Omicron COVID-19 Variant Being Spread By Healthy, Vaccinated Young People, WHO Says

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Masks often remain unworn and Covid passes unchecked as the government shies away from enforcing its guidelines
Masks often remain unworn and Covid passes unchecked as the government shies away from enforcing its guidelines

The Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is being driven by young people, the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed, citing data from multiple countries.

The first cases of the new coronavirus variant, which was first reported in South Africa in late November and has since been detected in more than 60 countries, were found in "relatively young, relatively healthy and in the context of Europe — in relatively highly vaccinated groups," Dr. Catherine Smallwood, a WHO senior emergency officer, was quoted as saying by Telegraph.

Around 70% of the 3,437 omicron cases in Denmark — a world leader in genetic sequencing — were people who were younger than 40, according to a breakdown published by the Statens Serum Institut Monday.

An analysis from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed similar numbers, with around 72% of early omicron cases being attributed to people under the age of 40.

The United States, meanwhile, claimed that the majority of the 43 omicron cases it has detected so far were in this same age bracket as well.

"Most infections documented at this early stage are among younger age groups," Professor Emmanuel Andre, the head of the national reference lab for COVID-19 in Belgium, said.

Work, travel, sports competitions and schools were cited by the professor as possible explanations for the trend.

Data also pointed to vaccinated people comprising most of omicron cases in some countries, with around 75% of Denmark's cases being fully vaccinated people, suggesting that even those who have been jabbed twice can still get the virus.

American authorities also revealed the 79% of the country's infection cases were vaccinated.

Older and more vulnerable people are likely to be infected in the coming weeks as the omicron’s spread picks up speed, Smallwood warned.

Christmas celebrations could amplify the variant’s spread, Andre said.

While there is a real increase in the number of breakthrough cases, or fully vaccinated people who get infected, compared to previous waves, it is still too early to confirm whether the variant triggered a milder disease, Smallwood said.

"It’s really important we don’t get ahead of ourselves in terms of judging the severity of Omicron... Because in terms of the cases we’ve picked up, they’re in a healthier, more mobile, younger, highly vaccinated population... and we’re not even that far into the disease trajectory," the doctor noted.

South Africa has also urged caution on jumping to conclusions amid the omicron variant's emergence.

There have been suggestions that the case fatality rate in the country has dropped to 0.5% and early data also pointed to hospitals treating fewer people with oxygen in intensive care.

Hospitalizations, however, have risen steadily with 4,200 admissions Monday — about six times the level reported three weeks ago.

"In 10 days there will be a much clearer picture of how severe the new variant is around Gauteng province, as well as the evolution of mortality in the country," Professor Tom Moultrie, a demographer at the University of Cape Town, said, referring to the province at the epicenter of the country's omicron wave.

The South African Medical Research Council is set to release excess death figures for the last two weeks this Wednesday, which may shed more light on the situation.

“If, as some evidence suggests, Omicron turns out to be a fast-spreading virus with mostly mild symptoms for the majority of the people who catch it, that would be a useful step on the road to herd immunity,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the chair of the South African Medical Association and the doctor who first sounded the alarm about the variant, was quoted as saying by News.com.au.


The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading around the world, fuelling worries about the global economic recovery
The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading around the world, fuelling worries about the global economic recovery
Photo: AFP / Jack TAYLOR

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