Science

Dangerousness, pressure on the hospital … Omicron’s first lessons from abroad

Omicron, new heavyweight champion. The new variant swept the Delta, dominating so far, in a matter of weeks. The change is already taking place in the United Kingdom, Denmark and the United States. It is about to happen in France, government spokesman Gabriel Attal warned on Wednesday at the exit of the Council of Ministers.

Based on data collected by the Covidtracker site, around 10% of new cases are suspected of being linked to Omicron. More than double in Ile-de-France. But this figure is advancing “at a good pace”, according to the executive, who believes that this variant could become the majority between Christmas and New Year. As a result, more than 100,000 contaminations a day according to Health Minister Olivier Véran, questioned by RMC on Wednesday.

To find out what awaits the country in the coming days, naturally the attention is directed to the United Kingdom and South Africa, the two countries most affected, among the first, by this new strain that appeared for the first time in southern Africa in the middle of -November. What do the first studies say about it? Omicron wouldn’t be inherently more dangerous than Delta. But its ability to spread very quickly and avoid the immunity provided by vaccines is of concern to hospitals.

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South Africa is dispensing with the disaster …

On the dangerousness, the South African case is hopeful. The country has apparently surpassed its wave of contamination due to the Omicron variant, from nearly 23,000 cases at the end of last week (on average) to 18,000 on Tuesday, in decline. This was the most important. But not for serious cases and deaths. “It was a short wave … and the good news is that it was not very serious in terms of hospitalizations and deaths,” Marta Nunes confirmed to the Associated Press (AP). Principal Investigator in the Department of Vaccine Analysis and Infectious Diseases at the University of the Witwatersrand. Around 45 deaths are recorded on average on the ground. A slightly increasing number, but not following the dreaded infection curve.

A South African study released Tuesday (preprint, not yet peer-reviewed), based on 161,328 Covid-19 cases identified between October 1 and November 30, also appears to confirm this lower danger from the Omicron variant. “Initial analyzes suggest a reduced risk of hospitalization in people infected with SGTF (Omicron) compared to people not infected with SGTF during the same period, and a reduced risk of severe disease compared to people previously infected with Delta.” , he points out. “Part of this reduction is probably due to the strong immunity of the population,” add its authors, a sign that Omicron does not cross all the barriers posed by vaccination.

The same pattern would repeat itself in the UK. Hospital admissions are at a relatively low level, around 870 a day, up from more than 4,000 at the height of the winter wave a year ago. Four times fewer people enter intensive care services than at the height of previous outbreaks. However, the UK is breaking pollution records, with 90,000 detected per day on average at the moment, a record.

According to the Politico site, the Health Security Agency is preparing to confirm, in a report, the lower danger of Omicron. For now, the latter has only reduced the isolation period from ten to seven days. People who have two negative antigen tests performed on the sixth and seventh days will be able to come out of isolation. A rather political decision, with the arrival of Christmas, so that a handful of Britons are not deprived of Christmas.

Pressure to come to hospitals?

Be careful, anyway, with Omicron. Even less dangerous, its strong contagion can quickly saturate hospitals, specialists recently estimated. A report by the SPI-MO, a group of government experts, published on the British government website on December 18 and discovered by the daily Le Temps, was quite alarming on this issue. According to the document, hospital admissions could rise from 1,000 to 2,000 a day by the end of the year. Omicron has just become dominant, and the peak has not been reached across the Canal, the current good numbers would only be the result of a simple “gap” traditionally observed between pollution records and hospital entries.

In another report, newly discovered by Le Temps and dated December 16, Imperial College was also not convinced of a happy ending. “In all scenarios, health systems are likely to be under pressure.” More generally, the mild forms of the virus are to be feared. Those who, without necessarily undermining the hospital system, are hurting the country’s economy, putting pressure on workers and officials on sick leave, and forcing millions of people to isolate themselves from time to time.

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In France, more than 3,000 people are currently admitted to intensive care services. But admissions, mainly due to the Delta variant, are no longer increasing. Here again, caution. Omicron has affected a relatively young population in South Africa, but also in the UK, perhaps less likely to generate severe cases. But the Christmas holidays are fast approaching. And with it, you mix between generations. Therefore, the risk of Omicron cannot be ruled out. Especially when your wave just starts a priori.

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Anne Rosencher is the managing editor of L'Express.Anne rosencher

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