Deaths, hospitalisation can go up due to Omicron, warns Europe’s health agency

A ‘stealth’ version of Omicron can raise risks of virus spread

By Taran Deol
Published: Wednesday 08 December 2021

The European Center for Disease Protection and Control (ECDC) warned of an increase in deaths and hospitalisation due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the coming weeks. Insufficient vaccination and spread of the new variant Omicron will drive this trend, the agency noted. 

“The Omicron variant makes the whole situation even more worrying,” Andrea Ammon, director of ECDC, said in a meeting of European Union health ministers in Brussels.

Currently, 19 European countries have recorded 274 Omicron cases. COVID-19 cases started increasing in the continent in November when deaths and cases were similar to those recorded the same month last year, according to an independent population health research centre at the University of Washington School of Medicine. 

However, there was a key difference. This time, severe cases have gone up, accounting for a larger share of the total load than last year.

France reported a 61 per cent increase in weekly deaths, the United Kingdom (UK) reported a 3 per cent increase, Switzerland and Slovakia reported a 35 per cent increase while Portugal saw a 49 per cent increase since December 1, according to Worldometer. Overall, the continent’s weekly deaths reduced by 0.5 per cent. However, the figure was 1 per cent last week.

More concerning news continues to pour out of Europe. Scientists in the UK, among other nations including Australia, Canada and South Africa, have found a ‘stealth’ version of Omicron. 

It is unclear if this will also be as widespread as Omicron but it has been confirmed that owing to a few genetic changes, it can evade the regular RT-PCR test, which give an indication of the variant of the virus causing the infection.

However, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency director Michael Ryan has stated that Omicron, the fifth variant of concern, is “highly unlikely” to completely evade vaccine protection. Citing preliminary reports, he added that infections caused by it have mostly been mild.

“It's very early days. We have to be very careful how we interpret that signal,” he said, adding that vaccines have been effective against all the variants till now and the case shouldn’t be  different for Omicron. 

Meanwhile, leading manufacturers such as Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have already begun working towards Omicron-specific shots should the need arise.

Several studies are underway to fully understand Omicron’s characteristics — whether it is more infectious and / or causes severe disease. 

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