The Omicron wave in New York looks worse than in England

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The Omicron variant is estimated to be about twice as transmissible as Delta; a huge wave of cases threatens to engulf health-care systems around the world

was discovered in southern Africa in late November, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in 114 countries. It is now dominant in, including America and Britain. The new variant is estimated to be about twice as infectious as Delta; a huge wave of cases threatens to engulf health-care systems around the world. America recorded 4.9m new covid-19 infections in the week to January 9th, nearly three times the previous record set in January 2021.

But a variant that causes severe disease at half the rate of Delta and twice as many infections in total will cause about the same number of severe cases. Hospitals in many countries are feeling the strain. In America, the number of covid patients is nearing the record set in January 2021. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief covid adviser, expects cases to continue rising for weeks to come.

But London, one of the first big Western cities to be hit with Omicron, is showing positive vital signs. Infections in the capital—which reached an eye-watering one-in-ten of the population on Christmas Day, according to a representative sample—have peaked. Although the sheer volume of cases has led to a 170% rise in hospital admissions over the past month, the number of patients requiring intensive care has increased by only 20%. Deaths are currently at just 13% of last year’s peak.

Data from New York state suggest America may not fare so well. Both London and New York have relatively young populations with high levels of immunity from infection and vaccination . But in contrast to England, in New York the number of covid patients requiring intensive care has moved hand-in-hand with cases, and deaths are rising too . England’s leaders eased restrictions amid a wave of infections in July 2021, hoping that the country would benefit from higher immunity come winter.

Many vaccine sceptics point to the milder disease caused by Omicron and the fact that vaccines do not completely prevent either transmission or reinfection as evidence of the jabs’ redundancy. Yet a study of around half a million Omicron cases in England found that the risk of hospitalisation was 81% lower for those who had had three vaccine doses, compared with those who had had none. The virus may have mellowed, but it is still deadly for many of those who think they can fight it alone.


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