South African scientists have found that the coronavirus strain Omicron is associated with a lower risk of hospitalization and severe disease for infected people compared to the Delta mutation. The experts came to this conclusion during a joint study by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and other major research institutions, Reuters reports.
"Compellingly, together our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants," one of the study's authors Professor of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) Cheryl Cohen stated.
According to her, these facts were further confirmed by surveillance data, which show significantly fewer hospitalizations and deaths during the current wave of pandemics in Africa caused by Omicron than in previous ones.
The study found that the rate of hospitalization among people who were diagnosed with Omicron in South Africa between October 1 and November 30 was 80% lower than those diagnosed with another strain during the same period. Patients with Omicron who were hospitalized during this period had the same chance of developing a serious illness as patients with other variants of the virus. However, people hospitalized with Omicron in October-November were 70% less likely to develop severe disease than patients hospitalized with Delta between April and November.
Cohen believes that the results of the study can be extended to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which also have a very high rate of Covid-19 disease.
The authors of the experiment made several reservations and urged not to jump to conclusions about the internal characteristics of Omicron.
Cohen estimates that between 60% and 70% of people in South Africa have previously been infected with coronavirus. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in Britain, said that comparing Omicron data in one period with Delta in an earlier period made it difficult to determine whether a reduction in hospitalization was associated with lower virulence in Omicron or with an increased immunity of the population.
"To a certain extent this does not matter to the patient who only cares that they won't get very sick. But it is important to know to enable improved understanding of the likely pressures on health services," Hunter said.
As it was reported, British scientists have recently discovered a new B.1.1.529 Covid variant that has 32 mutations in the spike protein. This part of the virus is used by most vaccines to prime the immune system against Covid. The WHO Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has named the coronavirus strain B.1.1.529 "Omicron". Omicron could replace the Delta strain and become the most dominant one across the world.
The new strain of coronavirus has already been found in a number of countries. In particular, Omicron has been recorded in South Africa, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Canada.
Earlier, the G7 named the Omicron coronavirus strain as the biggest current global public health threat.