The NHS says Omicron is less dangerous but higher case numbers could see more hospitalizations

UK government public health experts have said the OMICRON variant of Covid-19 is less likely to cause severe illness and hospitalization.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), after publishing preliminary results of its research into the new variant, said Omicron appeared to lead to less serious illness for those affected.

However, the agency warned that the new strain is more transmissible than previous types such as Delta, and could lead to large numbers of people needing hospital treatment over the coming weeks.

A total of 2,097 people in a London hospital had Covid-19 as of 8am this morning, the highest number since February 27 and up 44% from the previous week.

Across England, 7,114 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 on December 23, the highest number since November 4 and an 11% increase week by week.

The UK saw another record number of Covid cases reported per day, with 119,789 cases reported.

Health Minister Sajid Javid described news of the UKHSA’s findings on the Omicron variant as «promising», but urged the public to exercise caution over the Christmas holidays as it was «still too early to say what the next steps are».

The research findings are consistent with those of two other early studies on Omicron by Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh, both released yesterday.

According to an analysis by UKHSA, the risks of hospitalization for a specific case are lowered with Omicron than for a Delta case.

It is estimated that someone with Omicron is 45% less likely to attend A&E than Delta, and 70% less likely to be hospitalized.

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However, Omicron is thought to infect more people who have previously had Covid, as 9.5% of people have had Omicron before.

Vaccination is also thought to give less protection against Omicron, although the booster vaccine provides greater protection against disease symptoms than only the first two doses.

The data indicate that protection begins to wane 10 weeks after the booster vaccination.

The agency also warned that Omicron’s faster rate of transmission than Delta could mean a large number of people are likely to need to be hospitalized, putting a significant amount of pressure on the NHS.

Javed said:

The new UKHSA data on Omicron is promising – while two doses of the vaccine are not enough, we know that boosters provide significant protection against the variant and early evidence suggests that this strain may be less severe than Delta.

“However, cases of the variant continue to rise at an extraordinary rate – already exceeding the daily record in the epidemic. Hospital admissions are increasing, and we cannot risk overwhelming the NHS.

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“This is an early stage analysis and we continue to monitor the data hour by hour. It is still too early to tell next steps so please be careful this Christmas and get a booster dose as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

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