Is Omicron a more mild Covid variant? Everything we know from the experts so far

As daily Omicron cases reach eye-watering new heights, reports surrounding whether the new variant is milder than its predecessors gather momentum. Here’s what the current understanding is, based on the latest research and medical experts

As case number soar, questions are being asked about the threat Omicron poses to life and the NHS
As case number soar, questions are being asked about the threat Omicron poses to life and the NHS

Omicron is sweeping the nation at a rate never seen before, with alarming numbers being reported each day over the Christmas period.

On December 23, 119,789 new cases were reported in the UK. For comparison, even in the dark locked-down days of January 2021 daily cases never peaked higher than 68,053.

But there is a shred of hope, originally shared by South African doctor Angelique Coetzee, one of the medical experts on the front lines in the early days of Omicron’s rise.

She discussed how it seemed that many of the cases she saw involved milder symptoms than in previous waves and variants.

But this has remained anecdotal evidence, with scientists and researchers needing more time to analyse Omicron’s danger to life.

And now, with more data available and researchers having had more time to see how cases develop, some preliminary studies are beginning to provide more detailed information. Here’s what we know so far with the help of Dr Gareth Nye, lecturer of anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester’s Medical School.

What do the Omicron studies say about the danger of the Covid variant?

The vaccine remains the first line of defence against the Omicron variant


Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

Preliminary studies have been published in the UK and South Africa, with early findings signalling the new variant may be milder than those that have come before.

Some estimates are projecting it could be between 30% and 70% less severe, a sizeable gap.

One study from Scotland looks at the number of people going to the hospital after contracting the disease. It found that if Omicron were as severe as the Delta variant, as of Thursday, December 22 they would have expected 47 hospitalisations. However, only 15 have been recorded.

These are small numbers of course and are not on a scale that can lead to actionable conclusions.

National Covid-19 incident director at Public Health Scotland, Dr Jim McMenamin, said it was a “qualified good news story”, but that it is “important we don’t get ahead of ourselves”, the BBC report.

Another preliminary study from South Africa, which experienced an early wave of Omicron, found that people were between 70% and 80% less likely to need hospital treatment after contracting the variant. However, for those who did end up in hospital the research found no considerable change in outcome compared to previous waves.

What’s more, milder cases are not necessarily an end to the problems, with the sheer number of people falling ill still meaning many will need to go to hospital, potentially overwhelming the NHS and global health services.

Speaking to the Mirror Online, Dr Gareth Nye, a lecturer of anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester’s Medical School, said: “Current data seems to suggest that Omicron does have a lower risk of hospitalisation compared with the delta variant so far of roughly 25%.”

However, he echos the need for caution when looking at the numbers: “We have to remember the level of vaccination will be a factor in this number, as will previous infections. A previous Covid infection will reduce the risk of hospitalisation by 50%.

“We don’t have robust studies yet to confirm this fully, so this data should be treated with caution.

“It also doesn’t mean people aren’t suffering from this variant, simply [that they are] not going to hospital.”

Dr Nye also highlighted the variety of elements to be taken into account for how a person is affected by Covid.

He explains: “How mild or severe an infection is depends on a number of things – the person, their underlying health issues and whether they’ve had a previous infection or not.

“For most double-vaccinated adults, the symptoms are mild, most starting with a headache, aches and pains with general cold-like symptoms. However, there are still vulnerable adults and children who are at significant risk of even a mild variant and so it’s about protecting those.

“Even some double jabbed adults are still being admitted.”

Dr Nye also pointed out a crucial element of coronavirus; long Covid.

“Catching Covid in many cases isn’t the end of it and people should be wary.

“Long Covid is now seen in around 10% of cases with a full range of severe side effects and in children, an emerging condition termed Paediatric Inflammatory Multi-system Syndrome is leaving our children in very dangerous situations in hospitals.”

Why are there concerns over the effectiveness of the vaccine?

Dr Nye said: “This infection can be understood best by looking at types of cars. Different diseases can be compared to different car brands.

“Each car brand had different makes, focus, fiesta etc and COVID-19 is one of those. Each of these variants are different versions of that model, different colours, different fuel types, engine sizes and extras.

“The problem is we design a vaccine and a booster to cover what we know, Omicron was a new type that is a “different colour” to the others so it will take time to understand how our vaccines are working against it.

“It is still advisable to be boosted to prevent surges in past variants and still get covered for new [ones].”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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