Looking around: omicron sitrep in Israel; Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on Putin’s game in Ukraine

(1) Here in Israel we are apparently at the crest of the omicron wave, says Prof. Eran Segal. Cases over 60 (the most at-risk group) have started falling, but severe cases may continue to rise over the next week as they lag infections. He expects a drop by the end of the week.

Dr. John Campbell interviews Michael Cohen MD, a British-born physician practicing in Tel-Aviv.

A few quick takeaways:

  • He has seen lots and lots of omicron patients (and patients with omicron combined with something else) in his practice over the past week. He’s had to send one elderly person to the hospital, who was discharged after a short stay; four others had pneumonias (not severe enough to warrant hospitalization). I wonder how many of these are omicron and how many opportunistic superinfections (as are also seen in seasonal flu).
  • Disease presentation is almost exclusively upper-respiratory, unlike the previous waves (Wuhan “classic”, alpha, delta) which saw many life-threatening lower-lung infections among older patients
  • Level of symptoms varied from a common cold to a nasty flu
  • There isn’t enough information yet about “long COVID” in omicron, but he doubts there will be a lot since the level of systemic involvement is much lower in omicron than in previous strains. (Many of the long sequelae of earlier strains have been linked to blood clotting.)
  • general precautions: make sure you get enough vitamin D, zinc, and preferably (if you are taking high doses of vitamin D) also vitamin K2 to ensure calcium metabolism isn’t adversely affected.
  • monoclonal antibody therapy is not very useful against omicron, since the antibodies were developed for the Wuhan strain, from which omicron is even further away than from delta.

He himself hasn’t gotten omicron as far as he knows, though he contracted “Wuhan classic” from a patient very early in the pandemic. (He was coughing so badly that he suspected he’d contracted pertussis/”whooping cough”, but tested negative for that — COVID19 RT-PCR testing wasn’t available yet in early 2020. He cites this as an example of the importance of differential diagnosis.

(2) Mrs. Arbel could bring herself to watch no more than 6-7 minutes of the Biden trainwreck press conference before she couldn’t take anymore. Yes, that conference where the FICUS talked of a “minor incursion”. Meanwhile, the US is telling US nationals to leave Ukraine on commercial flights while they still can do so (or, presumably, by crossing the border with Poland); the UK is evacuating nonessential embassy staff, as Boris Johnson warns invasion will be “painful and bloody” for Putin; Israel is weighing options — abandoning its policy of cautious neutrality between Russia and Ukraine, or whether to plan an airlift for the remaining Jewish community in Ukraine. The FTSE (the UK counterpart to the DJIA index) slumped as the Ukraine crisis spooks markets.

The Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard [cached copy] thinks Putin has a golden opportunity for territorial expansion “thanks” to the ineptitude and disarray of Western “leadership”.

German hunger for gas, Biden’s insouciance and a toothless Nato leave Ukraine utterly exposed to a Russian invasion […]

European Nato disarmed through the austerity years and is now near rock bottom, while Russia has been rearming for a decade.

The White House is perceived to be a pushover after waiving its objections to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last July in a shabby deal with Germany, which undercut Ukraine’s vital interest in what may be viewed by historians as a latter day Munich.

China’s sabre-rattling over Taiwan leaves Mr Biden facing the risk of two continental crises at the same time.

Mr Putin does not have to worry about serious economic retaliation.

Germany has effectively vetoed use of the financial “nuclear option”, which would be to expel Russia from the Swift system of international payments.

Berlin’s argument is that such sanctions have asymmetric blowback. The US has little direct exposure and would suffer modest loss. German and European companies with large interests in Russia would take the brunt.

This leaves little on the table beyond surgical sanctions on Russian banks and other manageable frictions. “I don’t see anything on the economic front that would seriously frighten Putin,” said Ian Bond, a former ambassador and British security planner now at the Centre for European Reform.

If Mr Putin is to attack, he must act soon. He has a narrow window for a combined-arms invasion with tanks and towed-artillery before the infamous rasputitsa turns the ground into a bog.

The military imperative is to lunge deep into Ukraine and deliver a knock-out blow before the mid-March thaw. That is not easy: it took six weeks for Russian forces to clear the Chechen capital of Grozny in urban fighting. Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzia, and Odessa are all larger.

Alternatively, they might of course try to install a puppet regime, as the UK’s FM Dominic Raab has alleged. The Russian regime, predictably, calls this “disinformation”.

ADDENDUM: A Daily Telegraph editorial today:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/01/25/germany-eroding-western-resolve/

[…] The biggest obstacle to a common approach appears to be Germany, which has shown ambivalence to calls for heavier sanctions on Russia and increased arms sales to Ukraine.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, who briefed EU foreign ministers yesterday about his talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, is trying to maintain the pretence of unity, insisting that Berlin is fully on board. But that is not how it looks. The head of the German navy resigned at the weekend for dismissing as “nonsense” the idea that Russia was planning an invasion. In addition, Germany has declined requests to send arms to Ukraine and has even stopped Estonia, a Nato member, from doing so.

A new poll indicates that most Germans do not subscribe to the central Article 5 tenet of Nato that an attack on one member is an attack on all. The Berlin government is hamstrung by an energy policy that involves abandoning nuclear power and becoming more dependent on Russia for gas.

The threat to scrap the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia would look more credible if Germany had any obvious alternative energy sources. For Mr Putin to send his troops back to barracks after so much sabre-rattling risks his being seen as weak. But he can make it look less like a climbdown than a victory if he manages to debunk the notion of EU unity on a key matter of defence and foreign policy.

Elsewhere in the paper,

A former MI6 chief has conceded he “cannot see a scenario” where Vladimir Putin will back down amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sir Alex Younger, who served as Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service from 2014 to 2020, told the BBC’s Today programme the Russian President was “playing poker rather than chess” to create options for himself.

But he added: “At the moment I cannot see a scenario where he can back down in a way that satisfies the expectations that he [Putin] has created.

“It feels dangerous and it’s clearly getting more dangerous. It’s hard to see a safe landing zone given the expectations that President Putin has created.”


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