Saturday, 27th November, 2021

[Day 621]

Last night and in the small hours of this morning was when the storm Arwen passed over the UK, affecting parts of the country in the North East much more severely than the rest of us. Nonetheless, we awoke with a smattering of snow on the ground and the remnants of some sleet and snow flurries as the storm had evidently passed over and we were in the tailwinds of the storm proper. So as it generally quite cold and the temperature outside was down to about 1°-2° although projected to rise a little as the day progressed. In view of these weather conditions, we decided to go down and collect the newspaper by car and to forego the dubious pleasures of a walk in the park with icy-cold winds. So we came home and had our elevenses at home before preparing ourselves a treat of a lunch which is some venison burgers which we had with a baked potato and Cavolo Nero kale. This afternoon we thought we going to have a rugby match of Barbarians vs.Western Samoa but I think they had to pull this match at the last moment as some instances of COVID had appeared in the participating teams. Instead we were treated to Barbarians women vs. South Africa women and this turned out to be yet another rout (60-5) as I remember. Mid way through the afternoon, I ventured into Mog’s Den to check on the electrics of my new fence surveillance system and to check that no falling branches had done any damage overnight. As it turned out, things were fine on both counts but this morning, I had to use a broom to get rid of the heavy, slushy snow that was bending our lavatorial branches right over – and if left as they were, then they could eventually split and cause a real mess to be cleared up. Again, it was a case of a ‘stitch in time saves nine’.

The new variant of the COVID virus has been officially named ‘OMicron‘ and has already caused a flurry of activity from government. Many if not most of the flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries have been banned. Also, in a news conference, Boris Johnson has announced that face-masks are to be made compulsory in all shops and on public transport. These extra regulations are to be reviewed again in three weeks time. He added that day two PCR tests will return for all international travellers, saying the government ‘will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result‘. All of this sounds incredibly sensible – two cases of the new variant have already been discovered in the UK (in Chelmsford and in Nottingham) so the time to transmit from Southern Africa to the UK has been incredibly rapid.

This Omicron variant appears to be really nasty. This has all the hallmarks of a really nasty variant. Never before have we seen so many mutations all arising at the same time. At least 30 are in the spike protein, the part of the virus targeted by the vaccine. The scientists are deeply concerned but a lot more investigation is required before we know how dangerous this new variant really is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that vaccines would be completely ineffective against OMicron but it is the impact the individual mutations have on the shape of the spike protein that matters, not the total number. But the fear is that the protein would have shape-shifted and that could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. It’s not clear by how much, though one senior expert at the UK Health Security Agency said it was the worst variant seen so far.

The reaction from various parts of the UK has been interesting.The reaction of the Welsh and Scottish governments has been to approve the new regulations and to point out that this is what may happen if you relax regulations (e.g. on international travel) too far. Andy Burnham the mayor of Greater Manchester has opined that ‘This is right but shows why they shouldn’t have been relaxed. It will now be harder, and take longer, to get levels of compliance up to where we need them to be.’ The next week or so are going to be quite critical in our reactions to this new variant. One particular feature is to work out just how transmittable the new virus will turn out to be – if it spreads even faster than the Delta variant, then we are in real trouble! A second feature is what degree of illness the new variant induces – it could be that even if a person is infected, the results might be less (or even more) severe than other variants. Existing vaccines may prove to have some limited effect but as of today the scientists have not the opportunity to test how vaccines have any effect upon the new variant. In practice, we may not get the answer to this question for several weeks.