People who test positive with the Omicron variant are less likely to be sent to hospital than those who catch the Delta infection, according to early research.
Imperial College’s research indicates people with PCR-confirmed Omicron are 15 to 20% less likely to go to hospital while 40 to 45% are likely to have a stay in hospital for one night or more.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said: “Our analysis shows evidence of a moderate reduction in the risk of hospitalisation associated with the Omicron variant compared with the Delta variant.
“However, this appears to be offset by the reduced efficacy of vaccines against infection with the Omicron variant.
“Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron virus, there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if Omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks.”
The Imperial study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was based on PCR-confirmed coronavirus cases among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people recorded in England between December 1 and 14.
The sample included 56,000 Omicron cases and 269,000 Delta cases.
Scientists in a separate Scotland-wide study called Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of Covid-19 found Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta.
Researchers said while Omicron appears less severe, it is more transmissible because of the current vaccines are less effective against it.
Dr Jim McMenamin, the national Covid-19 incident director for Public Health Scotland, celebrated the findings of the Scotland study as “qualified good news story”.
However, he added it was “important we don’t get ahead of ourselves”.
He said: “The potentially serious impact of Omicron on a population cannot be underestimated.
“A smaller proportion of a much greater number of cases that might ultimately require treatment can still mean a substantial number of people who may experience severe Covid infections that could lead to potential hospitalisation.”
Authors of the Scotland paper, which is yet to be peer reviewed, said if Omicron had been like the Delta variant in Scotland they would have seen around 47 people in hospital suffering from the virus but there are only 15 so far.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, of the University of Edinburgh, said the data is heavily caveated because it is based on a small number of cases which did not include many people aged over 65.
The Omicron strain is now the dominant type of virus in Scotland, with cases of the variant surging across the United Kingdom.