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Risk of hospitalization from Omicron a third of that from Delta, new UK data shows

British health agency says ‘protection against hospitalization is much greater than that against symptomatic disease,’ particularly after a booster; daily UK cases hit new record

People are seen at the St Thomas' hospital in central London on December 23, 2021. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)
People are seen at the St Thomas' hospital in central London on December 23, 2021. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

A new analysis of over a million COVID-19 cases in the UK found that the risk of hospitalization for those with the Omicron variant of coronavirus is about one-third of that from the Delta strain.

The study — published Friday by the UK Health Security Agency, alongside Cambridge University’s MRC Biostatistics unit — examined 528,176 Omicron cases and 573,012 Delta infections.

“In this analysis, the risk of hospitalization is lower for Omicron cases with symptomatic or asymptomatic infection after two and three doses of vaccine, with an 81% … reduction in the risk of hospitalization after three doses compared to unvaccinated Omicron cases,” the UKHSA said.

However, the analysis said vaccines provided “significantly lower” protection against symptomatic infection from Omicron than Delta.

“Nevertheless, protection against hospitalization is much greater than that against symptomatic disease, in particular after a booster dose,” it stressed.

Figures released Friday showed the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the UK rose to 12,395, up 68% from a week earlier and the highest number recorded since February. New confirmed daily cases hit another record — 189,846 — and the government reported a further 203 deaths.

Hospital admissions have started to rise as well amid the spread of the new strain, but the government said it believes the new variant is milder than Delta.

“It remains too early to draw any definitive conclusions on hospital severity, and the increased transmissibility of Omicron and the rising cases in the over 60s population in England means it remains highly likely that there will be significant pressure on the NHS in coming weeks,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA.

People walk in Soho, London, on December 30, 2021. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

But Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, told The Times that “although the numbers are going up and going up increasingly rapidly, the absence of large numbers of seriously ill older people is providing significant reassurance.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to take a rapid coronavirus test before going out and meeting with others on Friday, or to celebrate New Year’s Eve outdoors if possible. While firework displays have been canceled in London for the second year in a row, many parties were going ahead and many revelers were still expected to turn out in the capital later in the day.

Some believe Johnson’s strategy is dangerous and that large crowds gathering indoors for New Year’s Eve will likely lead to a further rise in infections.

“It is quite risky, given the fact we’re now approaching 200,000 cases per day –- there is a high rate of infection in the community,” Dr. Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, told Times Radio.

Health officials said the government has met its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults in the country by December 31. About 82% of all over 12-year-olds in the UK have received a second vaccine dose, officials said.

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