Omicron ‘not the same disease’ as earlier Covid strains: Oxford scientist

Shoppers walk along Oxford Street on December 27, 2021 in London, England.

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LONDON – The gruesome scenes seen in previous waves of Covid-19 are “now history”, according to John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and UK government’s life science adviser.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, Bell analyzed data from the UK, where cases are breaking records and hospital admissions are at their highest since March. He said the number of people vaccinated in intensive care units remains “very, very low”.

“The incidence of serious illness and death from this illness [Covid] has hardly changed since we’ve all been vaccinated and that’s really important to remember, “he told the BBC.

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago – with the intensive care units full, many people are dying prematurely – now is history in my opinion and I think we should be reassured. on the fact that this will probably continue. “

Discussing the new variant of omicron, he added, “The disease appears to be less severe, and many people spend a relatively short time in the hospital. They don’t need high flow oxygen, the average length of stay is apparently three days, not the same illness as a year ago. “

A UK government study released Thursday said people are much less likely to be admitted to hospital with the Covid omicron variant than with the previous delta strain.

The UK Health Safety Agency said people with omicron are estimated to be between 31% and 45% less likely to go to the emergency room compared to those with delta, and 50 to 70% less likely to require hospitalization .

The analysis is “preliminary and very uncertain” due to the small number of omicron cases currently in hospitals, but it matches similar findings from South African scientists and Imperial College research teams. London and the University of Edinburgh.

Although the number of daily deaths remains low and early research suggests the omicron variant is not as serious as other strains of Covid, health experts have repeatedly warned that the large number of infections could leading to an increase in the number of deaths and an overwhelmed health system.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told CNBC by email last week that even if omicron turns out “milder” than other strains, the potential workload could double. or triple the number of people requiring hospitalization in the UK, where the virus is rampant – with particular risk to the unvaccinated.

Looking at the UK in particular, he said: “At a time when the NHS (National Health Service) is a) massively exhausted from omicron and b) massively stretched and tired after two thankless years on the frontlines, this would be untenable “, adding there are” no green shoots yet “.

British leader Boris Johnson on Monday suspended the imposition of new Covid-19 restrictions for England, at least before the end of this year.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already started new restrictions to limit the spread of the omicron variant, but England has stuck with current stay-at-home orders and increased wearing of masks.

Bell said Tuesday that Johnson’s inaction on Monday was “probably good” and noted that the behavior of people in England had changed anyway, with many being “responsible enough”. Hospital admissions are still below 400 per day in London, which is seen as a crucial threshold for the government.

The UK has reported more than 12.4 million infections – with another 129,471 on Tuesday – and at least 148,488 deaths since the pandemic began in early 2020, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

– CNBC’s Elliot Smith and Ryan Browne contributed to this article.

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