Omicron victims are only half as likely to need hospital treatment as those hit by earlier COVID strains, scientists have concluded.
A series of separate studies by British and South African researchers shows that the highly infectious variant leads to significantly milder illness.
It raises hopes that the world will not be plunged into a similar situation as when COVID-19 first emerged in early 2020 and when vaccines were not available.
The British study from London’s Imperial College shows Omicon cases are 15 per cent less likely to attend hospital and 40 per cent less likely to be hospitalised for a night or more compared to Delta.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said their work showed evidence of a moderate reduction in the risk of hospitalisation.
“However, this appears to be offset by the reduced efficacy of vaccines against infection with the Omicron variant,” he said.
“Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron virus, there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if Omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks.”
Professor Ferguson said the length of hospital stays was also shorter for Omicron patients than with Delta.
“We may see a more optimistic picture when we look at how long people stay in hospital, how long people stay in ICU,” he said.
“This is one step toward understanding the severity of Omicron, not the final answer.”
Another UK study, from University of Edinburgh researchers, suggest Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalisation when compared to Delta.
It found people who were double vaccinated and had a booster shot were 57 per cent less likely to have COVID symptoms if they get infected.
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said: “It’s good news as far as it goes. Infection could be relatively mild for the vast majority.”
The South African study, carried out by the country’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases, reported Omicron cases were 80 per cent less likely than Delta cases to be admitted to hospital.
Experts stressed that vaccines and boosters remained vital to slashing the risk of hospitalisation.
Evidence has been published showing the vital importance of boosters.
Imperial College London’s React survey, which tracks the spread of the epidemic, found people who have had two doses are four times more likely to catch COVID than those who have had three.
The research also found that infections have fallen in over-65s due to the success of the booster rollout.