As health officials around the world watch the Omicron variant, the first wave of headlines about actual patients appears to have a common theme: It's spreading quickly, but not necessarily leading to more severe cases, especially among vaccinated people. Coverage:
- Early cases: A top Israeli health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, says vaccinated patients seem to become only "slightly ill" in breakthrough cases of the new COVID variant, per Haaretz. And South African virologist Barry Schoub said cases have generally been "mild to moderate," though he stressed that "it is early days." (Previously, a different South African health official described "very mild symptoms.")
- A caution: A hospital official in Soweto, South Africa, told the AP that his facility was seeing severe cases, frequently among unvaccinated patients in their 20s.
- North America: No cases have been reported in the US, but it appears to be only a matter of time. The Washington Post reports that two new cases in Ontario, Canada, means it has shown up in North America for the first time. The list of countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East with Omicron cases is growing quickly, and travel restrictions are expanding.
- Vaccines: The makers of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines say they'll need about two weeks to know whether their vaccines will need to be modified, reports the New York Times. In the meantime, Dr. Anthony Fauci and US health officials are urging fully vaccinated people to get booster shots as the best defense and for unvaccinated people to get their first shots.
- Stock market: The markets tanked on Friday when news of the variant first emerged, but they appear poised to rebound somewhat on Monday. The Dow was expected to rise more than 200 points at the open, reports CNBC.
- Hopeful scenarios: The Haaretz story includes this quote from an Israeli professor: “If it continues this way, this might be a relatively mild illness compared to the Delta variant, and paradoxically, if it takes over, it will lead to lower infection rates,” and perhaps be easier to handle worldwide. Cambridge epidemiologist Dr. Raghib Ali tweets: "Of course we should take it seriously but there is no plausible scenario that this variant is going to take us back to square one (ie. the situation pre-vaccines)."
- On the other hand: Given that much of the world remains unvaccinated, the World Health Organization issued this warning on Monday: "There could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place," per USA Today. "The overall global risk related to the (Omicron variant) is assessed as very high."
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