The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is causing milder illness than the Delta strain in most affected members of the British public.
The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that British government scientists are expected to announce their findings of Omicron after weeks of collecting real-world data on the severity of the disease. The U.K. Health Security Agency is expected to publish real-world data on Omicron, which is expected to reveal that most people who’ve contracted the disease are only experiencing a mild illness with less serious symptoms.
Politico, which first broke the story on Wednesday, says that while the Omicron variant seems milder than its Delta counterpart, the UKHSA may deem that it is not necessarily mild enough to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. The report, as reviewed by Politico, appears to suggest that for those who become severely ill, the chance of hospitalization and death still remain high.
While the transmissibility of Omicron may be very high, and its symptoms mild in contrast to Delta, health authorities fear that infections could soar to the point that large numbers of people overcrowd hospitals.
Health Minister Gillian Keegan said on Wednesday that there were 129 people hospitalized with Omicron, and 14 Britons have died thus far with the variant. The minister told Sky News that the government is still waiting for the data on the severity of Omicron infections before arriving at a decision to issue another so-called circuit breaker lockdown after Christmas.
Keegan cautioned that the public must be ready to cancel New Year parties at short notice.
“We are waiting for data on the severity, we'll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can't really say, you know,” she said. “What we've said is up to Christmas we're fine looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment, but, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data.”
Speaking on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that his government will not be introducing new COVID-19 restrictions before Christmas.
“We don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas,” he said, stating that Christmas can definitely go on “cautiously.” Johnson warned that the government is still tracking the spread of Omicron hour by hour and is “ready” to act after Christmas if necessary.
A South African study released in recent days appears to back the findings of British scientists. The Daily Mail reported on Wednesday that the study has suggested the risk of hospitalization is 80% lower with Omicron. Evidence of the findings is due to be formally published in the coming days.