Why the good news about the Omicron variant's reduced severity may be a mirage

Flight crew from China lands in the USA Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images
There is a growing, cautious consensus among public health experts that the new Omicron strain of coronavirus is both more contagious and less severe than other COVID-19 strains. The evidence of greater transferability is more compelling than decreased severity at this point, but "so far the signals about severity have been somewhat encouraging," said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN this weekend.
Given the on-site reports from the Omicron epicenter Tshwane in South Africa: "I think the signs are actually extremely optimistic," says epidemiologist Dr. David Dowdy of The New York Times' Johns Hopkins. The number of cases is increasing, most are from the Omicron strain, but the number of deaths is not increasing.
Dr. Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council told the Times on Monday that entering the COVID-19 ward of the Tshwane District Hospital Complex is a very different experience from previous waves due to the lack of ventilation tones and hums. "Out of 17 patients, four received oxygen," he said. However, in a report over the weekend, Abdullah wrote that "this may be due to the usual delay between cases and deaths."
"Serious COVID disease often takes a week or more to develop, and the world has known Omicron for less than two weeks," David Leonhardt told The Times. In addition, "the first studies with Omicron patients came disproportionately from South Africa, where the population is young and many people were previously infected with Delta. It is unlikely that either group will become very ill."
If the Omicron variant proves more contagious, scientists "are watching" to see if it overthrows "the world-ruling" Delta tribe in the US and around the world, reports The Associated Press. And if it turns out to be less severe, "it would be a great thing if Omicron actually displaced Delta," says Dr. Warner Greene of the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco told USA Today. "If Omicron were a less pathogenic virus, it would be very good news for humanity."
Maybe, writes Leonhardt. “A worrying afterthought is that even seemingly mild COVID infections can be fatal for people at risk, such as the elderly. For the same reason, the flu is killing large numbers of the elderly. ”And any reduction in severity could be offset by the increase in the cases it causes, leading to a net increase in hospital admissions and deaths, the COVID expert told the World Health Organization, Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, told CBS News on Sunday.
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