Thursday June 30, 2022

Omicron news

December 16, 2021

At this point, we still don’t know very much about the Omicron variant, except that it spreads far more quickly than the Delta variant. The data show a sharp upsurge in Covid cases is South Africa, most of which seem to be Omicron. There have also been several instances of what turned out to be super-spreader in Norway, Denmark, and the U.K. where a ridiculously high percentage of the attendees became infected with Omicron. (At a Christmas Party in Norway, 70 of 120 guests tested positive.)

The variant also seems to be able to get around the immunity built up from vaccines or prior infections. In principle, all the people infected at the super-spreader event in Norway had been fully vaccinated, since this was a pre-condition for admission. In South Africa, many of the people who have been hospitalized with infections already should have had some immunity from prior infections. In short, we can be pretty confident that Omicron spreads much more quickly than Delta or earlier variants.

That is the bad news with Omicron, the good news is that the evidence to date indicates that it is far less severe than Delta. Most of our evidence on severity comes from South Africa, where it was first detected. The reports from hospitals there indicate that a much smaller percentage of the people who get infected need oxygen and end up in intensive care units. It also seems that a much smaller percentage are dying.

The country has an upsurge in reported cases that began two weeks ago. Yet, there is no clear uptick in Covid-related deaths. The figure for the most recent day (December 10th) was 20 deaths, which would be the equivalent of 110 deaths a day in the United States, less than one-tenth of our current number.

It is possible that we will have to wait longer to see the effect of Omicron on serious illness and death. There is typically a substantial gap between when people are infected and when they get seriously ill or die. Also, the case numbers have continued to grow rapidly, so two weeks out from the current levels we may be looking at many more people in intensive care units or dying.

It is also pointed out that most of the cases in South Africa are younger people, who presumably are at less risk from Covid. This is an important caution, but it’s worth thinking about this issue more closely. Younger people are generally not isolated from the rest of the population. People in their twenties or thirties who got infected two or three weeks ago surely came in contact with parents, friends, and co-workers who are older.

If these older people either did not get infected, or are not showing up at hospitals with serious symptoms, then it would seem to imply that Omicron does not pose an especially serious threat to older people. There may well be more to the story that will become apparent further down the road, but it isn’t plausible that, at this point, only younger people in South Africa have been exposed to the Omicron Variant.

Excerpted from: 'Could the Omicron Variant Be Good News?'. Courtesy: