Omicron carries lower hospitalisation risk, studies suggest
If you missed our earlier stories detailing the results of two recent studies out of the UK and South Africa, here’s a brief run-down on what it all means.
An Imperial College study analysed hospitalisations and vaccine records among both Omicron and Delta Covid cases in England between 1 and 14 December.
Researchers found the Omicron variant appears to be milder, with a 20%-25% reduced chance of a hospital visit and at least a 40% lower risk of being admitted overnight.
A separate, preliminary analysis of Omicron cases in Scotland pointed to an even greater reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta. Scientists on the Eave II study, using hospital data from 23 November to 19 December, concluded that the risk of hospitalisation may be 70% lower with Omicron than Delta.
South Africa has also reported data on Covid cases driven by the Omicron variant that appears to give added impetus to claims Omicron carries a lower severity of disease.
“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said Prof Cheryl Cohen of the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), one of the authors of the study.
“Compellingly, together our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants,” she said during a news conference by a group of NICD scientists on Wednesday.
Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog as we near the end of the week and the countdown to the holiday break really begins.
I’ll be bringing you all the latest Covid developments from across the world.
Let’s start with some promising news that the Omicron variant – which has so far been detected in 106 countries – may be less severe than other coronavirus strains such as Delta.
The latest data suggest Omicron does not cause more severe illness than previous variants, but soaring infection numbers could still cause more deaths.
“We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” said WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, while cautioning against drawing conclusions from early data.
Kerkhove’s statement seems to be backed by two studies out of South Africa and the UK. Researchers from the Imperial College in London found the Omicron variant appears to be milder, with a 20%-25% reduced chance of a hospital visit and at least a 40% lower risk of being admitted overnight.
The findings follow a study from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) which found “reduced severity” of Omicron compared to other variants.
“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said NICD professor Cheryl Cohen.
As Covid numbers continue to increase throughout practically all regions of the world, China is continuing to pursue it’s strict Covid-zero policy.
Authorities in the northern city of Xi’an have imposed a stringent lockdown after 52 new reported infections were recorded.
More than 13 million people will be ordered to stay at home except to buy necessities once every two days or in emergencies from midnight on Thursday.
Here’s a run-down of all the Covid news you may have missed:
- Covid booster drives are likely to prolong the pandemic, head of the World Health Organization has said.
- The WHO’s European chief has warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in cases as Omicron spreads across the continent.
- The WHO also cautioned there is not enough data on Omicron severity yet.
- European countries including Germany, Sweden, Finland and Portugal announced they will reimpose Covid curbs just before or after Christmas.
- Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi said the government is preparing new Covid restrictions, including the return to mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and the use of more protective FFP2 masks indoors.
- Wales will impose a rule of six in pubs, cinemas and restaurants from 26 December.
- France could soon have around 100,000 new Covid cases a day, health minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday, up from around 70,000 currently as the country battles a fifth wave of the epidemic.
- France on Wednesday also opened vaccinations to children aged between five and 11.
- The UK recorded 106,122 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since the beginning of the pandemic and the first time cases have passed 100,000.
- Britain has signed contracts to buy a further 4.25m courses of antivirals for its health service to help combat the Omicron variant.
- England cuts Covid self-isolation to seven days with a negative test.
- Denmark will tighten restrictions in schools from 5 January with pupils and staff taking two weekly tests, staff and parents urged to wear facemasks.
- Belgium is set to close cinemas and theatres close from this weekend in tightening of Covid measures.
- Face masks will once again be compulsory at all times outdoors in Spain.
- Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach suggested a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose would be required in order to protect against the Omicron variant.
- US regulators approve the first Covid antiviral pill.
- The US recorded the lowest rate of population growth in its history in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau.
- Japan has confirmed its first known local transmissions of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Osaka.
- In northern China, the city of Xi’an has entered lockdown, ordering all 13 million residents to stay home from midnight on Thursday. Households may only “send one household member outside once every two days to purchase necessities” while everyone else must remain indoors except in the case of an emergency.
- Singapore will freeze the sale of tickets for arriving flights and buses under its quarantine-free travel programme for four weeks from Thursday.
- A study from South Africa suggests Omicron carries a lower risk of hospitalisation and severe disease. Scientists from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) found the risk of hospital admission was roughly 80% lower for those infected with Omicron compared with Delta though high population immunity may also be a factor.
- Unvaccinated people in Kenya will be banned from public places, the health ministry said.
- Israel will offer a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine to people over the age of 60 or with compromised immune systems, and to health workers.
- In Nigeria, around a million AstraZeneca Covid doses donated by developed countries were destroyed Wednesday after they expired.
- AstraZeneca has said it is working with Oxford University to produce a vaccine for the Omicron variant.