If Omicron Is 'Milder Than Delta,' What Does That Actually Mean For You?

Will there be restrictions after Christmas? (Photo: BjelicaS via Getty Images)
Will there be restrictions after Christmas? (Photo: BjelicaS via Getty Images)

You may have seen it in the news by now that Omicron is a milder variant of coronavirus than Delta, meaning people are less likely to be hospitalised.

According to three key studies in England, Scotland, and South Africa, Omicron doesn’t have the same effects as the other strains but is more transmissible.

Research from Imperial College London indicates that people with PCR-confirmed Omicron are 15 to 20% less likely to need admission to hospital, and 40 to 45% less likely to require a stay of one night or more compared to Delta.

However, researchers have added that although Omicron appears less severe, it is more transmissible, partly because the current crop of coronavirus vaccines are less effective against it.

The Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of Covid-19 study in Scotland also said Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta.

A South African study suggests reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease in people infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant versus the Delta one – though the authors say some of that is likely due to high population immunity.

Now, that’s all good, but what does that mean for you and how you should live your life as the pandemic rages on?

What does the government say?

Prior to this new research, Boris Johnson and co had already ruled out implementing further Covid restrictions before Christmas in England.

Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have urged caution about Christmas gatherings and introduced some new restrictions in public settings such as hospitality.

There was widespread speculation that Covid rules would be tightened in England after Christmas. But following the new research, the prime minister is now not expected to announce further restrictions, according to Sky News.

And anyway, it might not even be logistically possible for Downing Street to impose new legal restrictions before December 31 as parliament is currently in recess. MPs have to vote on stricter measures before they can pass into law.

The government has admitted it is waiting for more data before making a decision about restrictions for 2022.

But just because Omicron is milder than Delta, it doesn’t mean we’re totally safe of course.

The numbers are still big

Professor Chris Witty pointed out that the variant still spreads at a “phenomenal” speed. And while it might leave a smaller pool of people in hospital than other variants, these numbers are still “big”, he said.

“I’m afraid there will be an increasing number of Omicron patients going into the NHS, going into hospital, going into intensive care,” Prof Whitty said.

“The exact ratios we don’t yet know, but there will be substantial numbers and that will begin to become apparent, in my view, fairly soon after Christmas.

“It will start before then but, in terms of the big numbers, I think that’s a reasonably, I’m afraid, a reasonably nailed on prospect.”

What should you do?

Simon R Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at The University of Reading, explains that just because its effects aren’t as harsh as Delta, it doesn’t mean Omicron shouldn’t be taken seriously.

He tells Huffpost UK: “It’s good news that Omicron is more mild but it shouldn’t be forgotten that yesterday the infection numbers were three times what they were on the same day last year.

“So people need to understand that that the virus is not avirulent, it’s not that it causes no disease, it’s just that you’re less likely to fall really ill. But you’re more likely to catch it and therefore you need to maintain the measures of safety including mask wearing, hand hygiene, social distancing and the rest of it, in order to reduce their chances of getting infected.”

We’re also yet to see data on long Covid after Omicron, so you’ll want to avoid catching it if you can.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.