Celtic Fans Should Be Watching Nicola Sturgeon Tomorrow, But The Numbers Even More.

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Tomorrow she will make an announcement to the Scottish Parliament on the current state of play with the virus.

At this moment in time, numbers are still rising.

But unless there has been a major spike in serious case hospitalisations – not being seen anywhere else – I don’t expect there to be further restrictions in any part of the economy.

Indeed, the isolation period might well end up reduced to prevent what, at this point, looks like un-necessary pressure on services.

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am not a virus sceptic.

Everyone knows that I take this as seriously as anybody, that I’ve urged the continued wearing of masks, that I’ve supported lockdown measures, that I favour vaccinations, and that I have backed restrictions at every stage.

But the more information we have on this variant the clearer it becomes that it is not as dangerous as Delta and it will not require anywhere near the number of ICU beds.

Vaccination is still the key to this; I cannot urge enough that everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to get it done, and to up it to boosters as soon as possible. Get yourself as well secured against this thing as you can be and normality is no longer something you pretend to be living in but something you can genuinely embrace again.

Don’t stop, either, any of the protective measures you’ve been taking; in fact, keep on doing them long after this thing has passed.

The wearing of masks on public transport, regular hand-washing in sanitiser and generally just being careful … these are good habits to get into. The reason Asia wasn’t as hard hit in earlier waves was because they do this stuff as a matter of routine, as they’ve been through it all before and before and before and before.

And if you’re under a certain age (40ish) that’s good, because mark my words; this is not the last one of these you’re going to have to live through.

Next time we’ll all be better prepared.

In the meantime, I think if the data from elsewhere is reflected in our numbers that the Scottish Government will find additional measures impossible to sell to the public or business.

And if other areas of the economy are not to be restricted further to keep down hospital numbers, I don’t know how her government can justify closing football grounds.

Remember a week or so ago, I wrote a piece suggesting that the news might be doubly good?

That not only was this variant not as severe but that it might not even be significantly more transmissible than Delta?

Well, further data from abroad has backed that view up.

The Danes have concluded that Omicron’s “advantage” in infectiousness may not be due to increased infectivity but its ability to re-infect those who’ve had other variants and to break through vaccine protection. That, and the faster rate at which it multiplies in a host, is what is causing the high spikes in numbers.

It was always one of the possibilities. It is looking increasingly likely.

And if that data is accurate – and you can see the levelling off of case numbers in places where a more infective virus would not have shown such a trend – then to put it simply, any protection that we had from Delta is enough, at a societal level, to protect us from Omicron which may not be more infectious and is definitely less severe.

But there is, of course, an additional factor here.

This was always about offering protection to the NHS, and that remains the number one priority.

Celtic fans should be listening to her talk tomorrow, but also watching three numbers; the number of cases, the number of cases in hospitals and the number of deaths.

Case numbers are going up. The number of cases in hospitals are going up. Deaths will jump up a little, but we’re in the flu season as well as dealing with an upsurge in Delta cases.

What you’re looking for is evidence that the numbers are rising in line with the kind of worst-case scenarios which are driving restrictions.

The main place where we need to watch for big rises is in the ICU numbers.

To be frank, I don’t expect to see that now.

It’s not being seen elsewhere, and it’s not really showing up in the daily data logs the Scottish Government publishes either.

ICU numbers, with the virus, remain steady at an average of 38.

At the moment, that number is 42 … it’s not a major jump.

It was 38 yesterday, and there’s been no significant increase since the reporting period going back to 20 December when there were, again 38. Fourteen days later, we are not seeing a rise in line with the case numbers at all, unless there’s an underlying trend we’re not getting the full picture of at the moment and I can’t see what that would be.

The seven day rolling average for ICU admissions is around 5 per day.

There were spells in October – before Omicron – when it was as high as 7.

For a spell in September, it was 11.

So that increase of 4 is very modest.

On top of that, there is a fourth number to keep your eyes on; the number of hospital cases who have “incidental infections”; i.e. the number who were admitted to hospital with the virus but not because of the virus, or those who caught it whilst on the wards.

That is important because to truly understand how big a rise we’ve got we need to be able to see those sums.

In England, where they have published that data, the case numbers in some areas show that incidental infections account for 30% of the total number of cases which are classed as “being in hospital with the virus.”

We need to know what it is here.

Because whilst ICU cases have not risen, over the same fourteen-day period the number of people in hospital testing positive has doubled … those aren’t translating into serious cases, but the pressure on hospitals is real, it is dangerous and we have to figure out why that number is so high.

But a clue might lie in the number of positive cases being turned up in tests.

A few months ago that number was as low as 7%. Now it’s 35%.

To be blunt, more people have this than at any point since the crisis began and we’re testing more people on top of that.

I’ll do one more piece on the hospital numbers and those scary looking percentages when we see the full dataset tomorrow, but I’m pretty confident that one of the reasons we’re seeing more of this in the hospitals is that there’s simply a higher prevalence of it in the society as a whole.

We’ll soon find out.

I’ve said from the moment Celtic pushed for the extended break that it was a positive step because we would very soon have better information, the sort that would let us know whether fans would be back in grounds quickly.

Every bit of raw data we’ve got now is trending in a direction that makes it incredibly hard to see how the policy of cutting crowd numbers can be justified without more severe measures in society as a whole.

I am all for doing what works. I am not for restrictions which will not do a shred of good, decided on an arbitrary basis, with no science to back them up, just so our political leaders can look like they are doing something. It’s just not on.

The idea that we can slow this thing down by cutting the number of fans allowed in football grounds whilst leaving open the pubs is simply illogical, and if, as expected, she announces a cut in the time people have to self-isolate, then it becomes indefensible.

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  • Sophie Johnstone says:

    I’m no anti vaccer,frankly they are seriously effed in the head,but I do posses a healthy does of scepticism as I don’t think that’s a bad thing,hopefully light may be at the end of the tunnel

  • Colin Barclay says:

    A great summary as ever James, but what about this for an alternative view. The current restrictions are helping to keep the numbers down and reducing the pressure on the NHS. Should we not continue with this for a short while to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed. Maybe until the end of January or when we are past the winter bug season. Football can survive until then surely.

    • James Forrest says:

      I can see the logic in it mate. If the numbers tomorrow bear that approach out you can see backing it … to a degree.

      And in fact, if football restrictions had been married to extending vaccine passport requirements to pubs I’d be with it all the way.

      But the inconsistency and incoherence of the policy as it stands right now is staggering.

      • Stephen McAdam says:

        It’s crazy when you see full stadiums in England, so if there us any rise there at all she shut down completely! I see another issue the police wanting a empty ground with us playing the posion on a midweek night, tho they are and always were aware it’s the poison that caused all the mayhem in the city! They know fine well! All stats are they to prove it also!

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