A key British scientist who advises the UK government made waves earlier this week when he said that Omicron is "not the same disease we were seeing a year ago," and that high COVID death rates are "now history," according to the Guardian.
Sir John Bell, who was born in Canada but has been one of Britain's most prominent life scientists for years, made the comments while explaining why the British government would not be instituting additional holiday restrictions in response to the Omicron variant. Bell is currently a professor of medicine at Oxford and an adviser to the British government on life sciences. He was awarded a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in 2015 for his work in medical science and the life sciences industry.
Bell conceded that hospitalizations had increased marginally under Omicron in Britain, but said that Omicron "appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital." Bell also stated that patients who are hospitalized are needing high-flow oxygen support much less often and are only staying an average of three days.
According to the Guardian, some prominent British scientists disagreed with Bell's assessment and stressed continuing caution. NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, in particular, noted that it was yet unclear what would happen to hospitalization rates if Omicron began to experience widespread transmission among the elderly. Others noted that the Omicron variant was likely to cause problems for the medical system in the UK due to staff callouts — one expert predicted that in a "worst-case scenario" as many as 40% of NHS workers in London could call out in a single day due to testing positive for Omicron.
As the Omicron wave surges, governments worldwide face critical decisions. By all appearances, Omicron appears to be highly more contagious than previous variants, which has led to increasing panic among certain segments of the population. On the other hand, it also appears, based on preliminary data, that Omicron appears to be much less dangerous than previous variants, particularly the Delta variant which it is in the process of displacing.