Caution against the Omicron variant - GulfToday

Caution against the Omicron variant


The Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous versions of the coronavirus.

The new Omicron variant is driving a spiral in infections not just in South Africa, but in other parts of the world as well. Seventy-seven countries have now reported cases of Omicron.

This has raised alarm bells, particularly in the portals of the World Health Organisation which warned that the new coronavirus variant was spreading at an unprecedented rate.

Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned Boris Johnson to expect a “significant increase” in hospitalisations from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the UK.

Johnson told cabinet that the UK can expect a “huge spike” of Covid cases as Omicron becomes the dominant variant in the UK.

But there is a sliver of relief: the Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous versions of the coronavirus.

 It is a highly transmissible virus that may cause less severe disease, and one that can be slowed – but not stopped – by today’s vaccines.

It’s too soon to draw conclusions about the outcome from Omicron since the variant is still quite new and hospitalisations can lag weeks behind infections.

US health officials estimate that a small, but growing proportion of new COVID-19 infections are due to the Omicron variant, and that the rise is particularly dramatic in some places.

Researchers around the world are rushing to figure out what the variant will mean for the coronavirus pandemic, now well into its second year. More information came on Tuesday from Pfizer, which announced that its experimental pill to treat COVID-19 – separate from its vaccine – appears effective against Omicron.

In the weeks since the variant was detected, South Africa has experienced rapid spread of the virus. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the country rose over the past two weeks from 8.07 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 29 to 34.37 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 13, according to Johns Hopkins University. The death rate hasn’t increased during that same period.

Many are now looking to South Africa for clues about what the world could be in for.

The Omicron-driven fourth wave has a significantly steeper trajectory of new infections relative to prior waves. National data show an exponential increase in both new infections and test positivity rates during the first three weeks of this wave, indicating a highly transmissible variant with rapid community spread of infection.

Although case numbers are rising, hospital admissions for adults diagnosed with COVID-19 are 29% lower compared to the wave that South Africa experienced in mid-2020, after adjusting for vaccination status, according to the analysis.

The study indicated significant protection against hospital admission even among older age groups, with 67% for people aged 60 to 69 and 60% for people aged 70 to 79.

New cases of the Omicron variant were found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off. Although South Africa’s findings indicate that Omicron may cause milder disease, reports from Denmark show the opposite, he wrote. There are many variables that can affect the findings, including any previous infection, potentially waning immunity and the age range of people infected so far.

Is Omicron milder, or more severe than Delta? Time will tell. The world’s finest scientists, including many in the global south such as in South Africa, will find out. The South African analysis supports an earlier assessment by UK authorities.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Friday that new data from the UK confirm that Omicron is more easily transmissible than other variants.

The highly contagious variant is thought to have become the dominant strain in hotspot London today and will “inevitably” soon overtake Delta elsewhere in the country, said the British prime minister’s official spokesperson.

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