COVID is less severe with Omicron than Delta, U.S. study suggests
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.
WHO declares end to COVID global health emergency
The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies and killed millions of people worldwide.
The announcement, made more than three years after WHO declared the coronavirus an international crisis, offers some relief, if not an ending, to a pandemic that stirred fear and suspicion, hand-wringing and finger-pointing across the globe, AP reported.
The U.N. health agency’s officials said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn’t finished, noting recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
WHO says thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week, and millions of others are suffering from debilitating, long-term effects.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, warning that new variants could yet emerge. Tedros noted that while the official COVID-19 death toll was 7 million, the real figure was estimated to be at least 20 million.
Tedros said the pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID-19.
He bemoaned the damage that COVID-19 had done to the global community, saying the pandemic had shattered businesses, exacerbated political divisions, led to the spread of misinformation and plunged millions into poverty.
When the U.N. health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis on Jan. 30, 2020, it hadn’t yet been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China.
More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
In the U.S., the public health emergency declaration made regarding COVID-19 is set to expire on May 11, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end. Many other countries, including Germany, France and Britain, dropped most of their provisions against the pandemic last year.
When Tedros declared COVID-19 to be an emergency in 2020, he said his greatest fear was the virus’ potential to spread in countries with weak health systems.
Most recently, WHO has struggled to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, a challenging scientific endeavor that has also become politically fraught.
COVID-19 in Iran: Nearly 900 new cases, 24 deaths recorded
The Iranian health ministry announced on Sunday that more than 890 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified across the country during the past 24 hours, adding that 24 patients have died in the same period of time, Fars News Agency reported.
“A sum of 891 new patients infected with COVID-19 have been identified in the country based on confirmed diagnosis criteria during the past 24 hours,” the Iranian Health Ministry’s Public Relations Center said on Sunday, adding, “454 patients have been hospitalized during the same time span.”
The ministry’s public relations center said 611 people infected with COVID-19 are in critical condition.
China says 200 million treated, pandemic ‘decisively’ beaten
China says more than 200 million of its citizens have been diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 since it lifted strict containment measures beginning in November.
With 800,000 of the most critically ill patients having recovered, China has “decisively beaten” the pandemic, according to notes from a meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee presided over by President and party leader Xi Jinping, AP reported.
China enforced some of the world’s most draconian lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions and still faces questions about the origins of the virus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Heavy-handed enforcement prompted rare anti-government protests and took a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying that policies to control the outbreak had been “entirely correct.” The abrupt lifting in November and December of the “zero COVID” policy that had sought to eliminate all cases of the virus led to a surge in infections that temporarily overwhelmed hospitals.
Case numbers have since peaked and life has largely returned to normal, although international travel in and out of China has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
China is now transitioning to a post-pandemic stage after a fight against the outbreak that was “extraordinary in the extreme,” Xinhua said.
The government will continue to “optimize and adjust prevention and control policies and measures according to the times and situations with a strong historical responsibility and strong strategic determination,” Xinhua said.
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