UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid has welcomed studies suggesting the Omicron COVID-19 variant may cause less severe illness than earlier strains, but warned it could still lead to “significant” hospital admissions.
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 hospitalized for one night or more when compared to patients with the Delta variant.
The researchers also estimated that natural immunity, or protection from a prior infection, reduces the risk of hospitalization by 50 percent and the risk of a hospital stay of one night or more by 61 percent.
Scientists in a separate Scotland-wide study called Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 said Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospital admission compared with Delta.
Reacting to the new findings on Thursday, Javid said: “That is, of course, good, encouraging news.”
But he cautioned: “They are not very clear yet though by how much that risk is reduced.”
“We do know with Omicron that it does spread a lot more quickly, it is a lot more infectious than Delta, so any advantage gained from reduced risk of hospitalisation needs to be set against that,” he told broadcasters.
“If a much smaller percentage of people are at risk of hospitalisation, if that is a smaller percentage of a much larger number, there could still be significant hospitalisation.”
Javid also said there will be no further announcements on CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions in England before Christmas.
“We are not planning any further announcements this week,” he said. “Despite the caution that we are all taking, people should enjoy their Christmases with their families and their friends—of course, remain cautious.”
“We will keep the situation under review. We are learning more all the time as we have done from this new data. We will keep analysing that data and if we need to do anything more we will, but nothing more is going to happen before Christmas.”
Health minister Gillian Keegan said on Wednesday that data on the severity of Omicron is “one of the missing pieces” ministers had been waiting for.
She told the BBC that there is “a lot of uncertainty in the data.”
Professor Neil Ferguson, who led the Imperial College study, said in a statement: “Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron virus, there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if Omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks.”
Professor Andrew Hayward, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare of University College London (UCL), told the BBC that the new findings may not necessarily be extrapolated to elderly people.
Zachary Stieber and PA contributed to this report.