Good news: Omicron looks milder than Delta

The preliminary findings of South African research into the Omicron strain of COVID-19 support initial observations that it causes less severe symptoms than previous variants of the respiratory illness.

The research was undertaken by the South African Medical Research Council and the nation’s largest health insurance fund, Discover Health. The researchers also found that the Omicron variant appears to be more easily transmitted, while the risk of hospitalisation is lower than previous variants.

The research, which has not been peer-reviewed, also suggests that the Pfizer vaccine appears to offer less defence against infection from the Omicron variant but reduces the risk of hospitalisation.

From The Age:

In the weeks since Omicron was detected, South Africa has experienced rapid spread of the virus – concentrated in its most populous province, Gauteng. 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 November 29 to 34.37 new cases per 100,000 people on December 13, according to Johns Hopkins University. The death rate hasn’t increased during that same period.

“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,” Noach said.

Although case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are not increasing at the same rate, leading the scientists to report that the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is lower than Delta or earlier variants. Hospital admissions for adults diagnosed with COVID-19 are 29 per cent lower compared to the wave that South Africa experienced in mid-2020, after adjusting for vaccination status, according to the analysis.

The result shows that people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine had 33 per cent protection against infection in the first weeks of South Africa’s current Omicron-driven wave. That’s a significant drop from the 80 per cent protection against infection afforded during earlier periods.

The researchers say it’s encouraging that the study shows that people fully vaccinated with Pfizer have 70 per cent protection against hospital admission during the Omicron surge. That’s still a drop from the 93 per cent protection seen in South Africa’s Delta-driven wave…

The South African analysis supports an earlier assessment by UK authorities.

The below data from Goldman Sachs illustrates the situation in South Africa and shows that Omicron hospitalisation rates are much lower than Delta:

The same applies for ICU admissions and ventilators:

The optimistic scenario is that Omicron ends up being far less deadly, spreads rapidly among the world’s population, becomes the dominant strain, effectively vaccinates the world, delivers ‘herd immunity’ and ends the pandemic.

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