What effect does the "mild" Omicron have on Covid mortality in Hungary?

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So, what’s happening during the current (fifth) pandemic wave caused by the “mild” Omicron variant of coronavirus? With 63% of the population vaccinated with two doses and almost 39% given three shots of COVID-19 vaccines, can we really say that Omicron is less dangerous? And if we say it, who will believe it?
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Scientists agree that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more contagious than the previous Delta strain, but it does not cause such severe disease, i.e. it is “milder”. This “mild” variant is still killing people, though, and there have been ample warnings against taking this variant lightly. We have just collected a couple of headlines (with the links to the articles).

So, why are we talking about this? Because this “mild” coronavirus variant is killing people in Hungary too. And the thing is that the daily reports by the official government portal do not do the perished justice. They do not show the trend. And once we take a closer look at the statistics - something Balázs Pártos has also done - , we find interesting things.

  1. the number of people in hospital with coronavirus infection has been growing since mid-January;
  2. the number of Covid patients in need of mechanical ventilation was dropping right until the end of January, and has been picking up only sluggishly since;
  3. the number of Covid deaths has been rising and shows an upward trend.

There are as many people in hospital as in mid-December, the number of daily Covid deaths is about the same as at the end of December, while the ratio of Covid deaths / ventilated Covid patients is four times higher than a month ago.

Gábor Zacher, head physician at the Hatvan hospital, the Omicron variant puts almost only the unvaccinated, as well as elderly, chronic patients into intensive care units. Our suspicion is that most of these patients die in regular Covid wards and not in ICUs, or at least the share of them in the death statistics is higher than before.

We'd definitely need to check if the average age of the deceased have changed (risen) or not, but authorities provide statistics in a format that would be extremely tedious to build into a usable database. (If you don't believe it, check out this site. The only thing you could do is manually highlight and then copy the data rows on each page, one by one, and paste them into an Excel sheet and then start sorting out the data. There are 846 pages.)

If you'd rather see data that underpin the “mild” nature of Omicron, we also have those. Unfortunately, the much lower death / case ratio owes to the extremely high number of COVID-19 cases, so we better focus on deaths / hospitalisations and deaths / ventilated patients percentages.

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If you want, you can also compare the current situation with the one we were in a year ago by looking at the six charts below. (Note that the accumulation starts on 28 August and we just zoomed in on the 1 Jan - 9 Feb period on the following four charts. A separate chart for this period alone can be found below.)

These shows us that

  • there are way more cases, but Covid patients spend fewer days in hospital;
  • the number of days spent on ventilator is higher, though;
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  • the accumulated number of Covid deaths is slightly lower between 28 Aug and 9 Feb in 2021/22 than a year earlier (left-hand chart) and also in the 1 Jan – 9 Feb period (bottom chart);
  • the accumulated number of days spent in ICUs is currently higher than a year ago despite the much shorter time Covid patients spend in hospitals.
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And we are also catching up with last year's data in terms of the 7-day average of daily Covid deaths.

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Cover photo: Getty Images

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