The Omicron variant could be a “Christmas gift” and may make the pandemic end sooner, a German clinical epidemiologist has said.
Professor Karl Lauterbach, who is running to be Germany’s next health minister, said the new variant could be positive if it causes milder illness.
He suggested that Omicron has so many mutations - 32 on the spike protein alone, which is twice as many as Delta - meaning it could be optimised to infect and be less severe, in line with how most respiratory viruses evolve.
It comes as experts in South Africa claim Omicron is causing milder symptoms than previous variants.
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South African infectious disease expert Professor Salim Abdool Karim said existing Covid vaccines should be “highly effective” against the Omicron variant.
Professor Abdool Karim, who served as the South African government’s chief adviser during the first wave of the pandemic, said he believed vaccines would protect against hospitalisation and severe symptoms of coronavirus.
But he added it was “too early” to say whether Omicron, which has triggered many countries into reintroducing coronavirus restrictions, led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants, such as Delta.
He told a news conference on Monday: “Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong.”
South African doctors who have treated Covid patients say Omicron so far appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats.
Professor Abdool Karim, a professor at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and Columbia University in the United States, said no “red flags” had been raised so far.
Elsewhere on Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the emergence of the variant serves a reminder that “Covid-19 is not done with us”.
Addressing a special session of the World Health Assembly, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that “hard-won gains could vanish in an instant”.
He said: “The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.
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