KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 – A United Kingdom government study has found that people infected with the new Omicron Covid-19 variant are 70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) study, reported by The Guardian, showed the risk of people with Omicron going to the accident and emergency (A&E) department are 31 per cent to 45 per cent less compared with those with Delta. The chance of them being admitted to the hospital is also 50 per cent to 70 per cent less.
UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “Our latest analysis shows an encouraging early signal that people who contract the Omicron variant may be at a relatively lower risk of hospitalisation than those who contract other variants. However, it should be noted both that this is early data and more research is required to confirm these findings.
“Cases are currently very high in the UK, and even a relatively low proportion requiring hospitalisation could result in a significant number of people becoming seriously ill. The best way that you can protect yourself is to come forward for your first two doses of vaccine, or your booster jab and do everything you can to stop onward transmission of the infection.”
UK health secretary Sajid Javid said: “This new UKHSA data on Omicron is promising — while two doses of the vaccine aren’t enough, we know boosters offer significant protection against the variant and early evidence suggests this strain may be less severe than Delta.
“However, cases of the variant continue to rise at an extraordinary rate — already surpassing the record daily number in the pandemic. Hospital admissions are increasing, and we cannot risk the NHS being overwhelmed.”
The latest UK government study is consistent with earlier analysis published by Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh, which found Omicron to be milder.
The Imperial study suggests that people with Omicron have a 20 per cent to 25 per cent reduced chance of being admitted to the hospital, while the risk of being admitted overnight is 40 per cent to 45 per cent lower.
For people who had neither been previously infected with Covid nor vaccinated, the risk of hospitalisation was about 11 per cent lower for Omicron versus Delta, the study led by Prof Neil Ferguson showed.
The Imperial study analysed hospitalisations and vaccine records among all PCR-confirmed Covid cases in England between December 1 and 14. The dataset included 56,000 cases of Omicron and 269,000 cases of Delta.
Ferguson said while the analysis shows evidence of “a moderate reduction” in the risk of hospitalisation associated with Omicron compared with Delta, this appears to be offset by the reduced efficacy of vaccines against infection with the Omicron variant.
“Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron virus, there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if Omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks,” he said, as quoted by The Guardian.
A separate preliminary analysis of Omicron cases in Scotland by researchers at The University of Edinburgh pointed to an even greater reduction in hospitalisation risk compared with Delta.
Scientists on the Eave II study, using hospital data from November 23 to December 19, concluded that the risk of hospitalisation may be 70 per cent lower with Omicron than Delta.
The Scottish study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is based on small numbers and most Omicron cases were in people aged 20 to 39. This means that researchers were unable to assess the severity of the disease in elderly people who are more vulnerable.
Public Health Scotland’s national Covid-19 incident director Dr Jim McMenamin welcomed a “qualified good news story”, but said it was “important we don’t get ahead of ourselves”.
“The potentially serious impact of Omicron on a population cannot be underestimated. And a smaller proportion of a much greater number of cases that might ultimately require treatment can still mean a substantial number of people who may experience severe Covid infections that could lead to potential hospitalisation,” McMenamin said.
Prof James Naismith, Rosalind Franklin Institute director and professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, said although small in number, the study is good news.
“The two-thirds reduction in the hospitalisation of double vaccinated young people compared to Delta indicates that Omicron will be milder for more people.
“The study is rigorous but it is early (thus might change a bit with more data and more studies will report in the weeks ahead). It should be noted that some South African scientists have been saying Omicron was milder for some time,” Naismith said, in response to the Scottish preprint.
“Since the study was early in the pandemic, it focused on younger people. The elderly are of course more vulnerable.
“Although the two-thirds reduction is significant, Omicron can cause severe illness in the doubly vaccinated. Thus if Omicron continues to double every few days, it could generate many more hospitalisations than Delta from the double vaccinated population.
“In my view, the best news in the study is the observation that the booster is highly effective at reducing serious illness from Omicron.
“Put crudely we have more time to get more people boosted, we can’t waste a moment of it. Everything we can do as individuals to slow spread gives us more time.
“In my view, there is now solid reason to favour a more optimistic outcome of Omicron in the UK than was feared. None of this should diminish the loss of lives that will still happen nor the work of health professionals who are exhausted.”