A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

18 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. The Omicron variant, which I predicted, has now arrived. You can find my prediction in the record of this blog. How was my prediction able to be correct? It was very simple with no soothsayer or seer abilities necessary. We saw new variants arising continually and we saw the WHO naming new variants of interest and concern in Greek alphabet order. We also saw new and more dangerous variants arising periodically. I picked Omicron for a prediction of a new, dangerous variant because it was a few more letters down the Greek alphabet and I thought “Omicron” sounded suitably ominous and dystopian. I was using it as an symbolic example of the further dangers we would face from this rapidly mutating, highly contagions RNA virus.

    As the odds would have it (and the odds were reasonable) I turned out to be right. Omicron shows every sign of being a very dangerous new variant, through the full studies are not in yet as it was only discovered and named a few days ago. Omicron embodies the dangers I have been fulminating about since almost the beginning of this epidemic. In standard, conventional terms I was being “alarmist”. In actual terms, I was being wholly realistic and scientifically guided about a serious global danger.

    Those who advocated caution, control, suppression and eradication of the virus from the outset or from relatively early on in the first full year of the pandemic have been thoroughly vindicated. Many on this blog did advocate that. Those out in greater society, government and the elite oligarch clubs who advocated for the myths of business as usual being more important than human lives, of herd immunity, perfect vaccines and the most obnoxious lie of all, “living with COVID-19” have been thoroughly refuted and disgraced. Their intellectual and moral bankruptcy is complete and on display for all. However, as usual, being wrong means nothing when people are in power (power conferred by wealth and politics). They can go on being wrong as long as they like. Their egregious mistakes kill millions and they simply do not care.

    The thing is our elites cannot go on being wrong forever. Eventually the chickens, or rather the virus particles and CO2 molecules do come home to roost. Real consequences for mistakes this bad eventually force themselves on everyone.

    The World Socialist Website is advocating:

    “For a Global Workers’ Inquest into the COVID-19 Pandemic”

    This makes sense. When the elites are asleep at the wheel, an inquest must find them culpable for the all the deaths. Of course, such a finding would be only symbolic while they continue to hold power.

    This global pandemic is now seriously out of control. The final real death toll is likely to be 10 to 100 times greater than its current standing at over 5 million official. So, I am predicting 50 million to 500 million excess deaths (a better actuarial measure) over the full course of the pandemic. There is a significant dangerous outside chance that it could run much worse than that and interminably where combined with climate this all could cause excess premature deaths in the billions. I think this is the future we face.

    As I have said before, this is a punctuated equilibrium evolutionary and system event. Evolutiona accelerates at a stupendous rate, especially with a virus. The evolutionary space still available for SARSCov2, in meeting several billions of immune-naive and unvaccinated humans, is incalculably vast. Anything can happen now. It probably will and it won’t be good. In fact it will be terrible. People SHOULD be terrified but act with all resources, speed and precision to terminate the virus globally. That is absolutely necessary. Any other course will lead to total disaster when as I say this combines with other challenges to humanity like climate change. This is anything but business as usual. This IS the existential crisis the most realistic of our scientists predicted. And brought to us by the death-system, capitalism.

  2. Ikonooclast,

    it is early days yet. Reports from Africa are limited, but in general it seems that disease caused by the omicron variant has been rather tolerable. We may hope that this is a hoped for “common (but nasty) cold” type variant that sidelines all the others. However, the lack of some common covid-19 associated symptoms, such as nil effect on senses of smell and taste nor any sinus congestion that may prompt early testing, along with the possibility that it may acquire far more serious disease characteristics from other sars-cov-2 variants in circulation through recombination worries me most at the moment. Early days.

  3. Svante,

    Early days but enough serious circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to be very concerned about Omicron.

    Of course, we need more hard data. Eric Feigl-Ding is already providing some. Check his twitter feed.

    A lot of early signs suggest Omicron is the first genuine “variant from hell” and makes Delta look like a pussy. Omicron is growing leaps and bounds faster than any variant and rapidly replacing Delta where it already has a foothold, as in Sth. Africa.

    “the NEXT most disturbing thing about Omicron, other than its seemingly explosive regional growth. It seems to have greatly expanded its ability to quickly diversify. This is weird. Does it have some proofreading defect too? – Brian Hjelle, virologist.

    A proof reading defect is much to be feared. SARS-Cov-2 was (past tense) a bit too good for its own good at proof reading its replications. This kept its mutation rate down. If it has upped its mutation rate this is again very concerning. It will now rapidly find its “Goldilocks zone” for mutations. Good for SARS-Cov-2, bad for humans.

  4. To be fair, being far less deadly would be good for both the virus and humans. Just not all that much hope in that regard so far. Most known cases are early ones among young people, which tells us little about overall serious and lethal cases. Either way, i´m sufficiently gloomy without the new variant already. Maybe it is time to start a doosmday church. The founders usually do good with all the collected money right? Ah no, too complicated. These days, it´s easier to sell a vermifuge for horses as corona medicine, or pretend to start a cryptcurency, or an electric car company.

  5. From ABC website;

    “A network of independent Australian experts established in the wake of the pandemic has recommended bringing COVID-19 vaccine boosters four months forward in response to the Omicron variant.”

    “A third dose from as early as two months … is needed because waning immunity begins approximately two to three months after the second dose of the vaccine,” Dr Powers said.

    “OzSAGE believes the Omicron epidemic may be curtailed by this third dose and a communication campaign to encourage the third dose is important.”

    They would not say this unless they were very, very worried. Obviously, what they have already seen of and from Omicron has them this worried. Here are some snippets from Eric Feigl-Ding’s twitter:

    “Bad news on omicron transmission: Israel is now reporting community transmission of Omicron from a cardiologist with 3 doses to another cardiologist with 3 doses.” Note this is a third hand report.

    “Cases surging across all provinces in South Africa Flag of South Africa— not just in Gauteng Province #Omicron epicenter region. Hospitalizations in GP doubling every week.” – Eric Feigl-Ding

    “UK investigating hundreds of suspected Omicron cases, including people who tested positive before the first known cases in Africa” – Guardian.

    No real certainty yet but the situation is looking more and more concerning. It would be wise, IMHO, to go back to mask wearing, exercising self-distancing and avoiding indoor venues whenever possible. This is whether you are vaccinated or not and young or not. Given that 11 out of 13 double vaccinated young adults caught Delta at an indoor restaurant venue, we have to assume that Omicron will simply infect 100% of all contacts vaccinated or not, making the vaccination essentially worthless at stopping transmission. This makes masking, distancing, self-isolatinf and quarantining all critically and absolutely necessary once again.

    However, the vaccine should retain some considerable worth (let us hope) against serious disease. Reports on serious disease ensuing or not are still mixed. We won’t know until we see how older people, older demographics, fare under Omicron. Meanwhile, exercise an abundance of caution as the saying goes.

  6. Greg Hunt is suggesting Omiicron “may be milder” than Delta. However;

    “Moderna boss says vaccines likely no match for Omicron: FT” – France 24.

    Gosh, who do we believe? Greg Hunt or the Moderna boss? At this stage I will believe the Moderna boss and await firm data which will take about 2 weeks. Meantime, I am going to assume I am not safe against Omicron despite being double-vaxxed with Comirnaty (Pfizer).

  7. Looks like we will have a vaccination mandate in Germany starting in February or March (geehh, why not at least start in januar….). Finally the right call, just a couple of month too late as always. Depending on how harsh the fines will be, being in breach might not be more expensive than say the paid out of own pocket tests the non vaccinated have to do in Italy before entering a workplace. In terms of normative pressure, it seems to me that at least in this culture going for an outright mandate is the right call.

  8. Vaccination mandates will prove necessary (IMHO) for any nation which does want to see one or both of;

    (1) Unacceptable overall mortality rates (not if but when a variant arises which has a mortality rate in the whole percents or even in the ten percents ranges).

    (2) Unacceptable infant mortality rates. (“Children under the age of 2 account for about 10% of total hospital admissions in the #omicron epicenter Tshwane in South Africa Flag of South Africa, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases”.) “The very young children have an immature immune system and they are also not vaccinated, so they are more at risk,” said Jassat, who was part of developing and managing South Africa’s national hospital surveillance system for Covid-19.” – Eric Feigl-Ding.

    SARS_Cov_2 is clearly evolving rapidly, in the short to mid term, into more and more dangerous variants. Permitting it to remain endemic is just as bad a mistake as would have been permitting smallpox and polio to remain pandemic. Does anyone suggest we and our children should have continued to “live with” smallpox and polio? Of course not. I was given smallpox and polio vaccines as a child. I suspect they were more or less mandatory and that parents were given ad no choice. Does anyone know the socio-medical history of that?

    SARS_Cov_2 vaccinations MUST be mandated but with allowable medical exemptions. Conscientious objections are a harder issue. If based on straight science denialism and conspiracy theorizing they ought to be rejected. Anti-vaxxers with “no leg to stand on” in that case must be denied access to contact jobs and to all indoor social venues and all indoor/outdoor gatherings of over 10 people even if private.

    If, as I think very likely, a very highly dangerous variant of SARS_Cov_2 arises, the great majority (95% plus) of adults will be clamoring for vaccine mandates. The sheer scale of deaths will focus minds and focus social and political will.

    Currently the non-vaccinated (who are not all anti-vaxxers especially in non-first world countries) are over 99% more likely to die that he vaccinated. That’s a strong demographic and evolutionary selection pressure right there.

  9. In addition to previous post:

    “We should not dismiss the possibility of eradicating COVID-19: comparisons with smallpox and polio.”
    – Nick Wilson, Osman D Mansoor, Matthew J Boyd3 Amanda Kvalsvig, Michael G Baker.

    It is clear that the zero covid strategy was and is the best strategy in every way, on every measure, and always remains feasible except for the neoliberal governments who criminally refuse to protect their populations with the full range of feasible and indeed ultimately more cost effective responses.

  10. We already know some early facts about Omicron, from South African data, as reported and interpreted by Eric Feigl-Ding (see his Twitter account).

    Omicron is:

    A. More infectious than Delta; and
    B. Causes more reinfections than any other variant. Even third infections are now confirmed.

    What we don’t have yet is early lethality data or early vaccine escape data. Point 2 above is clearly about immune escape. We should err on the side of caution and assume Omicron is at least as lethal as Delta, at least until we get firm data.

  11. Its surprising that Labour hasn’t sought to go the easy route of political point-scoring and call for the end to restrictions? That would be the easier way for them to go.

  12. The news about Omicron continues to be concerning. Neoliberal governments continue to underplay the dangers of COVID-19 as they have done since the beginning of the global pandemic. The Dec 3rd risk assessment from the UK Health Security Agency gives these ratings:

    (A) Transmissibility – Amber Alert – Confidence Low – At least as transmissible as current variants.
    (B) Infection severity – Insufficient data.
    (C) Against naturally acquired immunity – Red Alert – Confidence Low – Mutations suggest escape.
    (D) Against vaccine derived immunity – Red Alert – Confidence Low – Mutations suggest reduced.
    (E) Therapeutics – Red Alert – Confidence Low – Mutations suggest reduced effectiveness.

    These are early and conservative findings. Data from South Africa suggest the variant is about 2.5 times as transmissible as Delta. It is rapidly spreading and dominating in some provinces already. The data also suggest more infections in children and more severe infection in very young children.

    There are other very concerning findings about Omicron; findings made here in an Australian lab.

    “As COVID’s Omicron variant spreads, an Australian research team is ‘very concerned’ about discovery on its origins” – ABC

    To summarize some key points;

    “Omicron includes a spike protein mutation (many actually) that makes it more infectious, but also includes a mutation on the spike protein that may allow it to reduce vaccine effectiveness,” Palmer says.

    It’s important to emphasise that these discoveries are brand new, and further investigations are essential, however the latest clues about the nature of Omicron include a concerning finding.

    When the virus is studied from another direction — by exploring the nucleocapsid, another viral protein which contributes to viral replication, rather than the spike protein — Palmer says her team found Omicron may have been created by what’s called a “recombination” … of the early Alpha variant plus Delta, something that has not been found in SARS-CoV-2 until now.

    “We’re very, very concerned,” Palmer says…”It indicates that possibly we could see that variants can recombine and if somebody is infected with two variants there could be a recombination that could lead to a more pathogenic and infectious virus…

    And if, as Palmer suspects, the virus is learning to combine the strengths of different variants into new ones then this could prove to be a very dangerous skill-set.”

    Now, this is me (Ikonoclast) editorializing: Many epidemiologists and virologists have started singing from the neoliberal song-sheet when it comes to opinions about locking-down. They tend to report concerning new issues and then in the next breath, at least as quoted, they caution against locking down again; either at all or else too precipitously or for longer periods. There seems to be some disconnect here. A lot of publicly visible researchers have reported attacks or at lest threats of attacks on them, hate emails and so on. They seem to be afraid to speak in favor of travel lock-downs (for example). Either that or they are perhaps afraid of affecting their research grants. Something concerning is going on in this space, IMHO.

    This virus continues to confound us and continues to exceed our worst expectations. You would think that we would wise up at some point and realize no matter how out of control it is at this point, it still has to be globally eradicated. First Delta and now Omicron are demonstrating how dangerously mutable and adroit this virus is. There is still no telling where is evolutionary trajectory will go. Leaving this virus extant is to play Russian roulette with all our futures. Currently it is the most dangerous threat humanity faces apart from climate change and nuclear war. Permitting it to remain extant is a path to disaster as its effects compound with other existential threats to humanity.

    Clearly, I am predicting that if nations continue to permit international travel and to avoid external and internal lock-downs and other measures, then vaccinations and treatments alone (and mainly in the first world only) will prove disastrously insufficient to halt the COVID-19 menace. We continue on the path to complete disaster and probably our extinction by following the “stay open for business and damn any other concerns” mantra of neoliberal capitalism.

  13. From Adam Hamdy:

    “1. A few of us warned about the consequences of allowing SARS-CoV-2 to spread in January and February 2020. We were called alarmists. We warned coronaviruses escape immunity over time as a result of waning immunity or viral evolution. We’ve now seen both with SARS-CoV-2.”

    2. We warned about airborne transmission, long-term sequelae and many of the other troubling aspects that have since come to pass. We warned vaccine-only strategies would not work, and at each step of the way were abused for our efforts to communicate the risks.”

    3. But we weren’t just sharing alarmist takes. Many of us were trying to implement changes that would have protected against some of the adverse risks that have since become realities.

    4. If early reports are to be believed we now have a variant that is extremely transmissible and shows evidence of immune escape. Hospitalisation data from Gauteng suggests our one hope that it is mild may not be borne out.

    5. I stopped tweeting about COVID three months ago, because it was disheartening to see what was going to happen and not be able to do anything to prevent it. And the abuse. Lol. 20 months of abuse from thousands of people who don’t know better takes a toll.

    6. I’m not planning to resume COVID19 tweeting. I just wanted to say media and policy makers need to stop listening to those who’ve been wrong about almost everything in this pandemic. People who said there would be no second wave, that herd immunity could be achieved,

    7. that the HIT was 20%, that the infection fatality rate was less than 0.1%, that Delta was the fullest extent of viral evolution, that the pandemic would be over in summer 2021, that infections in children would be harmless and a net benefit to population immunity…

    8. I could go on and on and on. Listen instead to the people who’ve been telling us that transmission is bad, that viral evolution poses a grave risk, that we must be mindful of the long-term harms of this disease.”

    More points are available on Adam Hamdy’s tweets, linking to all the experts who warned about this stuff early and got ignored.

    Isn’t great that neoliberal capitalism ignores all expert warnings and just keeps letting the world to burn fossil fuels and get infected. Wow, a political economic system you can really believe in! It’s got your best interests at heart. NOT!

  14. From Dr. Ali Nouri,

    “1/Mutations over time won’t necessarily weaken this virus. It escapes that fate by recombination: when multiple strains infect same host, they recombine. Deleterious mutations can be removed; advantageous ones picked up.

    2/When more than one strain infects the same host cell at the same time, the replication machinery that copies the RNA genome of the virus can switch from one strain’s RNA to another, creating a hybrid genome. This gives rise to a hybrid/chimeric strain.

    2A/ While replication errors can result in small changes, recombination can result in dramatic ones. When our cells get infected with more than one variant, RNA replication can start on the 1st variant and then switch to the 2nd, creating recombinants, or chimeras of the two.

    3/ We propose that the rapid increase of mutations in late 2020 Variants Of Concern is likely a consequence of the recombination of haplotypes carrying adaptive mutations in S and in non-S proteins that act cooperatively to enhance viral fitness.

    4/ We can slow down the creation of new variants by 1) getting vaccinated, which helps to restrict the ability of the virus to replicate in our cells; and 2) by wearing a mask to stop the virus from infecting our cells in the first place.”

    Paper – “Rapid expansion of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern is a result of adaptive epistasis”

    (link to full papers at above link.


    The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic recently entered an alarming new phase with the emergence of the variants of concern (VOC) and understanding their biology is paramount to predicting future ones. Current efforts mainly focus on mutations in the spike glycoprotein (S), but changes in other regions of the viral proteome are likely key. We analyzed more than 900,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes with a computational systems biology approach including a haplotype network and protein structural analyses to reveal lineage-defining mutations and their critical functional attributes. Our results indicate that increased transmission is promoted by epistasis, i.e., combinations of mutations in S and other viral proteins. Mutations in the non-S proteins involve immune-antagonism and replication performance, suggesting convergent evolution. Furthermore, adaptive mutations appear in geographically disparate locations, suggesting that either independent, repeat mutation events or recombination among different strains are generating VOC. We demonstrate that recombination is a stronger hypothesis, and may be accelerating the emergence of VOC by bringing together cooperative mutations. This emphasizes the importance of a global response to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Competing Interest Statement

    The authors have declared no competing interest.”

    END of QUOTES.

    Ikonoclast editorializes:

    Note the words “This emphasizes the importance of a global response to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.” While SARS_CoV_2 remains pandemic across most of the globe, keeping Australia open to the world remains non-viable. Australia needs to close to all except citizens and long term residents returning to proper quarantine in purpose built quarantine stations.

    At the same time, Australia needs to support efforts to vaccinate the entire world and to pursue a global eradication program country by country. This is the only viable path forward to a safe, open world again in the future.

    On a more general note, it is interesting to observe during any bad runaway exponential process, that people tend to think the latest development is the end of the process. The latest development is viewed as the end of the process and nothing worse is thought possible. Now it is true that runaway exponential processes must have limits but the imputation of a near limit seems to occur when the process is bad. When the process is good (for people), they conversely assume the exponential process can run on for ever or for a very long time.

    The evolved optimism bias in humans must have worked out for humans for most of evolutionary history. Now, it seems matters have changed. Excessive optimism bias appears to have become maladaptive, luring people on in behaviors which operate against survival.

  15. “runaway exponential processes must have limits” These limits including host species extinction especially with global travel. Wish it were not so. OTOH xmas!

  16. Ikonoclast says DECEMBER 5, 2021 AT 10:53 AM
    “neoliberal capitalists…”

    Contrast the China state capitalism engineers that are, it seems, still going for herd immunity. They’ve nearly finished vaxxing all their kids. Quarantine, fast and hard lockdowns, testing and tracing all remain. They have withstood Alpha and Delta well. It must be likely they continue minimising the adverse impacts of any variants where it is humanly possible to do so. Engineers don’t rely on optimism bias!

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