Discover more from eugyppius: a plague chronicle
SARS-2 surges only in the winter, goes endemic after two waves, is impervious to vaccination, and has become harmless with Omicron
A brief look at the Corona pandemic in Europe from the perspective of excess mortality
A lot of the Corona data we’re fed is essentially meaningless propaganda, and it has obscured crucial patterns. Here, I want to look at the only metric that really matters, namely excess mortality, to make some basic points about what has happened to us since 2020, and what is happening now.
To date, the pandemicists have counted five or six waves of infection. If you ignore the case statistics, though, and look at nothing but European excess mortality, you see a totally different picture. Corona only has one deadly season a year, namely the winter, and no European country has seen more than two winter mortality spikes.
Beyond the no-signal countires, which had no excess deaths at all, there are two patterns for Eurozone Corona mortality. There are the early-outbreak countries, which saw their mortality spike after March 2020; and there are the late-outbreak countries, which skipped this wave and first saw significant Corona deaths in December 2020.
Let’s look first at the smaller, late-outbreak group, because it will clarify the basic dynamics.
Ideally, a Corona mortality wave would substantially exceed the deaths of the rough 2017/18 flu season, but for purposes of illustration we’ll grant my country’s extremely underwhelming experience with SARS-2 a pass here. There was no Spring 2020 wave at all. Corona first started killing Germans in the winter of 2020/21, and it started killing them again, despite the vaccines, in late Fall of 2021, before Omicron caused mortality to collapse in the course of December.
It’s definitely Omicron, and not the vaccines, that stopped the deaths. The same pattern exists in Austria, which is slightly less heavily vaccinated than Germany; and also in Hungary and Slovenia, which are substantially less vaccinated.
Hungary is interesting, because their winter wave was bipartite. They had a late Fall mortality spike, corresponding to the traditional coronavirus season peak, and then a separate early Spring spike, corresponding to the more traditional influenza peak:
This bipartite season is observed in the case statistics throughout Europe, but beyond Hungary, all-cause deaths tend to have a single wintertime apex centred either earlier in December, or later, towards the end of January. The precise timing of this peak can be important, as we’ll see below.
Now we turn to the much more common case, the early-outbreak countries. Sweden is archetypal here. They have a very similar vaccination rate and trajectory as Germany, but because the pandemic started earlier there, in Spring 2020, their whole experience is shifted one season to the left.
The Swedes had their first wave when nothing was happening in Germany, and they had their second wave when Germany had their first. And the crucial point is this: After that second wave, Sweden was done with the pandemic, vaccines or no vaccines. The Swedes went into Fall 2021 just as heavily vaccinated as Germany, but in Germany excess deaths started to rise again, while in Sweden they stayed flat.
In Europe, Corona kills people for two seasons, and then it becomes a nothingburger, no worse than seasonal influenza in a bad year. You see exactly the same picture in England – two mortality waves, and then it’s over:
And the same in Ireland …
… and in Belgium …
…and in Italy …
… and in Spain:
This leaves a few interesting outliers. Consider, for example, Portugal, which seems to have skipped both the Spring 2020 wave and the incipient pre-Omicron Winter 2021 wave. Do the heavily vaccinated Portuguese have Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to thank for their one-wave pandemic?
No, they do not. It’s the seasonality that saved them. Portugal, like Spain and Ireland, has a later winter mortality peak than other countries, with deaths spiking not in December, but at the end of January. Portugal was set to see their second death wave at the end of January 2022, but by then Omicron had taken all the mortality out of SARS-2. Portugal got lucky.
The Netherlands and France are interesting for presenting a kind of intermediate phenomenon. Both had substantial mortality in spring 2020, followed by a distinctly muted winter 2020/21 wave, and so they saw some pre-Omicron spike in deaths:
Switzerland is another configuration of the same phenomenon, with a minimal Spring 2020 spike, followed by a Winter 2020 and an incipient Winter 2021 wave:
The pandemic will surely look different in the United States, or in the southern hemisphere. Particularly countries with extensive use of climatisation – which creates winter-like conditions in the late summer – will see different mortality patterns. In the Eurozone, though, this is how the Corona pandemic unfolded. In most countries, the two-wave mortality surge was over by the time the vaccines were rolled out; in central Europe, it was still raging, but it was Omicron and not the vaccines that stopped the deaths.