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Coronavirus disaster: How worried should we be about Omicron?

Omicron has been detected in 77 countries since it was first identified three weeks ago, with concerns it will spread faster and evade protection.

So how worried should we be about it?

We’ve addressed the most pressing questions.


The fast-spreading Delta variant remains dominant worldwide, and it is unclear whether Omicron is inherently more contagious than its predecessor, the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

Early data suggests the new variant is spreading faster than previous versions of the virus. In South Africa, the UK and Denmark, the number of new Omicron infections has been doubling every two days – “an alarming rate of growth”, according to Dr Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.

The Omicron variant accounted for about 44 per cent of infections in London on Monday and was expected to become the dominant version of the virus there within 48 hours.


Scientists say it is still too early to know whether Omicron causes more or less severe illness than previous versions of the virus.

In South Africa, scientists have said they see no sign the Omicron variant is causing more severe illness.

Hospital data found COVID-19 admissions were rising sharply in more than half of the country’s nine provinces, but there have been comparatively few deaths and indicators such as the median length of hospital stay have been reassuring.

Among the 43 people identified as having Omicron in the United States, most reported mild symptoms including coughing, congestion and fatigue.

People so far infected with Omicron have largely reported mild illness, probably because many have at least some immunity from vaccinations and/or prior infection.

A clearer picture of Omicron’s severity will come from analysing outcomes for a larger number of infected people, particularly older, unvaccinated, previously uninfected patients.

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