Three separate studies have found that people infected by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were less likely to be hospitalised and suffer from severe symptoms, as compared to other strains of the disease, including Delta, The New York Times reported.

However, the Omicron variant was more likely to spread faster, the two studies conducted in the United Kingdom, and one carried out in South Africa showed. The groups within which the studies were conducted are significant as the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and the strain has resulted in highest single-day cases in the United Kingdom.

One of the studies done by the Covid-19 response team of the Imperial College in London showed that people infected with the Omicron variant were around 20% less likely to be hospitalised, as compared to those who contracted the Delta strain. The patients were 40% less likely to be hospitalised for a night or more, the study showed.

The research team had analysed all coronavirus cases in England in the first half of December, and for which the variant could be confirmed. As many as 56,000 cases of Omicron and 2,69,000 cases of Delta were analysed.

However, Azra Ghani, a co-author of the study, sounded a word of caution as far as transmission rate of Omicron cases are concerned.

“Even if individual cases are mild, Omicron still poses a serious risk to hospitals because cases are exploding so quickly,” Ghani said. “We are not at a place to treat this as a cold.”

Another study in Scotland by scientists at the University of Edinburgh and other experts suggested that the risk of hospitalisation with Omicron infections was two-thirds (66%) less than the cases caused by the Delta variant.

The researchers examined Delta and Omicron cases in Scotland in November and December to find out the number of patients who had been hospitalised after being infected by each variant.

In this study too, one of the co-authors Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, said that the Omicron variant could still lead to a large number of people getting hospitalised because of how quickly it was spreading.

Other experts also pointed out that the studies had their limitations as they were specific to a particular time period in United Kingdom, whereas the pandemic situation was quickly changing in the country, AP reported.

The third study carried out by scientists in South Africa concluded that risk of hospitalisation among patients infected by the Omicron variant was 70% lower than those who contracted other strains. The study analysed all cases of the Omicron variant reported in South Africa since November.

The authors of this study said that the reason behind milder symptoms among Omicron-infected patients could be the fact that the new variant was proving to be more successful in reinfecting people who had already contracted the virus.

The authors said that while the Omicron variant could evade antibodies formed in a patient’s body due to previous infections, the new strain may not be able to beat the powerful but slower immune responses that prevent serious disease.

Also read:

  1. Explainer: How severe are Omicron infections?
  2. Explainer: Why the Covid-19 Omicron variant has sparked global concern