in the business of public health.

There was already evidence that BA.2 was more contagious than BA.1, and no reason to think it was less dangerous, public health officials were prepping citizens to get ready to eat, drink, and be merry because BA.1 was abating.

Some are willing to call out the mismanagement and the bad incentives behind it:

Based on how public health officials and politicians are responding to Omicron, and Covid generally, it’s hard to think that what we call civilization has actually advanced. The key actors genuinely seem to believe that reality will deliver up their most optimistic scenario. They might as well be New Age prosperity hucksters: if you visualize and believe, the Universe will deliver what you desire. From their Panglossian hit parade:

Getting Covid would confer durable immunity (a nonsensical idea to anyone who had done cursory research on coronaviruses)

The vaccines would protect recipients from infection, even when clinical trial data said no such thing

A two-shot, and then recall per Fauci, a three shot regime would provide immunity (refer again to the statements above)

The Covid death count is not so bad, so why should we change our lives?

Covid will (soon) evolve into something harmless, as in mere nuisance level for most people

Delta would be the last variant

But the public is not as dumb as those in charge think. The dogs are less willing to eat the dog food. A new Pew survey found that only 29% of Americans have a great deal of confidence that medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public. That’s a fall from 40% in November 2020, although this new level is on par with January 2019.

It’s as if we are collectively caught in a pastiche of movie cliches: looming monster about to devour extraneous cast member meets “Don’t go into the haunted house” meets Groundhog Day. But we don’t get to flip the dial.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Two years on now, and not alone have western countries not learned anything, we are actually making worse public policy. Even in my most pessimistic moods back when this started I never believed that our decision making could be this bad.

    Here in Ireland, the government scientific advisory body has officially recommended the removal of compulsory masking in public places, including schools. A lifting of the great majority of ‘restrictions’ now seems inevitable. At the beginning, they were actually pretty good, with strong advice (albeit with the usual fomite and anti-aerosol stupidity). I gave up after 5 minutes reading through the official ‘justification’ for their recommendation, its just too idiotic for words (nothing about building ventilation of course). The public of course are taking their cue from this, meaning a BA.2 surge now looks inevitable.

    Covid is beginning to remind me of one of those brain parasites that make rats lose their fear of cats. It is infecting our public health establishments with stupidity. Its hard not to despair.

    1. The Rev Kev

      I’m afraid that I am going to have to agree with all that you said. It is bad enough having governments throw their people to the wolves as far as this virus is concerned but to have so many scientific establishments officially back these government policies was demoralizing. The Chinese must think that we in the west are not only crazy but suicidal as well. And who am I to disagree? You do not need credentials or even the right ‘sheepskin’ to look at the facts, draw the appropriate conclusions and then to act on those conclusions. But it seems that if any measure puts any sort of restriction on the economy, then it is rejected – and any blame then attached to ordinary people for not ‘following the science.’ And no matter how bad it gets, we insist on digging deeper to get out of our situation. It doesn’t help to realize that a century from now, we are going to be both pitied and laughed at like we do about the peasants of the middle ages.

      1. JTMcPhee

        I’ve thought for a long time that our species has a death wish. Not even the Chinese (that polyglot congeries), or even Putin and Lavrov, seem smart enough to think and direct their way to a political economy that can go anywhere but into the grave, sooner rather than later. Apoptosis is built into our physiologies.

        Anyone see a set of policies and behavior modifications that will lead anyplace else?

        “I gave you dominion over the world, so you must use it all up,” said God. “Then die.” Or something like that.

        There will be no Rapture, thank you very much…

        1. CuriosityConcern

          please note: only speculation.
          PK’s gp comment loosened what may be an original thought for me, CVs as antecent or co factor of historical civilizational decline(not collapse).
          Proposed mechanism: broad cognitive and health diminishment.
          Evidence needed to support: Historical narratives supporting a CV pandemic. art and writing samples from before and after? ?

      2. Sailor Bud

        Re: ….any blame attached to ordinary people for not following the science

        “It’s your fault” should perhaps be appended to Lambert’s neoliberalism list before “go die.” It’s a big part of the story.

      3. JBird4049

        >>>It doesn’t help to realize that a century from now, we are going to be both pitied and laughed at like we do about the peasants of the middle ages.

        Western medicine was still on the four humors and bad air theory of disease, which means they really didn’t have a clue about infectious diseases. I mean the did so far as they knew to use quarantines as the best way to control epidemics. Current medicine understands what the heck is happening and better ways to deal with disease, but our rulers insist on us dying for money, or normalcy, or something.
        Perhaps, some people miss the yesteryears of the early 1900s when almost omnipresent deadly epidemics regularly took tens or hundreds of thousands to the afterlife just in the United States.

        The thing is while I do feel sorry for them, I do not laugh at the victims of the Black Death as they really did not know. They did not have the correct understanding and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Even today we almost certainly know much less than we realize and it is not a fault. It is just what it is.

        With Covid though, I do not feel pity or humor because we know, but I do feel a slowly growing rage, with visions of tumbrels and extremely close shaves in my mind. They can’t all be this ignorant or crazed with fear, our leaders. Some are of course, but most of them are looking for the grift, to keeping their good times rolling even if that means everyone else’s good times die. I certainly will have little to do with it, but I am still hoping to live long enough to see their comeuppance. Perhaps with buttered popcorn and a good ale.

    2. Sutter Cane

      Paxlovid seems to work by all reports, it’s just hard to come by and expensive. Pfizer can’t seem to manufacture it fast enough. In the US, you need gold-plated insurance and a connected doctor to get it when you need it. If you aren’t rich, you have to be a “high risk” patient to get it prescribed. The ruling class have concierge medicine and can get whatever drugs they want without worrying about co-pays, time off, or silly things like not being in the right category. They can be blasé about covid from here on out, the pandemic is over for them.

      “Jeeves, ring Dr. Glossup and get me more Paxlovid!”

      1. antidlc

        “Paxlovid seems to work by all reports, it’s just hard to come by and expensive. “
        Pfizer antiviral pills may be risky with other medications
        One of the two drugs in the antiviral cocktail could cause serious interactions with widely used prescriptions, including statins, blood thinners and some antidepressants.

        The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s Paxlovid for mild to moderate Covid in people as young as 12 who have underlying conditions that raise the risk of hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, such as heart disease or diabetes. However, one of the two drugs in the antiviral cocktail could cause severe or life-threatening interactions with widely used medications, including statins, blood thinners and some antidepressants. And the FDA does not recommend Paxlovid for people with severe kidney or liver disease.

    3. bsun

      “The public of course are taking their cue from this”

      It’s infuriating that public health policy has taken such foolish turns amid all the evidence for how serious this virus really is. But what feels even worse sometimes is that I can’t find a single person to talk to about any of it. Most Western governments and media outlets have done their utmost to convince people that this is over and that there’s nothing to worry about and most people I know have eaten it up. I mention the mountain of research that’s come out on the risk long-COVID / PASC and people shrug their shoulders. I bring up the likelihood of new variants and they mumble something about endemicity and viruses evolving to be milder. It’s like I’m screaming into a void whenever I say anything about COVID.

      Does anyone here have any advice on how to avoid going completely insane while watching all this happen in real time?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Personally, when I read the recommendations from the Irish public body I broke one of my personal rules about not drinking alcohol midweek. It only helped temporarily.

      2. antidlc

        “Most Western governments and media outlets have done their utmost to convince people that this is over and that there’s nothing to worry about and most people I know have eaten it up. ”

        The efforts to “manufacture consent” have been quite successful.

        “Does anyone here have any advice on how to avoid going completely insane while watching all this happen in real time?”

        The whole situation is profoundly depressing. I am just thankful for NC and the commenters here. We are not alone, bsun.

      3. anon y'mouse

        no, go insane (in the “right” way) and then just revel in it.

        didn’t Carlin say something about pulling up a seat at the freak show?

        sanity is overrated anyway.

      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        Find people who share your understanding of covid reality and share covid-avoidance and survival information among yourselves and eachother. Make the occasional offhand effort to reach others and see if they are reality-susceptible. If they have been renderred clueproof by government brain control, give up on reaching them and find other reachable people to reach. Save your energy for reaching the reachable.

      5. fajensen

        Does anyone here have any advice on how to avoid going completely insane while watching all this happen in real time?

        I currently find inspiration in “Everyday Drinking” by Kingsley Amis.

      6. podcastkid

        Like why I am reading this thing at 1:27 in the morning, and nobody else I know personally looked at it all day Monday?

    4. Kris Alman

      Your point is well put. This article raises so many questions about public policy–which can be addressed to this ProPublica Panel which happens on Feb 24, 2022 @ 4:00 pm EST

      Sign up!
      COVID: Year Three
      As the pandemic enters a new phase, what will it take to coexist with the virus?
      Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
      Dr. Umair A. Shah, Washington secretary of health
      Dr. Nicole Baumgarth, professor of immunology at University of California, Davis
      Caroline Chen, ProPublica reporter (moderator)

  2. KLG

    “A new Pew survey found that only 29% of Americans have a great deal of confidence that medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public. That’s a fall from 40% in November 2020, although this new level is on par with January 2019.” I didn’t think the Maddow-loving, Trump-hating PMC reached as far as 29%…

    As an erstwhile colleague since about 1980, thanks, Tony! Couldn’t have done it without you!

  3. Just An Analog Girl

    I live in Kansas City. For the last couple of days, I’ve seen a TV commercial showing serious physician from local medical facility, looking straight into camera, wearing white coat, saying:

    “Getting vaxx’d is your best “shot” at preventing long covid”.


    1. Buckethead

      Well, they’re not lying, it is your best shot. But it’s not the only thing you (or your government) should be doing.

      1. IM Doc

        Really? –
        Of what evidence do you speak?

        I have my own large cohort of fully vaccinated and boosted patients who are struggling with long-COVID symptoms exactly as the unvaccinated are.
        I can literally tell no difference.

        We just have no idea at this point how extensive this will be. To say otherwise or to suggest that we know for sure what vaccines will do is just a knowing lie. Again – my patients seem to paint a different story. I have to deal with what is directly in front of me – not what some largely manipulated statistics are being pumped in the media today.

        1. Irrational

          Thanks for posting, as always appreciated.
          Amazing how long COVID has disappeared from the discourse.

          1. Basil Pesto

            It’s not quite right to say this though. For example I read two stories about LC just yesterday from bloomberg and CBS. It’s just that they’re almost reported like quaint and remote human interest stories instead of as an alarm bell.

            Where it *doesn’t* come up is in the op-eds, whether of the freedom-lords or committed ‘covid centrists’, or the “urgency of normal” drama queens.

          1. Eudora Welty

            For what it’s worth, my medical institution employer is requiring me to get the booster by early March. They were broadly hinting that booster mandate for employees wouldn’t be surprising, and then – abruptly – we had a month to do so. I have seen specific individual medical data from my patients, and I can see that a lot of hospitalized patients (from my sample) are unvaccinated. I am mandated, so I will do it, but – from reading this blog – I hadn’t gotten the boost yet.

            1. rowlf

              Having won the vaccine side effect lottery there is no way I would get a booster until the Covid-19 vaccines pass the Vioxx safety period window.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        As a mere layman, it seems to me that your best shot of not getting long covid is to not get short covid to begin with. Using all the avoidance and protection mechanisms and methods discussed over time here on these threads.

        Things like wearing effective masks effectively, avoiding crowded venues, living as much of a semi-shut-in existence as you can bear to live in the long term, avoiding badly ventilated spaces, avoiding places where anti-mask freedom rebels gather, etc.

  4. jackiebass63

    I see vaccines as a temporary solution along with other safety measures. It appears vaccines have a limited life span so we need better treatments. I hope we are focusing on this because I believe this is the best long term solution.Unfortunately public health is now being driven by public opinion instead of science. Probably because public opinion is easy to manipulate.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The public supports masks mandates. Don’t blame the public. This is about the nihilism of so called centrists listing after hypothetical Republican votes.

    2. megrim

      The best long term solution is zero covid. An ounce of prevention is worth at least a pound of cure in my opinion.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The only way to conquer permission to attempt zero covid would be to eliminate from existence the leadership elites who oppose zero covid.

  5. John Mc

    Feels like we are creating new death markets instead of delivering, you know, public health. How many evolutions of the first virus are we up to now? And the patterns of response, wow I am without words.

  6. Trustee

    No generalization is worth a damn, including this one so take with a gain of salt.

    In the US republican politicians have put the health of the economy over the health of people. Democrats have generally put public health first.

    I have noticed that republican has been more willing to stick to their program than democrats. Someone once said if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen. .

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      The Dems have been more committed to public health theater when it suits them, but I don’t think the evidence supports the idea that they’re putting public health above the economy, or even politics.

    2. K.k

      For your consideration , the following was posted here on Naked Capitalism as well, worth the quick read.

      Both parties responded to the pandemic with an aggressive cost benefit analysis perspective. Both parties have clearly decided that the level of death and illness last couple years is worth the cost to the general public and to the ultimate benefit to the gdp, accumulation and free flow of capital and what they consider the “economy”. Of course when an average person says one of their top concerns is the “economy” they are talking about jobs, wages, prices of necessary commodities, housing costs etc.

      These political parties are not trying to kill us actively, they are mostly indifferent to our suffering. and are protecting the class interest they serve which is leading to mass death and illness.
      We are living in an age where we have the science and the resources to deal with this pandemic, but not the political institutions. Just as we have the science and the resources to end world hunger, homelessness, etc. Our ruling class overlords and their political institutions are deeply anti human.

      1. tegnost

        indifferent to our suffering

        indifferent to the results of their control frauds …
        In a cost/benefit analysis, your life is worth zero, at best…
        your death possibly worth more.
        and both party’s are republican
        We’re one golden rice patent away from solving world hunger, but sating the lust of the 1% for dollars is still a worthwhile goal, however unlikely…
        a wafer thin mint might fix it…

    3. jeff

      “no generalization is worth a damn, so here’s another one abiding by the aforementioned rule.”

      That’s pretty funny.

  7. David

    It would be presumptuous of anyone to claim to have predicted this, but I’ve long felt something of the kind was inevitable, simply because politics obeys one set of rules, and diseases obey another, and there’s no way of splitting the difference. In a democratic political system (OK, multi-party or whatever, but where there are competing actors) there are certain limits to what the system can absorb without coming apart. I thank we are at that point now, and, unless you’re prepared to go as far as the Chinese have, and I doubt we can, we are about to have the worst of all possible worlds: a dangerous new variant, an exhausted and fractious population, and a discredited political and medical establishment. I can hardly wait.

    1. Brian Beijer

      “In a democratic political system (OK, multi-party or whatever, but where there are competing actors) there are certain limits to what the system can absorb without coming apart.”

      Democratic? Competing parties? I beg to differ with both of these ideas. Having lived in the U.S., and now, in Sweden for 10 years, I have yet to find a democratic system of governance, nor do I believe various political parties compete for anything other than favors from the .1% and international corporations. This is not just based on my personal experience, but there’s plenty of research that backs this up. I would say that the “system” of governance for Western countries is inverted totalitarianism, to borrow a term from Chris Hedges. Their sole purpose is to support the continuation of the class stucture and the growth of further opportunities for capitalism. Nothing demonstrates this better than the conception of the EU. The “certain limits” of this system is the realities of a pathological virus and near-term human extinction continue awakening of the people to these dangers and to the fact that they’re getting f*@ked at every turn by this system. In my opinion, that’s what they fear the most will cause the system to come apart. Hence, we have Trudeau’s heavy-handed approach to the protestors and the gaslighting, lies, and constant nudgng to “return to normal” coming from every Western government and their cohorts in both the media and medicine.

      1. David

        No, there are various formations between and within parties competing for power. You can call them factions if you want to adopt the Uniparty model, but, as in any but the most ruthlessly centralised systems, there are different forces vying for control, and, as we have seen, most governments have now partly lost control of the evolution of the crisis in their own country anyway. Thus, the question is simply how the various factions decide their interests are best served by one or the other policy with regard to the virus. A government in any western system which tried to go down the Chinese route today (as opposed to a couple of years ago) would not survive, because factions within or opposed to the ruling party would make use of popular discontent to try to bring the government down. For all the heavy-breathing conspiracy theories one sometimes encounters in parts of the media, governments, and even political parties, are seldom united, and their members will happily knife each other for a bit of transient advantage. That’s why the political logic and the medical logic of this crisis are about to have a head-on collision.

      2. valdo

        We can borrow more grow what Hedges has been saying, which is something like a terminal society retreats into fantasy

        1. Janice

          Thank you so much for this reference. Followed it to a 2015 interview with Hedges published by Truthdig that well summarized chaotic thoughts swirling in my brain for decades. Better late, as they say. Politics is a vocation. I just don’t know where to apply my interests.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The thing is, when you go back into even pretty recent history, democracies (at least in the form we all know and love) have generally been pretty good at fixing problems. Thats why they have proven reasonably resilient over the decades. For all its faults, the US system has survived a couple of centuries, and the UK even more.

      And right now, some democracies have been doing pretty well with Covid – but they are largely in Asia – Taiwan and ROK and maybe NZ being the obvious examples. Even the Japanese have done pretty much ok so far.

      I do think that something else has been going on – the obvious culprit being neoliberalism in its widest definition. I’m genuinely shocked at how weak the broader public health/academic establishment has been. The manner in which good scientific practice has simply collapsed in the face of covid is deeply disturbing. You expect politicians to be self serving idiots, but in well functioning systems there should be some sort of a
      bulwark against things going too far. This has largely failed with Covid.

      1. vlade

        IMO, any system will break if it separates itself from reality, and we could see more and more of separation from reality in the last 20-30 years. Most of our political elites now live in a make-believe worlds, so a solution to any crisis/problem will fit their make-believe world.

        TBH, a large part of various populations also live in make-believe worlds, so it’s no surprise they throw up pols that fit that.

      2. aletheia33

        “good scientific practice” actually has been in slow collapse for decades now. i edited a book on this topic years ago. an academic study (sociological, maybe?) of how private interests were taking over funding for medical research and skewing results on research studies across the board. the evidence the authors had gathered was impressive. wish i could remember the book’s authors’ names or title or when i worked on it. it can be awesome what academics can investigate and write about that then never reaches much of an audience or god forbid the media.

        first slow, now sudden.

        my question, really just rhetorical (rant alert), is how can so many professionals do research and write and publish about everything that is not working in a society for decades (e.g. rachel carson’s silent spring, which also had a wide popular audience), some even becoming active politically, yet not make a dent in the onward-rushing course of global neoliberal capitalism?

        what could/should have been done to stop the insanity? i was born in 1954. my whole life has been spent in the (relatively comfortable American) shadow of nuclear bombs and pollution, genocide and agent orange, bhopal and fukushima, carpet bombing and drone strikes…

        the system that generates these atrocities really got off the ground post-WW2. america’s enormous prosperity from 1950 to 1970 was built on levels unprecedented in history of greed, public manipulation, ruthless mass and/or secret violence against people in smaller countries, a relentless determination to seize and hold world domination. i don’t know the numbers of lives destroyed, but i now have come to believe that USA’s work of destruction over the decades since WW2 has merely been a continuation of the ambition of the Third Reich, not to mention the British Empire, in other forms. while all the while the willingly duped, incredibly ignorant, and hypocritical citizens of USA are congratulating themselves for their beneficent spreading of “democracy” and their generosity with their excess wealth.

        the power that has been used to crush all risings over these years has been very effective. one movement arising after another, only to be put down by secret and/or violent means. or am i too cynical?

        as someone pointed out here recently, the development of new media as early as the 1920s has provided methods of seduction, hypnosis, and persuasion of masses of people that have been more effective than any used before. all told it can easily look like humanity has been incapable of exercising any restraint in the hubristic purposes we apply our own diabolical inventions to. from the first empires on.

        time to pay the piper now.

        1. kirk seidenbecker

          An academic study describing the regulatory capture process of the FDA –

          “Beginning with a study of a “cost-benefit analysis” program of regulation that was implemented with Reagan’s first Executive Order 12291, we will show how his deregulation policies left the FDA so financially vulnerable that it depended on the economic involvement of the industry.”

      3. Basil Pesto

        The other thing I’d add to this is when I reflect on it, I just find it very hard to imagine the USA of the 1930s to 1970s just being this inept or just lazy at dealing with a problem of this nature.

        I have no doubt the USSR would have dealt with the pandemic too, in a manner similar to China (and I’m no Soviet Communism fan by any stretch of the imagination). Can you imagine what the Cold War US’ reaction to such an obvious, self-evident technical triumph would be? My thinking (and I’m probably a bit too young and hence too far removed from the era for it to have much weight but still) is that they would try to match and, where possible, surpass such a triumph so as not to lose face. Now the US is trying to propagandise its way out of a pandemic (and its worthless anglophone lackeys are following in lock-step). Not that there wasn’t propaganda in the cold war era, obviously, but I suspect it was more like set dressing than an actual method for trying to solve problems.

        1. JBird4049

          The various countries and surviving empires of 1970s and their leaders had survived the First World War, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, the insanity of pre war Europe, the Second World War, the insanity of the immediate aftermath as the well as the Cold War itself. Any senior politician, business person, religious figure, or just the random elder on the street had to face their country, their civilization, the world itself ending several times during their lives unlike our current elders.

          At least one major crisis or disaster each decade with the cost of failure often being death, which is a great way to eliminate stupidity and incompetence, but also puts every situation, every crisis or disaster in proper perspective. The major countries, and particularly their leaders in their splendid isolation, have had not to face dying for their failures for fifty years. Not even the smaller countries outside have had to deal with as much with assassinations or coups caused by the United States or the Soviet Union once the Cold War ended; the war was cold only in that the great powers’ militaries did not fight directly and openly, but fighting using other means such as using others countries as military puppets was just fine.

          The unraveling of our pre neoliberal economics was only truly successful once those who had been through the worldwide Great Depression left power. The current madness with Russian and China has probably happened only because those who lived through the Cold War are leaving power. Covid is not only happening because of corruption and incompetence, but also that those who lived through the various epidemics and pandemics, which were normal until the 1970s are also leaving power.

          It does not help us now, but if we do somehow survive, our governments will probably become much better, eventually, as like with the military and war, the survivors become much better. Unfortunately, we all get to suffer beforehand.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Thats a really great point. I think you are right that if this happened in the Cold War days the competitive aspect would have ensured that neither ‘side’ would have wanted to be seen to fail. Its too easy now for authorities to take the gaslight approach every time they screw up. I think this is one reason why the western media is so utterly determined to portray the Chinese approach as somehow an failure, or at least a success only bought at an unacceptable cost.

          1. ChrisPacific

            We experienced the same thing in New Zealand after the global spotlight of disapproval was trained on our elimination strategy. When you are trying to convince yourself and all of your voters that your woeful pandemic response was (a) not woeful and (b) actually good, the continued existence of obvious counterexamples that clearly demonstrate both of those things to be false is apparently infuriating.

            Here the elimination strategy gradually lost public support to the point where it became untenable. That, together with a couple of miscalculations by the government (mostly attempted shortcuts that backfired, prompted by the same public pressure) ended up torpedoing it in favor of the spurious vaccine narrative favored elsewhere.

      4. Irrational

        I have a funny feeling that the way of awarding grants for academic research and the short contracts for research staff – in the name of efficiency, of course – has something to do with it.

    3. vlade


      IMO we have run into a limitation of the political system that hasn’t had a _real_ crisis for too long. I.e. such a system selects politicians not for the ability to deal with stuff, but other traits, which are pretty much irrelevant in any real crisis (cf Trump, Biden, Johnson to name a few prominent ones).

      You could call it reality meets the western civilisation post year 2000 (or whatever your cutoff is).

      1. Reaville

        Hat tip to PlutoniumKun for really excellent posts. The idea that we live at a time when politicians are performative and not operative is one of those periods that moved Orwell to right that these things are resolved when reality asserts itself “generally on a battlefield”. Social media has amplified performance over operational skill because performance is rewarded with power. However, to maintain power it has to be exercised wisely. Collapse comes from systemic breakdown. Those in power are responsible for using it to avert breakdown. Considering the economic stresses (supply chain, inflation, underinvestment in technology) and the pandemic, we are coming face to face with 3 of the 4 horsemen (war, famine, death/plague, the antichrist).

        To paraphrase Adam Smith, while there is a lot of ruin in the system, on current performance our political and business elite have it in them. Their refusal to see the world in anything but business model terms will be ridiculed in the years to come, but we must bear the tragic consequences now (because they are here).

    1. DanB

      It’s not a joke; rather it’s a now anachronistic distinction between the parties. I worked at a school of public health 20 years ago and one of my colleagues had worked for the Bush I administration. During the Sars threat in 2003-4 he told me, “My Republican friends don’t get the concept of community protection and therefore they despise public health because they think it’s about STD tests and freeloading minorities. They tell me, ‘I’ve got a personal physician, who needs public health?'” Democrats were slightly more aware -back then, not now- of what public health was and its importance. However, it is also the case that the trend to defund and neoliberalize public health was bipartisan, just look at the longterm downward funding trends. I gave up on public health in 2014, when I wrote my last article about its status, “Public Health’s Response to Decline [we could up date it by replacing Decline with Crisis}: Loyalty to the 1%.” Follow the money of those advocating “The Urgency of Normal,” they are not following the science.

      1. urblintz

        Yes, It’s a joke… not a funny “haha” joke, but a cruel “I fooled you” joke which the Democrats have been pulling thru 40 years of dismantling the New Deal – the bi-partisan consensus of neoliberalism.

  8. Roger Blakely

    Professor Christina Pagel is at University College London. She is responsible for giving the weekly roundup on the Friday Independent Scientific Advisory Group meeting. She just said at today’s meeting that there is no indication yet that BA.2 is more severe or evading immunity.

    In contrast, I thank Yves for today’s post. My experience over the past two weeks would have me asking questions about the issues posed by Yves’s post. Am I just getting old, or do I have a variant like BA.2 that hits harder and lasts longer? There is congestion in my lungs that I have not experienced with other variants. Yves’s post would explain why I am feeling so beat up this week.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Prof Pagel is usually a voice of sanity. There are plenty of people out there essentially saying that BA.2 is no big deal and there is no doubt that in Europe the opening up is based on this assumption.

      Unfortunately for all of us, our brains trust here has proven to have a far better hit rate of getting things right than the European or US scientific advisory bodies of one form or another.

      As to your lungs, I had omicron 6 weeks ago and my lungs are still not fully functioning. My usual asthma medications are not working. I’ll give it a few months – if its not ok by the end of spring, then I’ll be worried. In the meanwhile I’m taking all the usual measures I can to improve my immune system.

    1. 1 Kings

      You’re cancelled…

      Or we’ll let you stay if you continue to not mention the drug that cannot be mentioned.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Not to worry. I have a way with words, and that includes creativity when it comes to mentioning that drug.

      2. TBellT

        I didn’t realize the drug that cannot be mentioned was some miracle cure that meant we shouldn’t be doing NPIs.

        1. 1 Kings

          No worries, they started the Iverm study in March 2020 and will finish said study this September(Will do the math, carry the one…um 3 years! The vaccines took 3-5 months.)
          That is of course if they overcome those pesky supply issues…er with a drug that had been administered 3 billion times and Dr Campbell said cost him pennies.

          First rule of misdirection is well, misdirection.

  9. Objective Ace

    Cell culture experiments show that BA.2 is more replicative in human nasal epithelial cells

    I assume this means PI sprays and nasal vaccines if /when they are developed would work better against ba.2.. a little bit of good news then if we can manage to take advantage of it

    1. Arizona Slim

      I can attest to the effectiveness of povidone iodine spray. A month ago, my nose started running like crazy. Didn’t feel like a cold or like sinus allergies I’ve had before. I just felt like I had a faucet on my face.

      Was it the Rona? I don’t know. In Tucson, tests were hard to come by.

      This constant runny nose problem began to abate around the end of January. In the past few days, I’ve really been hitting that spray, which I have been using since late last year.

      Today, I can really feel the difference. I’m finding that I don’t need to know where my handkerchief is!

      Just to make sure I have this thing on the run, I ordered more of that spray on Tuesday and received it yesterday. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go into the smallest room in the house so I can hose my nose.

  10. judy2shoes

    There is a long thread by a UK doctor on the devastating effect C-19 is having on their national health system, which is also being undermined by the UK government. It’s a long, difficult read – sickening, actually.

    “Why is the NHS past breaking point?

    “I wish I could bring you good news. I wish I could tell you as the peak of Omicron passes?we are regaining the capacity to treat the millions waiting for urgent and routine care. But, honestly, it has never been as bad as this.”

  11. Chianti Reserve

    Officialdom (Gottlieb & Co) is getting aggressive in trying to preemptively downplay BA.2. In my state in the midwest, a surprisingly small number of people I know have gotten Omicron, which makes the proclamations of herd immunity seem premature, not that BA.1 infection induced immunity looks all that great against BA.2. Add in that the few people that did get boosted in November/December will see protection against infection wane to basically nothing by March. It’s hard to see how we don’t get a significant second BA.2 wave in March/April while the weather is still cold. How are these guys going to spin it?

  12. Anthony G Stegman

    If BA.2 is as bad as some fear that will become obvious soon. So far, there does not seem to be a huge problem developing as all metrics are showing improvements. Perhaps we all ought to chill out a bit. For those of you highly concerned continue to take whatever precautions you feel are appropriate and warranted. I will continue to wear masks indoors, and I will continue to not dine in crowded indoor restaurants. Other than that I intend to enjoy my life and get on with it. Time waits for no one. I’m not getting any younger, and neither are any of you.

    1. kareninca

      What do you make of the “Daily New Deaths in Denmark” chart from worldometer: ?

      Denmark is very, very highly vaccinated and boosted. They are almost entirely BA.2. Their deaths keep going up and up and up, and on and on and on. It does seem like this is a metric that is not getting better, and it does seem that it is likely to have predictive value for other countries. But I hope not.

  13. sd

    Spring break is coming at the end of February – lots of traveling college students. Just a guess that watching the Boston waste water closely for any hint of increase will track closely with the next wave.

  14. NorD94

    a couple days ago statnews had an interesting article on future SARS-CoV-2 virus strains

    Coronaviruses are ‘clever’: Evolutionary scenarios for the future of SARS-CoV-2

    Here are four possible scenarios, each taken directly from the known evolutionary playbook of coronaviruses.

    * A slide toward endemicity
    * Altered disease and symptoms
    * Emergence of a new recombinant coronavirus
    * Exploitation of antibodies

    If we are lucky “A slide toward endemicity” and SARS-CoV-2 will become the 5th “common cold coronaviruses (CCC)”. We might not get lucky.

    1. fajensen

      To totally outsmart our “leaders”, all that Corona has to do is moving away from causing acute cases and branch out into chronic diseases.

      Because everything chronic can and will be talked away as “Personal responsibility”, “Unhealthy lifestyle”, “Underlying conditions” and if the shit really hits the fan: “Culture” (code for foreign people, whom we do not like and are secretly happy to see culled by “natural selection”).

  15. Grayce

    In a litigious society, there are no absolute “facts.” We have a collective, accultured pseudo-logic in which the best lawyer determines the facts. Could anything be more insane? Yes. Now, our public arguments do not get debated in court; instead, we shout and engage in that paranormal exercise of “trial by combat” where, indeed, the biggest bullies get their way. Some cohort of fans love the show and spend their votes for more.
    But, where is Reason? Reason is the kidnapped fool that is held for ransom to The Economy; in another view, debt-based Capitalism rules The Economy that overshadows Reason; in a third view, power through politics overshadows all.
    Is Hope lost? Pandora had to let loose all the evils in order to get to the bottom of the box, just as any 12-step recovery program needs the individual to hit bottom. So Hope, that confident expectation that a thing that could happen, will happen, needs a new spotlight. Is there a network or leader left to teach society how to think hopefully? We seem to have hit rock bottom, so, yeah.

  16. Newport

    Politicians making expedient decisions vs making the right ones. Who would have guessed that possible :((.

  17. kareninca

    Most of CA is dropping most mask mandates. However, the unvaccinated – but not the vaccinated – will still be required to wear masks in certain indoor venues.

    I figure that this will mean that my mask-wearing will cause people to think I’m a diseased and contagious freak and stay away from me. That will be helpful. Maybe I’ll even get a icky and grungy looking mask to wear over my real mask.

    1. Objective Ace

      Is the grocery store going to hire bouncers to check your vaccine status? Only politicians and public health officials seem incapable of seeing the illogic of these mandates. (Also see the CDC telling people if they were vaccinated they didnt need to wear masks in Jun). I don’t think anyone will assume the people still wearing masks are unvaccinated.

    2. jeff

      CA leadership has had it’s head up it’s rear for the last 2(0) years.

      Luckily the mayor of Los Angeles was smart when he took off his mask and held his breath. Rumor has it he’s still holding his breath.

  18. michael99

    The UC Davis Genome Center has been screening positive COVID-19 samples in Yolo County (California) for variants since before the Delta wave. As shown in the spreadsheet (see link below), BA.2 was first detected in early January, but cases haven’t surged so far.

    Looking at the Delta numbers though, it is still early for BA.2. It was almost three months after the first Delta case was detected that Delta really took off.

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