Omicron may be less dangerous than Delta, says US health official

5 December 2021, 21:03 | Updated: 7 June 2023, 08:56

Dr Anthony Fauci said the Omicron strain does not appear particularly severe
Dr Anthony Fauci said the Omicron strain does not appear particularly severe. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Early indications suggest the Omicron variant of Covid-19 could be less dangerous than the Delta strain, according to US health officials.

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President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN's State Of The Union that scientists need more information before drawing conclusion's about Omicron's virulence, but said data from South Africa suggested there was not "a great degree of severity" to the new strain.

Whilst Omicron is becoming the dominant strain in South Africa, hospital admissions have not yet increased alarmingly.

"Thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it," Dr Fauci said.

"But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn't cause any severe illness, comparable to delta."

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Dr Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against non-citizens entering the United States from several African countries.

They were imposed as the Omicron variant exploded in the region, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has blasted such measures as "travel apartheid."

"Hopefully we'll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time," Dr Fauci said.

"We all feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only on South Africa but the other African countries."

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Omicron had been detected in about a third of US states by Sunday, including in the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains and the West Coast.

Wisconsin and Missouri were among the latest states to confirm cases.

But Delta remains the dominant variant, making up more than 99 per cent of cases and driving a surge of hospital admissions in the north.

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In the UK, 246 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected so far after an increase of more than 50 per cent in a day.

It could be partially due to the fact targeted testing has been lauched in affected areas.

A number of measures have been introduced in response to the variant, including tighter travel rules and a reintroduction of the mask mandate in certain settings.

However the rules are set to be reviewed after three weeks.

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The Omicron variant caused concern because of the number of mutations of its spike proteins.

It had 32 in total - double that of the highly infectious Delta variant.

The number of mutations to this part of the virus led to concerns that vaccines and previous infection may give less protection against the variant, although it is too early to draw any definite conclusions.

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Even if Omicron proves less dangerous than Delta, it remains problematic, World Health Organisation epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said.

"Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalisations," she said.

"They will need to go into ICU and some people will die.

"We don't want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with Delta circulating globally."