LILLEY: Good news from the state of Denmark regarding Omicron

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Since Omicron raised its ugly head about a month ago, I’ve been saying that the variant is cause for concern but not for panic, and the latest data out of Denmark backs that up.

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Omicron is serious, especially if you are unvaccinated, but it is proving less severe than the Delta variant.

That was the early data out of South Africa, where cases now appear to have peaked and are falling. Hospitalizations in that country were less than half of what they experienced at the peak of the Delta wave and ICU admissions were less than 25% of the Delta peak despite cases being significantly higher.

Hold on, said the experts, South Africa is not a good country to compare to Canada. The demographics are different — it has a much younger population — and the vaccination rate is much different. Instead, we were told to watch Denmark, a country with similar demographics and an identical vaccination rate to Ontario’s.

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Last week, Dr. Steini Brown, head of Ontario’s Science Table, used Denmark in his latest modelling as a warning for Ontario and said that the early data showed similar results between Omicron and Delta.

“Cases are going up and hospital occupancy with COVID-19 is going up,” Brown stated.

Using the same data source, but with figures updated a week later, the severity of Omicron compared to Delta is much lower.

Denmark’s Statnes Serum Institute looked at more than 143,000 cases between Nov. 22- Dec. 15 and found that people who contracted Omicron were nearly two-thirds less likely to end up in hospital. Just 0.5% of 18,941 Omicron-infected patients ended up in a hospital, compared to 1.4% of the 125,021 patients infected with other variants.

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This can only be seen as good news — although not a reason to declare Omicron defeated or dismissed as just the sniffles — that should help people stop panicking.

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“Every day that we aren’t seeing a surge in hospitalizations is a reason for a sigh of relief,” Dr. Neil Rau, an infectious disease specialist, said Tuesday.

“In neither Denmark nor the U.K., are we seeing a large surge in hospitalizations or ICU admissions.”

Rau is right about the U.K. where cases have doubled since mid-November , while hospitalizations and COVID deaths remained steady. Ontario has seen a spike in cases, but so far, not a corresponding spike in hospitalizations.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said he’s hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

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“I’m optimistic, but I don’t want to overcall it,” Moore said.

Of Ontario’s 4,600 confirmed Omicron cases, just 15 have ended up in hospital so far, Moore said. Most of those who have contracted the virus so far have been younger people less susceptible to severe outcomes, and so he remains on guard in case it moves to an older or more at-risk population.

“We’re preparing for an increase in hospitalization and ICU utilization just because of the sheer rapid spread of the virus; even if it’s significantly less virulent, it could still have an impact on our health sector,” Moore said.

For Rau, he’s seen enough to think we can predict where Omicron is going based on the data from South Africa, Denmark, and Britain. He said the province should start reconsidering some key strategies for dealing with COVID in the Omicron age.

  1. Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore, right, and Health Minister Christine Elliott attend a press briefing at Queen's Park in Toronto, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021.

    Ontario top doctor to give COVID update as Omicron strains resources

  2. VIA Rail passengers disembark at Union Station in Toronto, Oct. 6, 2021.

    EDITORIAL: Good news on Omicron severity

  3. People visit a Christmas market in London, Dec. 20, 2021.

    U.K. says COVID surge ‘extremely difficult’ as Omicron grips Europe

“We still protect long-term care and hospitals as much as possible and pivot on testing strategy,” Rau said.

He suggests no longer testing people who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID as one place to start.

Don’t expect Moore or the Ford government to change course until they’ve seen more data in the coming weeks. That said, if trends continue, we could see a reversal of recent restrictions sooner than thought.

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