The Omicron variant appears to result in less severe COVID-19 than seen during previous periods of high coronavirus transmission including the Delta wave, with shorter hospital stays, less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, according to a new U.S. study, Reuters reported.
However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the U.S. healthcare system.
Despite the steep spike in COVID cases, the percentage of hospitalized patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) during the current Omicron wave was about 29% lower than during last winter’s surge and some 26% lower than during the Delta wave, the study published on Tuesday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.
According to the report the lower COVID-19 disease severity during the Omicron period is likely related to higher vaccination coverage, booster use among those eligible for the extra shots, as well as prior infections providing some immune protection, the study said.
Deaths in the period from Dec. 19 to Jan. 15, when Omicron infections were at a peak, averaged 9 per 1,000 COVID cases, compared to 16 per 1,000 in the previous winter peak and 13 during the Delta wave, the study showed, Reuters reported.
The findings were consistent with previous data analyses from South Africa, England and Scotland, where infections from Omicron peaked earlier than in the United States, the CDC said.
Relatively high hospitalizations among children during the Omicron period may be related to lower vaccination rates compared with adults, the agency said. Children under age 5 are not yet eligible for vaccines in the United States and the rate of vaccination among older children lags that of adults.
The study involved analysis of data from a large healthcare database and three surveillance systems to assess U.S. COVID-19 characteristics from Dec. 1, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2022.
The authors said one limitation of the study was that it was unable to exclude incidental infections in which patients admitted for other reasons test positive for COVID while in the hospital. That may inflate hospitalization-to-case ratios and affect severity indicators, read the report.
President Biden tests negative for Covid-19
President Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday, according to a letter from White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor, but he will continue to isolate until he tests negative a second time, NPR reported.
“The President continues to feel very well,” O’Connor wrote. Biden has been testing daily since he first tested positive for the virus on July 21. The White House said he experienced only mild symptoms, including fatigue, a runny nose, and cough.
According to NPR Biden, who is fully vaccinated and twice boosted, was prescribed the antiviral therapy Paxlovid, a standard course of treatment for people who are considered to be at higher risk of adverse affects of COVID, including anyone over 50.
His symptoms were “nearly resolved” after four days of treatment, the White House said.
The president briefly left isolation last week, after testing negative for COVID on July 27. He reentered isolation after testing positive again on July 30, in what O’Connor described as a “rebound” case, read the report.
On Saturday night, the White House announced that Biden planned to travel to Rehoboth Beach, Del., early on Sunday morning.
North Korea marks end of first COVID wave, but risks persist
North Korea on Friday said all of its fever patients have recovered, marking the end of its first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, but challenges linger with economic hardships deepening and an unvaccinated population exposed to future resurgences, Reuters reported Friday.
While state media said the “anti-epidemic situation has entered a definite phase of stability”, rather than boasting of victory, North Korea said it would “redouble efforts to maintain perfection in the execution of state anti-epidemic policies”.
The reclusive country has never confirmed how many people caught COVID-19, apparently lacking testing supplies. But it said around 4.77 million fever patients have fully recovered and 74 died since late April. It has reported no new fever cases since July 30.
South Korean officials and medical experts have cast doubts on those figures, especially the number of deaths.
Shin Young-jeon, a professor at Hanyang University’s medical school in Seoul, said while the peak of the first COVID wave may have passed, the stated fatalities were nearly “impossible” and there could be up to 50,000 deaths.
“Their success, if any, should lie in the fact that the outbreak didn’t lead to a political or social chaos. Whether their COVID response was successful was another problem.”
South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, responsible for inter-Korean affairs, said this week there were “credibility issues” with the North’s data but the COVID situation seemed “somewhat under control.”
Experts said the pandemic and a nationwide lockdown would deepen the North’s already dire food situation, and the World Health Organization said in June the COVID situation there could be getting worse.
Latest count of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide
As of 5am GMT (8.3am Kabul time) the COVID-19 global confirmed cases stood at just over 580 million, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Country’s with the highest confirmed cases are as follows:
South Korea 20,160,154
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