The rapid spread of omicron will cause “a large number of hospitalizations” of patients with COVID-19albeit a slightly less dangerous variant than its predecessor, the European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday.
“A rapid increase in omicron, such as that seen in several countries – even if combined with a slightly less serious disease – will cause a large number of hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated“said Catherine Smallwood, one of the main leaders of WHO Europe.
Faced with the uncertainties about the new variant detected for the first time at the end of November in South Africa, the countries hesitate between strong restrictions and a more flexible strategy due to the signs of less serious omicron.
“It is too early to say if the omicron wave will be more or less severe than the Delta wave,” Smallwood noted, “although preliminary data in the worst affected populations in Europe (England, Scotland, Denmark) show that omicron could lead to to a lower risk of hospitalization compared to delta. “
The emergency response specialist asked that the preliminary data be taken “with caution.”, since at present the observed cases refer mainly to “young and healthy populations in countries with high vaccination rates”.
“We have not yet seen the impact that omicron will have on the most vulnerable groups such as the elderly who have not yet received a full vaccination,” says the expert.
Early studies in South Africa, Scotland and England show that omicron appears to cause fewer hospitalizations than delta. According to these data, still very incomplete and which should be taken with caution, omicron could be between 35% and 80% less serious than delta.
But other experts point out that increased contagion can negate the advantage of a less dangerous variant, while many countries announce record cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
The experts also do not know if this apparently lower severity comes from the intrinsic characteristics of the variant, or if it is related to the fact that it affects populations already partially immunized (by the vaccine or a previous infection).