Omicron, the do-nothing “strategy” and its 3 problems

13 January, 2022

Omicron

Could Omicron be the end of the pandemic? Governments are increasingly open about leaving the current wave of Omicron unchecked as a way of achieving “herd immunity”. There are only three problems: there is no evidence of persistent immunity from Omicron infection, all signs suggest that it will not be the last variant and, for the moment, it is leaving a new slaughter in its wake as it breaks infection records day after day.

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The Euro-Anglo-Saxon strategy

The “new strategy” combines minimal restrictions with mass vaccination and self-testing while hospitals are “reinforced” at minimum cost with soldiers (UK) or retired health workers (Spain), rather than reinforcing staff or improving hospital conditions. By using the argument of a lower mortality rate over the total number of infections, Omicron is allowed to act as a “vaccine” without there even being an empirical basis to argue that it will generate a persistent immunity or that it will not leave serious long-term after-effects.

The slogan of “living with Omicron as with any other virus”.

Sánchez yesterday at the rally in which he stated that we must 'live with Omicron as with any other virus.'
Sánchez yesterday at the rally in which he stated that we must ‘live with Omicron as with any other virus.’

Omicron is serving as an excuse in an increasing number of countries to dismantle the few useful measures that remained in place to curb the transmission of the pandemic. Spain, for example, is definitively abandoning some tracking measures that the policy of “living with Covid” had hampered from the outset.

As the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, said yesterday, “we must learn to live with Covid as with many other viruses”. But there do not seem to be “many other viruses” in Spain that cause more than a hundred deaths a day and more than 240,000 sick leaves. Nor do they climb at the speed of this one, with more than two million cases in the last month alone.

But, according to the president, there is a need to “balance health and economic growth” and that means dismantling any measures that could harm business or the availability of labor by companies. The same day he said this, 100 people died from Omicron and yet his government, together with the regional governments, had no better idea than to reduce the isolation of asymptomatic infected people, even though such a measure would most likely increase contagions even more.

Schools will reopen tomorrow. They will do so throughout the EU with varying degrees of “security theater”. With a child vaccination rate of around 30% (32% in Spain), it is likely to add fuel to the fire. In France, hospital collapse is considered imminent.

The British “example”

Johnson presents his strategy before Omicron on December 12
Johnson presents his strategy before Omicron on December 12

This time Johnson has been praised throughout Europe, and especially in Spain among media close to the government, as a role model for his reaction against Omicron. The initial argument was that although the number of hospitalized patients increased drastically, they represented a smaller percentage of the total number of infections and consequently also the number of deaths.

But with the government refusing to impose restrictions, it was inevitable for Omicron’s lower hospitalization and mortality rates to be offset sooner or later by an increase in the number of infections. Last Tuesday the British government itself acknowledged, recounting it as if it were a fact of Nature, that hospitals in major cities were going to collapse.

Governments do not lack the information to evaluate where this is leading to. Letting Covid do its job in the name of an unattainable “collective immunity” had been the governmental reflex in the face of the first wave. When epidemiologists now compare the “living with the pandemic” of that time with the “covid zero” strategy, they can only qualify it as a “public health disaster” and acknowledge that the human costs have been brutally higher.

USA, Biden and the “Johnson” model

New York. With hospitals saturated by Omicron cases, lines multiply at testing stations.
New York. With hospitals saturated by Omicron cases, lines multiply at testing stations.

The “strategy” of doing nothing and magically hoping for herd immunity has not been confined to Europe. Johnson’s passivity in the face of Omicron has turned out to be a role model for Biden.

The results were predictable: on Tuesday it was announced that there were already more than one million infections per day in the USA. New York hospitals are as overwhelmed as during the worst of the first wave. In what has been recognized as a “sign of desperation”, infected hospital workers are being asked to keep working.

The reasons are obscenely clear: in the “balance” between lives and business, only one side of the scale counts.

Johnson and Biden, analysts said, have been pushed by Covid’s policy and science toward a policy of trying to live with the virus rather than putting their countries back on a war footing. It’s a risky strategy: hospitals in Britain and parts of the United States are already nearly overrun with patients. But for now, it’s better than the alternative: shutting down their economies again.

How Biden and Johnson got to the same place in virus policy. New York Times.

Has Omicron killed the “Covid Zero” strategy?

Workers in hazmat suits stand at the entrance to the residential area of a university under lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China
Workers in hazmat suits stand at the entrance to the residential area of a university under lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China

The Anglo-Saxon financial press and the continental “big newspapers” are so devoted to the propaganda of the “do nothing so as not to damage the economy (=accumulation)” strategy that they keep on charging against countries that maintain different “Covid Zero” strategies. Basically China and Israel.

To say that “Covid Zero” and Chinese vaccines don’t work because there was an outbreak of 3,000 cases – and not a single one more – in a country with more than twice the population of the US, EU, Australia and Japan combined, may seem like a bad joke looking at the rest of the world. But the Financial Times has no qualms about it. Neither does Le Monde when it presents forced confinements as “inhumane measures”… letting thousands die would be the most humanitarian and liberating thing in the world.

With Israel the attitude is somewhat moderated… but it shows their intentions as well. The entire European press cheered the Israeli government when it considered letting Omicron do its thing. But when it approved the fourth dose of the vaccine, even the BBC was quick to argue that “it was too soon”.

The reality: China maintains the Covid Zero strategy, mobilizing massive resources and imposing confinements on millions in the face of outbreaks of a few thousand infections that, compared to Europeans, would be very small. And the results, measured in human costs, are working. As long as the Chinese ruling class keeps thinking that they also compensate in the medium term for their accumulation of capital, workers in China will not suffer an Omicron slaughter.

Is there really a scientific rationale to the “do nothing” policies in the face of Omicron?

Outcome of the Omicron wave in the USA compared to previous Covid waves
Outcome of the Omicron wave in the USA compared to previous Covid waves

The facts and data are quite clear. Omicron causes fewer deaths for the same number of infected, but being more contagious, it is getting closer and closer to the record number of hospitalizations a year ago (January 2021)…increasing indirect deaths while direct deaths keep rising. It may be that, if this continues, total deaths (direct + indirect) will also equal the July record soon, because hospitals are overwhelmed.

Yet all the state propaganda has been based on Omicron being “milder”. Using an old propaganda technique, the comparison takes for granted that previous Covid variants were already “mild” and reduces Omicron to something almost anecdotal before explaining anything. But this is not the case and the WHO has kept insisting that it “should not be qualified as mild” in any case.

The reality? The first studies were done in England and Denmark, where vaccination rates are high. In such data, it is difficult to disentangle what is due to mutations and what is due to the protection provided by vaccines. In any case, researchers’ statements in journals such as Science insist from the outset that “it could be a lot worse than most people are thinking at the moment.” The hospitalization figures proved them right.

What subsequent preliminary studies have shown, albeit still tentatively, is that Omicron would apparently be less likely to damage lung cells. That raises hope that it will generate fewer cases of persistent Covid. But… at the moment it can only be a hope.

What is certain is that in any case, letting the virus reproduce almost freely is the way to ensure not only a new Public Health disaster but new mutations. And in case we needed reminding, today’s news of the day is the appearance of a new variant in Cyprus that apparently combines Delta and Omicron..

Once again, Omicron reveals the anti-human logic of capital.

 Lowell Elementary School in Chicago, where classes were canceled Jan. 5. Teacher pressure prevented the agreement between local government and unions to reopen schools with lax Covid protocols.
Lowell Elementary School in Chicago, where classes were canceled Jan. 5. Teacher pressure prevented the agreement between local government and unions to reopen schools with lax Covid protocols.

It was the needs and effects of capital which created Covid in China and it has been the priority of saving investments before lives (the famous “balance”) which has turned the pandemic into a never-ending slaughter.

Through massive propaganda with genuine “fake news” as its flagship and induced demoralization, the differences between Omicron and previous variants are serving to eliminate the most basic measures to contain contagion. Nothing else can be expected from governments or the opinion industry. Nor is there any point in passively waiting for “milder” mutations. Neither is the current one – in Spain alone it kills every day the amount of people murdered by “gender-based violence” in three years – nor is there any evidence to suggest that milder mutations will appear and become dominant immediately.

As of today, the key to confront the pandemic effectively is political and can only be imposed by the workers. There are beginnings and attempts on a local scale. They must be multiplied.

nos

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