Let's Not Be Fatalistic About Omicron
We know how to fight it
The new, heavily mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2, Omicron first detected by scientists in South Africa, has put the public health community worldwide on high alert and the public on edge.
Since then, evidence has mounted that the variant is highly transmissible. It is far more transmissible than, and is coming to predominate over, its immediately preceding variant, Delta. Omicron’s doubling time—how long it takes for the number of coronavirus cases to double—is just two to three days.
The first indications from South Africa are that infection with the Omicron variant may have milder consequences than infections with previous variants, especially in vaccinated people. Despite some claims, it’s premature to conclude that Omicron will cause mild illness with few consequences. For example, in South Africa’s Omicron wave, infected people have tended to be younger than in previous waves, and we know that younger people are more likely to have more mild disease when infected with any SARS-CoV-2 variant. And given the time lags between infections, hospitalisations, and deaths, it is still too soon even for South Africa to pick up a signal in its excess death monitoring system, one of the few real-time such systems among low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Omicron is coming at us fast, but its full impact will take time to become apparent.
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