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The World Health Organization expects a "significant number" of hospitalizations, even if Omicron turns out to be less serious

The World Health Organization expects a “significant number” of hospitalizations, even if Omicron turns out to be less serious

The organization’s European branch warned on Tuesday that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant would cause a “significant number of hospitalizations” for COVID-19 patients, even if it turns out to be slightly less serious than its predecessor. Global Health.

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“A rapid rise in omicron, like the one we’re seeing in many countries, even if combined with a slightly less severe disease, will still result in a significant number of hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated,” Catherine Smallwood told AFP. One of the main officials of the World Health Organization in Europe.

Faced with uncertainty about the new variant first discovered at the end of November in South Africa, countries are hesitating between strong restrictions and a more flexible strategy due to signs of less seriousness from Omicron.

“It is too early to say whether an omicron wave will be more or less severe than a delta wave,” Ms Smallwood said, although preliminary data in populations first affected in Europe (England, Scotland and Denmark) show that omicron may have a lower risk of hospitalization. compared to the delta.

The emergency response specialist called for this preliminary data to be taken “with caution” because the cases currently observed mainly concern “young and healthy people in countries with high vaccination rates”.

“We still have to see the impact of Omicron on the most vulnerable groups: the elderly who have not yet received a full vaccination,” says the expert.

Much more contagious, and undoubtedly less virulent: A month after it was identified in South Africa, scientists are beginning to better understand the Omicron variant, without being able to say how much it has changed the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Early studies from South Africa, Scotland and England last week show that Omicron apparently caused less hospitalizations than Delta.

According to this data, it is still very incomplete and should be treated with caution, omicron can be less severe by 35%-80% of delta.

But other experts point out that larger infections could erode the benefit of a less-risky alternative, with many countries reporting record cases since the start of the pandemic.

Experts are also unsure whether this seemingly lower severity comes from intrinsic characteristics of the variant, or whether it is related to the fact that it affects populations already partially immune (by vaccine or previous infection).