Doubling every two days: Omicron growing rapidly in UK and Denmark

doubling every two days
Omicron is growing rapidly in the UK and Denmark

by Klaus Wedekind

British data suggests Omicron may soon be the dominant Sars-CoV-2 variant in the state. Confirmed infections doubled within two days to 336 cases with B.1.1.529. Omicron is spreading faster and faster in Denmark as well.

There is still too little known about the Omicron coronavirus virus to be sure how dangerous it really is. Data from Great Britain are particularly valuable for evaluation, as far more samples are tested positive for their virus strain than in most other countries. The latest figures suggest that Omicron is spreading very quickly in Great Britain and may soon replace the currently prevalent delta variant.

The UK’s Health Protection Agency reported Omicron’s first two confirmed cases on 27 November. Two days later it was eleven, on 2 December it was 42. The number rose to 134 the next day, with the UKHSA counting 160 micron infections on 4 December, 246 on Sunday, 336 today.

So the curve rises sharply, apparently doubling the number of cases every two days. Fears that the new version may be much more contagious than Delta’s and that vaccination and protection of healthy people could be more easily overcome are confirmed.

possibly a large number of unreported cases

The actual number of Omicron cases is likely to be much higher than the officially counted one. On one hand, not all COVID-19 infections have been detected yet. In June, the RKI, in a summary of a study with data up to February 2021, wrote that nearly twice as many cases of infection had been reported. Epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb estimates that the number of currently unreported cases is at least that high. “I think we have between half and a third of the actual number of known cases,” he told Deutsche Welle.

Great Britain’s unreported number should, at least currently, be lower than that of German, as only 4 percent test positive there, while the Federal Republic of Germany has the worst rate in the European Union of around 21 percent and thus lower. There is a high level of reporting.

On the other hand, vaccination and increasing numbers of recoveries mean that many COVID-19 infections have a very mild course or are often symptom-free. This means that testing is done less frequently and eventually fewer cases are discovered.

indexing too slow

After all, recognized numbers lag behind reality as it usually takes more than a day unless determined by a sort of indexing. The most time-consuming process is to prepare a sample for genome analysis, said a laboratory employee “Tagesschau.de”. Because virus RNA has to be extracted from positive samples and replicated. Only then can the genome of the virus be decrypted. A machine does the remaining work automatically in 30 hours.

In theory, Omicron infections could be detected more quickly, because PCR tests lead to so-called “S gene target failures”, according to “Ärzteblatt”. This means that positive samples are negative partly because one of the oomicron mutations is in one of three gene segments that the test detects. This was already present with Alpha, but this variant was completely superseded by Delta, which does not cause “S gene target failure”.

can’t stop spreading

According to “ITV,” however, not all British laboratories responsible for the evaluation can search for the S gene. A UKHSA spokesman told the TV broadcaster that only half were equipped to do so. With its testing capabilities, Great Britain can clearly represent the evolution of Omicron, the authors write. However, the British health system is unlikely to be able to effectively stop the spread, as many such infections go undetected.

The problem is likely to be short-lived. A company in Singapore today launched the first Omicron-specific PCR test. A sample gives one of three results, writes “The Straight Times”: COVID-19-positive and Omicron-positive, COVID-19-positive and Omicron-negative, or COVID-19- and Omicron-negative. However, with the apparently very infectious form, every day counts and specific tests probably come too late to stop Omicron.

Exponential growth in Denmark too

This is also shown by data from Denmark, which, like Great Britain, sequences a lot and has a low test-positive rate of 2.5 percent. Furthermore, at 77 percent, the country’s overall population has a much higher testing rate than Germany.

Nevertheless, health authority Statens Serum Institute (SSI) has already reported 261 omicron cases today. Two days ago 135 infected were found. “We are seeing a worrying increase in the number of Omicron infected people in Denmark,” writes SSI boss Henrik Ullum. “There are now frequent chains of infection where the infection is seen in people who have not traveled or have relationships with travellers.”

As in the UK, the number of Omicron infections detected has nearly doubled in two days. If things continue at this pace, there will be around 500 cases on Wednesday, and 1000 in the next two days. There will be more than 2,000 new Omicron infections in Denmark next Sunday, 16,000 next Saturday, 256,000 cases eight days later.

Even if there are only a few registered Omicron cases officially in Germany so far, one must assume that the variant is also spreading rapidly here and is only rarely recognized. However, due to 2G and 3G regulations and other restrictions, growth may be slower than in Great Britain and Denmark, where there are no coronavirus measures or hardly any measures.

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