What the Omicron variant means for live poker

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on 12/03/2021

COVID’s new Omicron variant is in 23 nations and all over the headlines. But what does this mean for live poker?

Depending on where you get your news, the assessments for Omicron range from apocalyptic doom to casual dismissal. The reality is we don’t yet know which way reality will swing the needle. Though there are reasons for very cautious optimism.

In practical terms, it doesn’t look like the U.S. is heading into lockdown for now. There are some adjustments to travel requirements. Players entering the U.S. will need a COVID test within 24 hours before boarding regardless of vaccination status, for example. But overall the Biden administration seems to be cautious of looking too heavy-handed just now.

Broadly speaking, Dr Fauci’s advice to the American nation is to wear masks and get vaccinated (or get a booster if you’ve already had the jab).

Biden’s initial announcement was based on this advice.

“We’re going to fight the Omicron variant the way we’ve been fighting COVID-19 since the beginning,” Biden’s Twitter account posted. “With scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

So in the U.S., there shouldn’t be too much immediate impact on your local brick-and-mortar games. Mask mandates continue in Vegas and the free for all continues in Florida.

The international response

Delta almost, but didn’t kill the WSOP. Mu seemed to pass the news cycle without too much devastation. Now, we’ve skipped Nu (to close aurally to “new”) and Xi (to common as a surname) and jumped down the Greek alphabet to Omicron.

The WHO has labeled it a variant of concern, counseling “enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases” as well as pushing for continued use of masks, vaccines, and social distancing.

The WHO also stressed the importance of ensuring that “inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines are urgently addressed to ensure that vulnerable groups everywhere, including health workers and older persons, receive their first and second doses.”

Out in the rest of the world, the reaction to Omicron has been varied. The variant was initially reported based on the sequencing of COVID cases in Gauteng Province, South Africa. But it may not have originated there. After an initial flurry of travel bans aimed at South Africa, it quickly became apparent that the virus had already got out of its enclosure either way.

Several European nations are already locked down. These include Austria and the Czech Republic where the WSOPE had to make drastic adjustments to meet the new COVID restrictions. Germany has a new policy incoming that more or less amounts to lockdown for the unvaccinated. Omicron is unlikely to cause these places to loosen up.

The UK on the other hand it taking a wait-and-see approach. So, outside the U.S. your kilometre-age will vary from casino to casino. Probably best to wear a mask if you can.

The problem with making predictions about Omicron right now are that (1) we do not know enough about the virus, (2) governments and populations have been somewhat erratic in their handling of the pandemic in general. Omicron won’t necessarily need to be deadly to trigger panic nor harmless to trigger complacency.

What do we know right now?

The Omicron variant does have some features that make it potentially scary. It comes with a staggering array of mutations. Some of the mutations in the spike protein area are associated with “immune evasion.” This means that Omicron may be able to bypass the immunity conveyed by previous infection and vaccination.

Other mutations are at the furin-cleavage site and may influence the virus’s infectivity.

However, there is no real way to predict how Omicron’s battery of mutations will interact with the host and with each other in vivo. This means we just won’t know how infectious, virulent, or severe Omicron is until we’ve got more data. Nor can we be sure how effective the current vaccines are against it.

However, Paul Morgan, a professor of immunology at Cardiff University, has said “I think a blunting rather than a complete loss [of immunity] is the most likely outcome. The virus can’t possibly lose every single epitope on its surface, because if it did that spike protein couldn’t work anymore.”

These factors are all things that the WHO will be frantically collecting and collating data on over the next few days and weeks.

What little data we do have so far does suggest infectivity is higher. In particular, the risk of reinfection (for those who have caught a previous variant) is higher with Omicron than with other variants.

It is important to stress that we are talking about a variant with a very wide possible range right now. We are going to have to see how it acts on later streets to narrow down whether it is betting with air or a monster.

Whether Omicron can really outcompete Delta or will go the way of Mu before it, remains to be seen.

For now, in short, and to quote a famous book cover, “DON’T PANIC.”

Featured image source: Flickr by Yuri Samilov. Used under CC license.