Africa Defense Forum
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New Research Shows Omicron Variant Less Likely to Damage Lungs

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Six new studies shows that the COVID-19 omicron variant does not attack the lungs as aggressively as previous strains did.

Of six studies reviewed by British newspaper The Guardian, four were published since December 24. During tests on mice at the University of Liverpool, the animals experienced less severe symptoms and they recovered faster.

“The early indications are that it’s good news, but that’s not a signal to drop our guard, because if you’re clinically vulnerable, the consequences are still not great — there are deaths from omicron,” James Stewart, a professor at the university, told The Guardian. “Not everyone can rip their masks off and party.”

Studies by the University of Hong Kong, the University of Cambridge in England, Leuven University in Belgium, and U.S. researchers also concluded that the omicron variant caused less infection in the lungs.

On January 5, Abdi Mahamud, the World Health Organization’s incident manager for COVID-19, told media that omicron mostly affects the upper respiratory tract, which may explain why the variant is more contagious than previous strains, but not as deadly.

“What we are seeing now is … the decoupling between the cases and the deaths,” Mahamud said. He added that previous strains were more likely to cause severe pneumonia.

On December 31, a United Kingdom government report said that people in England infected with omicron were about half as likely to require hospitalization as those with the delta variant, Nature magazine reported.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, national chair of the South African Medical Association, was one of the first doctors to treat omicron patients in South Africa. She told CNN that many people will likely build natural immunity by contracting omicron without knowing they had it.

“I know a lot of science doesn’t want us to use the term ‘mildness,’” Coetzee said. “I can’t say it’s a very severe disease. Yes, it’s severe if you are in the ICU on mechanical ventilation. The numbers really ending up with severe disease on ventilation — it’s not a lot.”

But people should remain vigilant in adhering to COVID-19 containment measures, Dr. Amir Khan, senior lecturer at the University of Leeds School of Medicine and the University of Bradford in the U.K., wrote on the Al Jazeera website.

“As a doctor, I worry the implications of a milder illness may lull people into a false sense of security, perhaps make them less likely to wear a mask, socially distance or worse, take up the vaccine,” Khan wrote. “We have become somewhat numb to the number of deaths from COVID-19. Milder or not, omicron remains a serious global threat.”

Omicron has spread to at least 22 African nations since it was first detected in Botswana in late November.

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