Hungarian authorities in the dark about the spread of Omicron

Economy

How many Omicron checkouts does Hungary have? Uh …, uh … Not a lot?

Almost all developed countries have been reporting for weeks how much of the SARS-CoV-2 sequences are the Omicron variant, i.e. how it replaces the Delta variant. Hungary does not provide any such information.

The private laboratory Neumann Labs diagnosed the first people infected with the Omicron variant in Hungary on December 13. The NNK announced on December 15 that it had found Omicron in 15 samples. On December 23, the NNK reported 46 more Omicron cases (we now have 61 in total, and most of these were likely confirmations of cases diagnosed by Neumann Labs). On December 29, the NNK said 68 cases of Omicron had been detected in Hungary.

15, 61, 68… these numbers only testify to one thing: the NNK has no idea how fast Omicron is spreading in Hungary.

Nearly 51,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in the country since December 13. Are they saying that only 68 of them are linked to Omicron? Seriously? Did they look at the statistics of the countries that are sequencing the samples for various variants, especially Omicron? Are they aware that Omicron cases are doubling every two or three days?

These ridiculously low numbers only mislead people and trivialize and downplay otherwise justified concerns about Omicron’s presence.

How could we do it?

  • Portugal regularly publishes Omicron’s share of new infections and said its share was over 60% at Christmas;
  • Belgium has diagnosed as many people with Omicron as with Delta in recent days;
  • In the UK, 90% of new cases are caused by Omicron.

Omicron takes over:

Hungary is one of the countries that does not follow the variants, along with most of Africa, less developed regions of Asia, and some countries in Eastern Europe.

Knowing the presence / dominance of Omicron, the severity of the disease it causes and its hospitalization rate is essential, given its extremely rapid transmission.

Neumann Labs has already found that 60% of positive cases are caused by the Omicron variant. However, the uncertainties remain enormous and Omicron’s share among new cases could be between 40% and 80%.

This implies that of the 3,005 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Hungary yesterday, 1,200 to 2,400 could have been caused by Omicron.

And let’s not forget that testing practices are extremely poor and unpredictable, meaning that there are many more people infected than official statistics show. Daily figures show that one day authorities test people who show unequivocal signs of infection, while the other day they mainly test those who appear healthy. Positive daily percentages mean next to nothing, we need to at least focus on averages of 7 days or more (21 days).

Local epidemiologists, virologists, other experts are positive and international examples also assure that the Omicron variant will cause the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Hungary. The start of the new wave will overlap with the end of the current one caused by the Delta variant, so it will be more difficult to determine its real kickoff. But it is a matter of days rather than weeks. The number of new cases, active cases and the positivity rate will not matter as much as hospitalizations, given that the first three depend on extremely poor screening practices.

Let’s see some key charts on the current situation.

The positivity rate dropped from 30% to 19.32%, but, as mentioned above, daily readings don’t mean much. Focus on the averages of longer periods, especially the 3 day / 21 day ratio of the positivity rate and its 7 day average.

Here’s how the key stats for the past two months compare to the same period a year ago. The cumulative number of deaths from Covid between August 1 and December 28 is 3.3% higher than for the same period of 2020.

Vaccinations are progressing steadily. See more graphics here.

  • on a third of the population have so far received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine;
  • on 3.5 million people have not received any dose of COVID-19 vaccine;
  • the vaccine effectiveness decreases over time, which means that around three million Hungarians have decreased or no protection against coronavirus infection, even after two jabs;
  • the highly contagious Omicron variant is going to become the dominant strain, maybe within a few weeks, as Omicron cases double every two or three days. Even though this strain does not cause more severe disease than the Delta variant, its extremely rapid spread could put a strain on the health care system in a very short time;
  • the Hungarian government is not currently considering containment measures, although several Western European countries have already introduced new restrictions.

The following charts show the changes in two of the key parameters of the pandemic, the number of Covid patients hospitalized and on a ventilator as well as their relevant ratios.

On the charts below, the 0% line is important. When the curves are below 0%, there is a decrease, when they exceed 0%, there is an increase. The changes show that the situation in terms of hospitalizations started to deteriorate after August 20.

More importantly, when a value is north of 0% but the curve is going down, it means increasing at a slowing rate, rather than decreasing. If the curve is greater than 0% and ascending, it is an increase at an accelerating rate. When we are below 0% and the curve goes down, this results in a decrease which accelerates, and when it goes up it marks a deceleration.

Cover photo: Getty Images

Laura T. Thrasher