Omicron data is "very encouraging," study says

Johannesburg, South Africa - There is an 80% lower risk of hospitalization due to infection by the Omicron coronavirus variant compared to the Delta strain, a study from South Africa has found.

The Omicron variant is expected to become dominant globally in a matter of weeks.
The Omicron variant is expected to become dominant globally in a matter of weeks.  © 123rf/allexxandar

Scientists, doctors, and vaccine-makers have been keen to get data on Omicron, which has swept across the world after first being identified in South Africa last month.

The new study released on Wednesday analyzed data from coronavirus infections in South Africa through to the end of November.

The findings, paired with those from previous research, suggest that Omicron is likely to cause a milder disease than previous variants, despite being more contagious.

"The very encouraging data point strongly to a substantially lower severity in the Omicron wave," said Cheryl Cohen of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which examined the data along with other institutions in the country.

In addition to the lower chances of hospitalization, Omicron infections "were associated with a 70% lower odds of severe disease in relation to Delta infections."

The authors caution they only looked at infections in South Africa and that different populations could respond differently.

One potentially critical difference is that South Africa's population may have a high level of prior exposure to the coronavirus. If so, this natural immunity could be helping to blunt Omicron's force.

The Omicron variant is dominant in South Africa, but seems to be losing momentum in its former epicenter of Gauteng province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The metropolitan area around Johannesburg and Pretoria had at times accounted for up to 80% of the new daily infections nationwide, but has since seen a decline.

The number of hospital admissions has been significantly lower than in previous waves of infection, too.

Cover photo: 123rf/allexxandar

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