A blow-by-blow explainer on how Boris Johnson set the UK up for a third wave

Originally published at: A blow-by-blow explainer on how Boris Johnson set the UK up for a third wave | Boing Boing

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Article from National Geographic. It ain’t over 'til it’s over:

The Delta variant is serious. Here’s why it’s on the rise.

The virus variant that caused infections to spike in the U.K. is now spreading in the U.S., and experts are very worried.

BYSANJAY MISHRA PUBLISHED JUNE 16, 2021

With vaccination rates slowing in the United States, and other countries struggling to secure vaccines, public health experts have growing concerns that the so-called Delta coronavirus variant, first identified in India in March, could trigger dramatic rises in cases and deaths in the U.S. and the world.

The Delta variant already accounts for 18 percent of cases in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, and about six percent of cases nationwide. It has already spread to more than 70 countries and is now the most dominant variant in India, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Last week, Delta caused more than 90 percent of the new COVID-19 cases in the U.K., leading to a 65 percent bump in new infections since May 1. On Monday, to curb Delta’s spread, the U.K. government decided to postpone “freedom day,” which would mark the end of public health restrictions.

The Delta variant is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant—first identified in the U.K.—which in turn was about 50 percent more transmissible than the ancestral Wuhan strain. “It’s a super spreader variant, that is worrisome,” says Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. It has features that enable escape from the immune system and is perhaps more evasive than the Beta variant (B.1.351) first identified in South Africa, which was the worst until now, says Topol. “Plus, it has the highest transmissibility of anything we’ve seen so far. It’s a very bad combination.”

Dismayed by the trajectory of Delta in the U.K., Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned President Joe Biden last week, “we cannot let that happen in the United States.”

The President echoed those sentiments, tweeting “Folks, the Delta variant—a highly infectious COVID-19 strain—is spreading rapidly among young people between 12 and 20 years old in the U.K. If you’re young and haven’t gotten your shot yet, it really is time.” A complete dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is still effective at preventing serious COVID-19 stemming from Delta infection.

Why is the Delta variant so scary?

Freely circulating viruses, especially coronaviruses and influenza viruses, which encode their genetic instructions using the molecule RNA, mutate frequently and randomly due to copying errors introduced as they replicate in their human host cells. Some mutations enable the virus to evade antibodies; some enhance its ability to infect a cell; others go unnoticed since they yield no benefits or can even weaken it.

The key to Delta’s success is the collection of mutations the variant has accumulated in the spike protein, which covers SARS-CoV-2 and gives the virus its signature crown-like appearance. These mutations have changed the spike, and, as a result, some of the existing antibodies may not bind as tightly or as often, explains Markus Hoffmann, an infectious disease biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Germany. Hoffman and others have shown that Delta and its closely related Kappa variant evade antibodies that were generated through previous infection and vaccination. Some synthetically produced antibody therapies, like Bamlanivimab, were unable to neutralize the Delta variant; but others such as Etesivimab, Casirivimab, and Imdevimab were still effective.

The Delta variant has mutations on the spike protein that alter how it interacts with the ACE2 receptor protein, which is found on the surface of lung and other human cells and is the portal to invade the cell. The mutation at location 452 of the spike protein, which is also present in some of the California variants, appears to make the virus more transmissible and helps it spread through the population, explains Mehul Suthar, an immunologist at the Emory Vaccine Center.

If a mutation gives a virus a fitness or reproductive advantage, that mutation tends to evolve independently around the world. Delta, its closely related variants, and the highly contagious Alpha variant all carry a mutation at position 681 of the spike protein, which is thought to be an evolutionary game changer that also makes it easier for SARS-CoV-2 to invade the host cell and spread. This mutation is fast becoming common in COVID-19 viruses around the globe.

In addition to these mutations a recent study, not peer reviewed, shows a variation at position 478 on Delta’s spike that enables the virus to escape from weak neutralizing antibodies. This mutation has also become increasingly common in SARS-CoV-2 variants in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since early 2021.

“When you have all of these mutations, then you start seeing a difference in infectivity (of the virus),” says Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, who has shown in an unpublished study how these variants can have a greater potential to cause disease.

Vaccines less effective against this super spreader

The data from India and the U.K. show that Delta has emerged as the dominant variant in those countries within four to six weeks. That indicates Delta is more transmissible and infectious than the previous variants. There is emerging evidence that it can also cause more severe disease. For example, in Scotland it caused about twice as many hospitalizations than the Alpha variant, which already caused more severe illness than the original SARS-CoV-2.

“This combination of high transmissibility, high severity, and escape from vaccines makes Delta a very, very dangerous variant,” says Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London. Once Delta enters a country, it is going to spread rapidly. “It’s going to be quite hard to contain, and very likely will become the dominant variant in a matter of weeks. It could change the trajectory of the global pandemic.”

While vaccines are still effective against severe disease and hospitalization caused by the Alpha and Beta variants, they offer less protection against Delta. People who were vaccinated with one or two doses of the Pfizer vaccine produced lower levels of antibodies capable of neutralizing the Delta variant compared with the levels generated against Alpha and Beta. In the U.K., 31 percent of all confirmed Delta variant patients who needed emergency care had received at least one vaccine dose.

Similarly, a study under review revealed that after both doses, the Pfizer vaccine showed 88 percent effectiveness against symptomatic disease caused by the Delta variant compared to 93 percent against the Alpha variant. Two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine were 66 percent effective against Alpha but only 60 percent against Delta. But with just single dose of either of the two vaccines, the vaccine effectiveness was only 51 percent against the Alpha variant compared to 33 percent against Delta. This effectiveness falls below the 50 percent efficacy threshold the FDA had set for designing safe COVID-19 vaccines; in which a vaccine should prevent at least half of the vaccinated people from getting COVID-19 symptoms.

In other studies still awaiting peer review, researchers report that Delta was responsible for most breakthrough infections—which occur after full vaccination—in India leading to a cluster of such cases among fully vaccinated healthcare workers.

There are many vaccine candidates being rolled out around the world and since there are no agreed international efficacy standards, each vaccine might offer a varying degree of protection against new variants. “We need more information about the performance of some of the more widely available vaccines in other parts of the world,” says physician and virologist Benjamin Pinsky of Stanford University School of Medicine. “I think folks need to make sure they get vaccinated. And until they are fully vaccinated, continuing with public health intervention is very important,” he says.

A vaccine alone only slows down the progression of a contagious disease by increasing the herd immunity. Until that point, preventive measures such as social distancing and masking are proven strategies for curbing the spread of the virus.

With just 44 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, the majority of people are still vulnerable. Relaxing public health restrictions and declaring victory prematurely could provide an opportunity for the Delta variant to surge–particularly in the fall.

A study, not yet published, suggests the possibility of seasonal variations in COVID-19 incidence based on analyses from a full year of the pandemic in Europe and Israel. While the virus’s seasonal trends may not be clear yet, says Topol, we do know that when people spend more time indoors with poor ventilation and low humidity the virus spreads more rapidly.

What is happening in the U.K. could occur in many places worldwide. “We should keep social distancing after vaccination, because there will always be possibilities of breakthrough infection because vaccines can still be imperfect against emerging variants,” says Kei Sato, a virologist at the University of Tokyo, Japan, who has been studying the effect of mutations on the transmission of Delta and other emerging variants.

“The more variants like this spread, especially in unvaccinated individuals, the more these viruses mutate and eventually pick up mutations that allow for more efficient antibody escape. This could, in theory, make the current vaccines even less effective against these variants.” Suthar cautions.

If we don’t take Delta seriously, “there will be a further wave in the U.S. We can already see the fall in cases has plateaued,” cautions Gupta. Topol agrees that if we ignore this variant “we’ll have a significant rise in cases in vulnerable areas, more hospitalization, and the pandemic here will last longer.”

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Cases in the UK have quadrupled in the last month

What’s surprising to me is that only just a few days ago the UK allowed 18+ to have the vaccine.

They were, early on, a leader in vaccinations, but their rollout was strange and for a long time only 50+ could get it. They surged to a relatively high vaccination level but had people who wanted to get it but couldn’t. If they’d let 18+ get it a month ago they might be in a lot better shape.

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Apparently they prioritized using limited vaccine supply to distribute as many first doses as quickly as possible. Rather than vaccinating fewer people fully, and that seems to be what’s bit them in the ass. They seemed ahead of the game early on, but they’ve got proportionally fewer people with full vaccinations. Which let the delta variant spread around a much bigger pool.

Now they’re hitting delays as they try to play catch up, and they’re hampered in aggressively vaccinating in areas with outbreaks.

My Irish family have been bitching about it. Apparently the cock up has effected vaccine supply in Ireland since AZ Vaccine from the UK was expected to be a major part of their supply. And shipments were repeatedly delayed, more so as the UK’s cock up became clearer.

My cousin over in Dublin is immunocompromised so he was signed up for the shot fairly early. He was initially told it would be 20 weeks before he could get the second shot. They later dropped that to 6 weeks. And they seem to be catching up by grabbing excess supply from Europe and the US.

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Boris the tRump wannabe is culpable as a mass murderer, why is he still PM?

P.S. The US media is not carrying any of this, again we are a dollar short and a day late. 18 months ago we had near zero information due to the willful incompetence of the tRump Co. admin., who do we blame now? Why are US public at the low end of the information stream?

P.S.S. Your mask and medical gloves are your best weapon, distance if you can. Be prepared for another hunker down, it’s coming.

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Not sure which background music goes best with the twitter link:
Benny Hill’s Yakkity Sax or soundtrack from Contagion.

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Source (requires an account to read the whole article): http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/the-delta-variant-is-serious-heres-why-its-on-the-rise

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If COVID were a character:

Saturday Night Live Dancing GIF by PeacockTV

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I want to be in the writers meeting when “David S. Pumpkins” was created.
Oh, wait, I can:

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Perhaps they have been opening up for ever-younger age groups in line with the available supply of vaccines. A month ago there might not have been enough for every 18+ year old to get one. Plus there’s the issue of ensuring supplies that allow second doses to be given on schedule.

ETA some of what @Ryuthrowsstuff says but…

Might theoretically have meant more first doses available, potentially for 18+ year olds. But they weren’t finished doing the 30+ year olds at that point.

If this is what you are calling a ‘cock-up’, I am not at all certain this can be characterised as such. I am the first to castigate Johnson and co for their wilful incompetence (among many other things), but with a defined vaccine supply, getting more people double-vaccinated earlier would simply have meant more people without any protection at all, i.e. the lower, but still valuable, protection of a single dose.

The cock-up was not closing the borders, in the first wave, the second wave or the third wave. Ironic, seeing as much of Brexit was about taking back control of our borders (not that we didn’t actually have it - it was merely that several governments in a row had not bothered to exert any control). And no we have the Brexit-gifted ‘control’ we are - it seems - free to leave them open to as much coronavirus as we like.

There are things I would happily do to Johnson that would get my post moderated into invisibility if I wrote them here.

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This right here.

Boris and his government have consistently been acting too late and pushing to re-open before it is safe. While not as extreme as some of the reactions we have seen around the world the Trump/Bolsorano/Modi instinct is alive and well within the UK government- ever since the virus was discovered, the conservative party has been a hotbed of “re-open the economy as soon as possible” sentiment, with only the sudden realisation of the death toll that this would cause pushing them onto a more rational path.

They are escaping any sort of political fall-out for their incompetence earlier in the pandemic, because of news overload, and because of how well the vaccine roll-out is going. (See my earlier post about that)
So let’s just look back at some of the rank incompetence that the UK government has been up to over the course of the pandemic:

Boris’s government initially wanted to let the virus run its course to achieve “herd immunity”

The UK refused to control international travel to the country, at a time when it could have made a difference:

Then, when controls were in place, there was and remains no enforcement of quarantine requirements for people returning from abroad, and no attempt even made to keep track of people arriving from high-covid areas.

When the health service was in desperate need of protective equipment, the government ran a corrupt and chaotic procurement process, handing out contracts to companies that had links to politicians:

Then they tried to cover it up:

After the first lockdown was over, the UK government fuelled the second wave with a scheme to encourage people to use sit-in dining:

Then, when the second wave was clearly incoming, the UK government initially refused to countenance a second lockdown

Even refusing support to the devolved governments if they wanted to respond to the second wave before England did:

And this is just a sampler of the incompetence, corruption and dithering that we’ve seen from the UK government. It’s clear that the instincts of the Boris clique are towards full denialism, and that any successes are down to pure chance.

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Who would have though that a man who doesn’t know how to comb his hair was incompetent? (Or rather thinking not combing your hair makes you more marketable to commoners.)

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Incompetence? Boris and his friends would like the poor and the old and the unproductive to die with their unproductive carers. ‘Let the bodies pile high in their thousands’ is hardly ambiguous. Priti Patel wants asylum seekers packed in close contact without imunization. Thee want to sell off the National Health Service so it no longer props up the working classes: if they want treatment they will have to negotiate American-style for it. It must be easier to imagine such people as blundering, because we don’t like to think of ourselves as people who tolerate genocide. But it is what it is.

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Because Keir Starmer still hasn’t realised that his job as Leader of the Opposition is to oppose the government in power. De Pfeffel gets more opposition from his back benches than he does from the Labour party.

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I regret only having one like for your post.

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Nationalists have been blowing it lately when it comes to covid shit.

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Oh I didn’t say it was the source of the problems. More one cock up of many.

It’s just apparently the explanation for why vaccination didn’t have the impact in the UK that it did in other nations, even those that initially rolled it out more slowly. And it seems to be complicating supply and delaying roll out now that things have gone shitty. Which is what @KingGhidorah was talking about.

It sounds nice on paper. But it doesn’t work in the real world. Particularly when you throw a faster spreading variant in, where one dose of your main vaccine is much less effective. Astra Zeneca seems to be less effective against the delta variant than most, especially on a single dose.

It would. But if you’re scheduling on that is based on getting a single dose to as many (or even all) of a given group before opening up the next. And then reality shows up and you have to redirect a fixed supply to play catch up on the first group. That’s gonna slow things down, especially if you just kinda stick with it despite the problems.

That seems to be the rub on the pushing single doses thing. Seems like they were warned not to do it, seems like very few other countries went that route. Seems like they stuck with it even as it was causing problems early on. Seems like they did it anyway to justify “opening” earlier.

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90%+ of covid-related deaths were older people (50+?) or underlying health conditions. We prioritised protecting the most vulnerable before expanding to get towards the stable equilibrium point where the virus stops killing quite so many people.

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The single dose thing was not “causing problems early on”. Quite the contrary. A single dose was very effective pre-Delta variant (and still is to some extent), especially at reducing serious cases needing hospitalisation. It permitted many more people to get some level of protection - an effective level of protection.

The early vaccine strategy was ok and would likely have remained so had the fuckwit Johnson not opened up too early and also paid scant attention to borders and quarantine measures. And it is feasible it would have remained ok even in the face of the Delta variant had it not been almost encouraged to spread by a rigid sticking to the timetable for opening up.

I really do not think that it is true that the 12-week gap is

The virulence/transmissibility of the Delta variant is nothing to do with the UK’s vaccine strategy.

And our press, which despite being Tory-biased in the main, has not as yet, to the best of my knowledge, published any finger-pointing pieces saying the current problems are due to our 12-week-gap strategy. You can bet that if even one relatively recognised scientist was claiming that, it would have been in the press.

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