Earlier today I posted the below article to The Word newspaper website. It was taken down due to a dispute, details of which I am not at liberty to divulge. But its significance relating to the pandemic is enough that I thought I had best post it here; –

The common refrain about the Omicron variant of SARS-Cov2, one that this very site has raised as a possibility, is that its symptoms are ‘milder’ than in previous strains. This early possibility, as we warned, was based on an extremely small sampling size. But from its first detection in South Africa, none of the initial cases showed severe symptoms. It did sound promising.

About a month on, the science is still not in. But one study from Imperial College London gives warnings from a vastly bigger sampling. This was UK Health Security Agency and National Health Service data, on people who tested positive for Covid-19 in PCR tests in England between 29th November and 11th December. The study confirmed early fears that the infectiousness of the new variant is five-point-four times greater than in previous waves.

More concerning though was that assessment of the symptoms listed displayed no evidence of a pattern of milder illness.

“We find no evidence (for both risk of hospitalisation attendance and symptom status) of Omicron having different severity from Delta.”


The study did give the proviso that data on hospitalisations is currently very limited.

As with previous pointers to the contrary, we should not treat this as conclusive either. The study has still to undergo peer review to check for any flaws in method. Until that process is completed and passed, the public should treat it with caution. However, the Omicron-is-milder narrative does appear to be losing traction.

The mild symptoms in South Africa could be due to the use of vaccines, stiffening the resistance of carriers. Even if Omicron is so infectious that vaccines do not stop people catching or carrying it, they do give immune systems some practice fighting it. Plus, South Africa was hit especially hard by the Delta variant, meaning natural resistance among the population to SARS-Cov2 may presently be at its peak.

It is also possible that Omicron forms more easily in the nose than previous variants could, meaning it spreads very quickly through respiration. But it may not form as easily in the lungs, meaning the immune system can combat it before the viral load becomes heavy enough to cause swelling and serious illness. We are still some way off knowing that for sure though.

Even if it turns out that Omicron is less lethal, and does cause fewer hospitalisations per head, we also need to keep in mind the heavily-increased rate of spread skews the real-terms figures upwards. Delta caused a 2.3% hospitalisation rate, which may not sound much, but came close to overwhelming health services in the UK this year. If Omicron causes, say, a 1% hospitalisation rate, that sounds like less but is spread across exponentially more people because of how much more widely and quickly it transmits. Therefore a 1% Omicron hospitalisation rate will mean a far larger number of people than in the 2.3% Delta rate. To repeat, health services struggled with Delta. Even a ‘milder’ Omicron still means potentially even more difficulty than before.

The Omicron variant makes this MORE urgent, not less.

Advice therefore remains the same, everybody. Get your jabs done. Make sure you get your boosters as soon as possible. Above all, do not listen to anti-science campaigners.