Vaccines, pills and data provide a bit of Christmas joy in the face of Omicron’s progress. Reuters

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© Reuters. A healthcare worker takes a sample of a coronavirus test swab (COVID-19) from a woman in the midst of the spread of the disease, in Chandni Chowk, in the old quarter of Delhi, India, on December 23, 2021. REUTERS / Anushree Fadnavis

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Authors: James Macharia Chege and Josephine Mason

JOHANNESBURG / LONDON (Reuters) – Omicron advanced worldwide on Thursday, with health experts warning that fighting the COVID-19 variant is far from over despite two drug manufacturers saying their vaccines protect against it and show it carries less risk. from hospitalization.

Coronavirus infections have increased wherever the highly contagious variant of Omicron has spread, causing new restrictions in many countries and recording new cases.

But in another glimmer of hope two days before Christmas, a U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) official said the data shows that Merck & Co Inc. Pfizer Antiviral drugs against COVID-19 Inc (NYSE 🙂 are effective against this variant.

There have also been encouraging signs of hospitalization rates from Britain and South Africa, although the head of Africa’s leading health agency has joined the World Health Organization warning that it is too early to draw broader conclusions.

“Let’s be careful not to extrapolate what we see in South Africa on the whole continent or around the world,” said John Nkengasong, head of the African Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Still, U.S. stock indexes and yields on U.S. treasury bonds rose on Thursday, in part due to new optimism after Omicron helped increase market volatility for much of the final month of 2021.

“Today is a very quiet day. Relief from Omicron is clearly not as bad as we feared,” said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial (NASDAQ :).

Although Omicron has begun to leave its mark on parts of the U.S. economy, economists say it is unlikely to prevent the second year in a row of growth above the trend.

First identified last month in South Africa and Hong Kong, Omicron is becoming dominant in much of Europe, including Britain https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/englands-covid-19-prevalence-reaches-record-1- 45 -people-ons-2021-12-23, where daily new infections have risen above 100,000.

France had the worst day ever in terms of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with more than 91,000 recorded, while Germany reported its first death since Omicron.

In Italy, the first western country to be hit by a pandemic last year, all public New Year celebrations have been banned, while Greece has banned public Christmas celebrations. Both countries have also made it mandatory to wear masks outdoors.

In the United States, millions of Americans have pushed forward with the holidays, including flights across the country. Authorities said 2,081,297 passengers were screened at national airports on Wednesday, 144,000 more than on the same date in 2019 before the pandemic.

The increase in hospitalizations and deaths in South Africa and Britain since Omicron has only been gradual, and AstraZeneca (NASDAQ 🙂 https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/astrazeneca-shot-third-dose -works-against-omicron-study-2021-12-23 and Novavax (NASDAQ 🙂 https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/novavax-says-covid-vaccine-boosts-response-omicron-variant-2021-12-22 has joined other manufacturers in stating that their injections protect against it.

University of Edinburgh https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/scotland-reports-fewer-covid-19-hospitalizations-with-omicron-2021-12-22 Researchers who followed 22,205 Omicron patients said in on wednesday the number of those to be hospitalized was 68% lower than would be expected, based on the rate in patients with delta.

Imperial College London https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/hospital-stay-risk-omicron-is-40-45-lower-than-delta-uk-study-2021-12-22 reported researchers evidence of a comparable reduction in hospitalization risk by 40% -45%.

Britain recorded a record number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with a daily number of 119,789. But an analysis of preliminary data from the UK’s Health Safety Agency found that a person with Omicron was estimated to be between 31% and 45% less likely to go to hospital than someone with Delta, and 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted. .

UKHSA chief Jenny Harries said this was an “encouraging early signal”, but added: “this is early data and more research is needed to confirm these findings”.

In Washington, the FDA approved Merck’s antiviral pill for certain high-risk adult patients, a day after it gave the green light for similar treatment from Pfizer.

Both pills worked, said Patrizia Cavazzoni, a senior FDA official, adding that both interfere with the way the virus replicates, a process that does not change in different variants.

‘DO NOT INTERPRET’

Scientists have warned that, with an increase in the number of cases in Britain, even a small proportion of hospitalizations could flood the healthcare system.

In the Midwestern U.S., due to the rapid expansion of Omicron, hospitals are “preparing for the worst,” with their staff already severely strained by the Delta variant wave.

British data support the findings of the South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD).

A separate study, backed by the South African government and yet to be reviewed, on health workers who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (NYSE 🙂 identified a “clear and early separation” of hospitalization from Omicron cases compared to Delta.

AstraZeneca said a dose of the three vaccines offers protection against this variant, citing data from an Oxford University laboratory study.

The study’s findings, which have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, matched those of competing Pfizer-BioNTech, and Modern (NASDAQ :).

Novavax also said early data showed that its vaccine – approved for use by the European Union and the WHO but not yet approved by the United States – created an immune response to Omicron.

But the older Delta variant lurks.

The number of coronavirus deaths in Russia, where officials uncovered only 41 cases of Omicron, exceeded 600,000 on Thursday, Reuters calculations based on official data showed, following a rise in Delta-related infections.

Only the United States and Brazil have recorded more deaths than coronavirus.

Interactive graphical monitoring of global coronavirus spread: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.

Eikon users can click https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1063154666 to track cases.

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