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Omicron hospitalization risk is far below delta’s in two studies

The omicron variant of Covid-19 may be less likely to land patients in the hospital than the delta strain, according to a trio of studies of preliminary data.

Researchers in Scotland suggest omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalization when compared with the earlier variant, though omicron was 10 times more likely than delta to infect people who’d already had Covid.

An Imperial College London team working with a larger set of data from England found that people with omicron were 15 percent to 20 percent less likely to visit the hospital and 40 percent to 45 percent less likely to require an overnight stay.

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The fresh data add to earlier findings Wednesday showing that South Africans contracting Covid-19 are 80 percent less likely to be hospitalized if they catch the new variant, compared with other strains. Omicron infections are also associated with a 70 percent lower risk of severe disease than delta, the study by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed.

Although preliminary, the body of research could provide reassurance that omicron may be substantially less likely to result in severe outcomes than delta, at least in places where large numbers of people already have some immunity.

Record cases

Still, the researchers said the highly contagious new strain could weigh on health-care systems as infections soar worldwide. Daily Covid cases in the UK surged above 100,000 Wednesday, the country’s highest single-day tally yet.

“It’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves, said Jim McMenamin, national Covid-19 incident director for Public Health Scotland, which conducted the Scottish study with the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde. “A smaller proportion of a greater number of cases requiring treatment might still mean a substantial number of people that may experience severe Covid.

Anthony Fauci, who serves as the top medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, echoed those comments. While the Scotland study “appears to validate and verify the data from South Africa, he warned that US demographics may lead to different outcomes, and that the total caseload might eliminate any benefits from lower severity.

“Even if you have a diminution in severity, if you have a much larger number of individual cases, the fact that you have so many more cases might actually obviate the effect of it being less severe, Fauci said at a briefing.

Booster doses offer greater protection against delta, and a third shot also offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic infection for omicron, the Scottish team found.

Public health leaders have cautioned that other factors, such as higher numbers of people who are vaccinated or have previously had Covid, may also complicate any comparison with previous points in the pandemic. The Scottish study also included very few people over 60.

Two doses

“When we measure severity of omicron, we are measuring it as South Africa did, in a very immune population, said Neil Ferguson, a professor at Imperial, who helped lead the English study. After two doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine, the risk of hospitalization from omicron is probably about the same as the risk from delta, he said — perhaps reflecting the fact that the new variant, though potentially somewhat less severe, is better at eluding the vaccine in people who haven’t had a booster.

The English and Scottish studies had different follow-up times, meaning that the results may change as people’s illnesses progress, said Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London. “It remains important for all of us to take reasonable care, test, test, test and get our boosters as soon as possible.

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North Korea’s fever cases under 200,000 for second day amid silence on aid offer

North Korea's daily fever cases stayed below 200,000 for a second day in a row, state media said on Monday, as Pyongyang remained silent on South Korean and US offers to help fight its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID wave, declared on May 12, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, but “got no response.”

North Korea reported 167,650 new patients suffering from fever on Monday and one more death. More than 2.33 million of the 2.81 million cumulative cases reported since late April had recovered as of Sunday evening, the North's state news agency KCNA said. The official death toll stands at 68.

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While staying silent on the offer for help, North Korea has boasted of a “favorable turn” in the country's virus situation.

“The crisis and responsibility awareness is further enhanced in every region, sector, workplace and post across the country to maintain the favorable turn in the epidemic prevention work and all inroads of the epidemic are checked through the strict execution of regional and unit lockdown and blockade measures,” the KCNA said.

Such COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea's lack of response, a senior US administration official said Sunday.

Apparently deprived of testing supplies, North Korea has not confirmed the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. Instead, health authorities report the number with fever symptoms, making it difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts have said.

Authorities have distributed food and medicine across the country, with military medics deployed to help distribute drugs and conduct exams.

KCNA said pharmaceutical factories “are speeding up the production,” but did not elaborate which medicines were being produced.

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Beijing city reports 63 new local COVID-19 cases over 24 hours

Beijing reported 63 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Saturday, a disease control official at the Chinese capital said.

Of the infections, 56 were found in controlled areas and seven during community screening tests, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director at Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.

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The city has recorded 1,399 COVID infections since April 22, Liu said.

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Biden says US has offered N.Korea COVID-19 vaccines but ‘got no response’

US President Joe Biden said Saturday that America had offered North Korea COVID-19 vaccines but “got no response” despite a spiraling epidemic in the isolated country.

“We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and we're prepared to do that immediately," he said at a press conference in Seoul.

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“We've got no response,” he added.

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