The more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as “mild”, World Health Organisation, WHO, officials have stated.
Janet Diaz, WHO lead on clinical management, said early studies showed there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the variant first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November compared with Delta.
There appears also to be a reduced risk of severity in both younger and older people, she noted in Geneva.
She did not give further details about the studies or the ages of the cases analysed, but the impact on the elderly is one of the big unanswered questions about the new variant as most of the cases studied so far have been in younger people.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the variant should not be considered “mild” as global infections are soaring to record levels, with healthcare systems are overwhelmed and governments struggling to tame the virus, which has killed more than 5.8 million people.
Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, it is estimated that about 110 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70 percent of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July 2022. The aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.
At least 36 nations were yet to reach10 percent vaccination cover, while 80 percent of patients were unvaccinated globally.
No threat from IHU variant —WHO
The World Health Organization says that it is monitoring a COVID-19 variant, IHU, detected in a small number of patients in France, but that, for now, there is little reason to worry about its spread. According to WHO, it has been reported in only 12 people. The B.1.640.2 variant was first identified in October and uploaded to Gisaid, a database for disease variants, on 4 November, but only about 20 samples have been sequenced so far, and only one since early December according to experts.
Abdi Mahmud, a Covid incident manager with the WHO, said the variant had been on the agency’s radar since November but added that it did not appear to have spread widely over the past two months.
By contrast, the Omicron variant, which was first uploaded to Gisaid on Nov. 23, has more than 120,000 sequences in the database. Omicron has been detected in at least 130 countries.