How severe is the new Omicron variant compared to previous Covid strains? WHO explains

There are concerns that the new Omicron strain is more transmissible than other Covid variants, but how severe is it?

A pharmacist with the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. (Pic credit: Danny Lawson / PA Images)
A pharmacist with the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. (Pic credit: Danny Lawson / PA Images)

The new strain was first detected in South Africa, and on November 26 the World Health Organisation (WHO) named the new variant Omicron.

Since it was first identified, researchers in South Africa and all over the world have been working around the clock to find out more about Omicron.

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How transmissible is Omicron?

It is not yet known whether Omicron is more transmissible or easily spread from person to person compared to other strains, including Delta.

However, the number of people testing positive has increased in different areas of South Africa who have been affected by this particular variant. Epidemiologic studies are currently underway to get a better understanding of whether that is because of Omicron or if there are other factors.

How severe is Omicron?

WHO states that it’s not yet certain whether the Omicron strain infection causes more severe symptoms compared to infections with other strains, including Delta.

Initial data theorised that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, but this could be because of rising numbers of people overall becoming infected than a result of specific infection with Omicron.

There is currently no data to show that Omicron symptoms are different to those from other variants.

Initially, infections reported were among university students, who are younger individuals that were infected with the milder form of the virus. But according to WHO, finding out the level of severity of the Omicron strain could take several weeks.