New Data on Omicron Offer ‘Glimmer of Christmas Hope’: UK Health Official

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
December 24, 2021 Updated: December 24, 2021

New studies showing the Omicron coronavirus variant may be up to 70 percent less likely to lead to hospitalisation offer a “glimmer of Christmas hope,” a senior UK health official has said.

But UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Chief Executive Dr. Jenny Harries refused to retract her earlier statement that Omicron could be the most serious threat the UK has faced during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.

According to preliminary findings published by her own agency on Thursday, someone with Omicron is estimated to be as much as 45 percent less likely to attend the emergency department compared with the Delta variant, and as much as 70 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital.

Talking on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on Friday, Harries said, “There is a glimmer of Christmas hope in the findings that we published yesterday, but it definitely isn’t yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat.”

She said Omicron has become the “dominant strain now right across the UK,” and cases are still doubling across “most regions” of the country.

She added, “What we have got now is a really fine balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalisation—which is great news—but equally a highly transmissible variant and one that we know evades some of our immune defences, so it is a very balanced position.”

Previously, Harries told the House of Commons on Dec. 15 that Omicron was “probably the most significant threat” since the start of the pandemic, and cases would be “staggering” compared to what had gone before.

She told the BBC on Friday that it is still too early to retract the statement, as the newly published findings are “preliminary” and data around Omicron’s impact on the elderly is still needed.

“I don’t think we do know yet that this is going to be a significantly less serious disease for the population—the older population—that we are normally most concerned about in relation to serious disease and death,” she said.

The UKHSA findings are consistent with two studies published on Wednesday, both of which suggest the severity of the Omicron variant is relatively mild.

Researchers from the Imperial College London estimated that Omicron patients were 20 to 25 percent less likely to need hospital care and 40 to 45 percent less likely to be hospitalised for one night or more when compared to patients with the Delta variant.

Scientists in a separate Scotland-wide study said Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospital admission compared with Delta.

On Thursday, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, also said that preliminary data based on around 2,500 probable cases reported on the ZOE app suggest that Omicron is milder than Delta.

PA contributed to this report.