People who catch the omicron variant appear to have a two-thirds lower risk of hospitalisation compared to the delta strain, a new study has suggested.
Authors of the paper, which is yet to be peer reviewed, said if omicron was as severe as delta they would have seen around 47 people in hospital in Scotland, yet so far there are only 15.
The research, by scientists in the Scotland-wide Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of Covid-19, was based on only 15 people in hospital.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, hailed the news but warned that the variant will still put "increased pressure on the NHS".
"This is encouraging early data – hopefully confidence will build as we get more data," she said.
"Key point to remember though – a smaller percentage of a much larger number of cases will still put increased pressure on NHS and economy. So we must keep suppressing virus while we complete boosters."
This is encouraging early data – hopefully confidence will build as we get more data.
Key point to remember tho – a smaller % of a much larger number of cases will still put increased pressure on NHS and economy.
So we must keep suppressing virus while we complete boosters https://t.co/fl4yez14bs
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 22, 2021
Dr Jim McMenamin, the national Covid-19 incident director for Public Health Scotland, labelled the findings a "qualified good-news story", but said that it was "important we don’t get ahead of ourselves".
"The potentially serious impact of omicron on a population cannot be underestimated. And 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," he said.
Professor James Naismith, professor of structural biology at University of Oxford, added that "although small in number, the study is good news".
"Although two thirds reduction is significant, omicron can cause severe illness in the double vaccinated. Thus if omicron continues to double every few days, it could generate many more hospitalisations than delta from the double vaccinated population," he said.
"In my view the best news in the study is the observation that the booster is highly effective at reducing serious illness from omicron. Put crudely we have more time to get more people boosted, we can’t waste a moment of it.
"Everything we can do as individuals to slow spread gives us more time. In my view, there is now solid reason to favour a more optimistic outcome of omicron in the UK than was feared.
"None of this should diminish the loss of lives that will still happen nor the work of health professionals who are exhausted."