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Omicron tracker: New evidence that Omicron causes milder Covid

🔴 South Africa study finds people infected now are 30% less likely to require hospitalisation than in March 2020

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: December 14, 2021 9:18:44 pm
People queue in a line, at right, to go for coronavirus booster jabs at St Thomas' Hospital, in London, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

People getting infected with coronavirus the in South Africa now are about 30 per cent less likely to require hospitalisation than at the beginning of the pandemic in March last year, according to a study that offers new evidence that the Omicron variant has indeed been causing milder disease in the country.

The study, carried out by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance provider, in collaboration with South African Medical Research Council, involved 211,000 infected people, of whom about 78,000 were believed infected with the Omicron variant.

The study also found that a double dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, one of the main ones being used in South Africa, was 70 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisation. But it was only 33 per cent effective in preventing infection. This was significantly lower than 80 per cent effectiveness against infection during an earlier wave involving the Delta variant, Reuters reported.

South Africa was the first country where the fast-spreading Omicron variant was detected three weeks ago. Although only 550 cases of infection with Omicron in the country have been confirmed through genetic sequencing so far, around 70 per cent of the cases in the current surge are believed to have been caused by the new variant. South Africa is currently reporting between 15,000 and 20,000 new cases every day.

UK spread

The Omicron variant is spreading even faster in some European countries, most prominently in the United Kingdom, which on Monday also reported the first death of an individual infected with this variant. At least ten hospitalisations have been confirmed.

The UK has already declared an ‘Omicron emergency’ following the rapid spread, and decided to make booster doses of vaccine available for everyone above the age of 18. On Monday, there was a great rush to book booster doses, with more than half a million people registering. The website of the National Health Service, UK’s public healthcare system, collapsed for some time due to the rush.

General view of Liverpool Street railway station, in London, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the death of one person infected with Omicron variant. It was not immediately clear whether the infection happened to be the cause of death or was incidental. The UK Health Security Agency has also confirmed that at least ten patients infected with this variant have been hospitalised, according to Sky News.

Johnson said the hospitalisations, and the death, were adequate warnings about the threat from this new variant. “I think the idea that this (variant) is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think, that is something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” the BBC quoted him as saying.

The UK confirmed over 1,200 new cases of infection with the Omicron variant on Sunday, the highest so far, Sky News reported. The total number of confirmed cases with this variant now exceeds 3,000, the highest for any country.

Norway restrictions

Norway tightened restrictions on movement of people amid a record number of coronavirus infections in the last few days, powered by the spread of the Omicron variant. Norway has been reporting 3,000 to 4,000 cases a day. On one day last week, it detected over 6,000 cases. During earlier waves, it had not registered more than 1,500-1,600 cases on any day.

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“The situation is becoming increasingly serious. The number of detected cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection is increasing rapidly, followed by an increase in hospital admissions,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in its latest risk assessment on Monday.

“Hospitals, nursing homes, family doctors and out-of-hours clinics are under an ever-increasing strain as a result of more patients, increased sickness absence among healthcare personnel and lower access to temporary staff from abroad. The omicron variant is becoming established in Norway and will soon dominate. This will significantly increase transmission,” it said.

It said that in three weeks’ time, the daily count of new cases in Norway could rise as high as 90,000 to 30,000, if the efforts to control the spread did not succeed.

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