Omicron Is 'Not The Same Disease' As Other COVID Variants, Expert Says

By Jason Hall

December 29, 2021

Microscopic view of covid-19 omicron variant or B.1.1.529, variant of concern.
Photo: Getty Images

The new omicron variant "is not the same disease" as previous COVID-19 variants, according to one expert.

John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and a life sciences advisor to the United Kingdom government, discussed the most recent coronavirus variant during an appearance on BBC Radio 4 Tuesday (December 28).

"The disease does appear to be less severe, and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital," Bell said via CNBC. "They don’t need high-flow oxygen, average length of stay is apparently three days, this is not the same disease as we were seeing a year ago.”

A U.K. government study published last week showed hospitalization rates for omicron were significantly lower than the previous delta strain, with the U.K. Health Security Agency reporting between 31% and 45% of individuals being less likely to attend emergency departments than with delta, as well as 50% to 70% less likely to need to be hospitalized.

The report did, however, clarify that analysis was "preliminary and highly uncertain" based on the small number of omicron cases for individuals currently hospitalized, as well as other factors.

During his appearance on BBC Radio 4, Bell acknowledged that the number of individuals in U.K. ICUs -- which have seen record-breaking cases and hospital admissions -- who are vaccinated remains "very, very low."

“The incidence of severe disease and death from this disease [Covid] has basically not changed since we all got vaccinated and that’s really important to remember,” Bell said.

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago — intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely — that is now history in my view and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue.”

The U.K. has reported more than 12.4 million infections, which includes and additional 129,471 cases reported on Tuesday (December 28) and at least 148,488 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020, CNBC reports.

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