Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron
A study from California has confirmed early research showing the Omicron variant is less severe than previous strains.
The research, based on data collected from 70,000 patients, supports evidence from South Africa, the UK and Denmark which found that people with Omicron infections are less likely to be admitted to hospital for treatment.
Compared with the Delta variant, the University of California study found that Omicron was 50 per cent less likely to require emergency outpatient treatment and 75 per cent less likely to lead to admission to intensive care.
The newer variant was also associated with a 70 per cent reduction in the length of hospital stay and a 91 per cent reduction in the risk of death.
Researchers examined more than 69,000 patients with symptoms, three quarters of whom were infected with Omicron, from November 30 to January 1.
People infected with Delta were found to have twice the chance of hospital admission than those with the Omicron strain. Stays in hospital for the Omicron patients were an average of three days fewer than for Delta infections.
In total, 14 patients infected by Delta died compared to only one with Omicron.
“Among patients with Omicron variant infections, seven received intensive care (including five whose infections were first identified in outpatient settings), one died and none received mechanical ventilation, as compared to 23 ICU-admitted patients, 14 deceased patients and 11 ventilated patients among those with Delta variant infections,” the study's authors wrote.
Children more prone to infection
Studies have pointed to the reason why Omicron may cause less severe disease.
The variant multiplies about 70 times quicker than original versions of the coronavirus in the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs and 10 times slower in the lung tissue itself.
That means it is less likely to damage the lungs.
But experts have said that process could explain why children are being admitted to hospital in record numbers in some countries.
Young children under the age of 5 are more prone to bronchiolitis because their bronchial tubes are so narrow.
When Omicron affects the upper respiratory tract, it can cause swelling of those tubes, leading to bronchiolitis and croup-like symptoms with a harsh barking cough.
Doctors in the US have said they are seeing more croup-like symptoms in children with the variant.
In Israel, Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv was forced to reopen its specialist Covid-19 paediatric centre due to increased demand.
The number of Covid-19 patients requiring treatment at the centre, the largest hospital in Israel, rose from 10 to 59 in one week.
Of those, 20 were reported to be in a serious condition.
Doctors in Abu Dhabi said they have seen a “higher number of children getting sick” in recent months, possibly due to the flu season.
In the UAE, the Sinopharm vaccine is available to children as young as 3.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot has been approved for those aged 5-11 on an emergency basis.