The omicron variant of COVID-19 may not be as severe as previously thought and could result in mostly milder infections than delta, new studies indicate.

However, the severity of the disease may be weighed against omicron’s ability to spread in a faster manner and the possibility of the variant evading vaccines. Sheer numbers of infections could still overwhelm hospitals.

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“Cautious optimism is perhaps the best way to look at this”, said Manuel Ascano Jr, a Vanderbilt University biochemist who studies viruses, according to reports from Associated Press.

The COVID response team set up by the Imperial College, London found that people who have been infected with COVID through the new variant are about 20% less likely to have a severe infection that could send them to the hospital. 

They are also 40% less likely to stay in the hospital for a night or more, when compared to individuals infected with the delta variant, the new analysis found.

The response team collected data from the first half of December and included all PCR tests conducted in England in which Omicron was detected.

Scotland’s University of Edinburgh conducted a separate study, concluding that the possibility of being hospitalised after being infected with omicron was two-thirds less when compared to delta. 

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The study also revealed that Scotland’s 24,000 omicron cases were predominantly among those aged between 20 to 39.

“This national investigation is one of the first to show that omicron is less likely to result in COVID-19 hospitalisation than delta,” researchers wrote. While the findings are early observations, “they are encouraging,” the authors wrote, according to reports from Associated Press.

Data out of South Africa, where the variant was first detected, have also suggested that the omicron variant might be milder there.

(With AP inputs)