Omicron up to 70% less likely to require hospital for severe symptoms

Image of a coronavirus cell. Credit: Creative Commons

People who catch the Omicron variant of Covid-19 are 50% to 70% less likely to need hospital care compared to previous strains of the virus, a major new study has found. The “encouraging” findings have shored up governments but the UK Health Security Agency said even with the lack of severe symptoms for most, large numbers of people could still end up in hospital through the sheer volume of new cases.

Another strand to the research shows the vaccine’s ability to stop you from catching Omicron starts to wane 10 weeks after a booster dose, but protection against severe disease is likely to stay much stronger.

The new report comes after multiple sets of data from South Africa, Denmark, England and Scotland all have pointed to reduced severe symptoms in this strain.

The latest analysis is based on all cases of Omicron and Delta in the UK since the beginning of November, including 132 people admitted to hospital with the variant. There have also been 14 deaths in people within 28 days of catching Omicron.

The report shows people catching Omicron are:

  • 31% to 45% less likely to go to A&E
  • 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital for treatment

However, a milder virus could still put pressure on hospitals as it spreads so fast, reports the BBC. The sheer number of people catching Covid-19, over 100,000 per day for the last two days, means that even a smaller percentage of people needing care still racks up large numbers.

Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UKHSA, 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.

“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.”

Omicron is thought to be milder with less severe symptoms due to a combination of our immunity and changes to the virus itself. The health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, said the early data was “promising” and the government was monitoring the data “hour-by-hour”.

But he warned: “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.”

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Written by

Claire Gordon