The news bulletins led last night with the grim news that daily Covid cases in the UK passed the 100,000 threshold. Concern has been intensifying that the Omicron situation is spiralling. But hold on, don’t go away, what’s that? It’s… it’s… good news on Omicron. Two academic studies just out suggest that the South Africans knew what they were talking about. The Omicron variant seems to be milder after all.
A study by Edinburgh and Stirling Universities of data in Scotland estimates Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta.
And a report from the team at Imperial suggests that you are 15-20% less likely to need any hospitalisation at all, and 40-45% less likely to require hospitalisation requiring a stay of one or more nights with Omicron compared to the Delta variant. If you’ve had a previous variant, you are 50-60% less likely to be hospitalised. Getting boosted helps too.
This follows Politico revealing that the UK Health Security Agency is set to publish real-world data before Christmas which comes to a similar conclusion: Britons who fall sick with Omicron are less likely to become severely ill. (Though, given the strain’s increased transmissibility, it’s still crucial to establish if Omicron is mild enough to avoid causing large numbers of hospitalisations, and there’s the question of workers having to isolate causing supply chain trouble.)
We still don’t know if Omicron is intrinsically less virulent than the Delta strain. It may well be that its reduced severity is down to the higher levels of immunity at this later stage in the pandemic.
Around 95% of our adult population is now thought to have some immunity to the virus either through infection or vaccination or both, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Research by the LSHTM suggests Britain’s high levels of immunity means we entered the winter with the smallest pool of vulnerable people in Europe.
In more good news, the self-isolation period for those who test positive with the virus has been cut from ten days to seven, meaning an estimated 280,000 individuals, who were set to spend Christmas day alone in isolation, are now free to celebrate with loved ones.
Crucially, the shorter self-isolation period will ease staff shortages in hospitals. At the end of last week, some 4,700 NHS staff in London were off work – up 140 per cent on the previous seven days – attributed to widespread infection. The Rail Delivery Group has also welcomed the announcement which will enable train drivers to get back to work quicker. Last week, 5.2% of trains in the UK were cancelled, compared to an average of 2.9%, because of sick staff.
New daily Omicron infections reached their highest level yet on Wednesday. However, in London, after a rapid rise in the past fortnight, cases appear to be plateauing. And, as Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of East Anglia, points out, SAGE’s recent predictions are already proving to be overly gloomy. Last week, it suggested that infections of Omicron were doubling every two days. If correct, that would have meant 200,000 confirmed daily cases on Monday. In reality, the reported figure was just over 91,000.