CNBC’s Meg Tirrell joins ‘Squawk Box’ to provide an update on the omicron coronavirus variant in the U.S. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi
Preliminary data about the severity of the Covid omicron variant is “a bit encouraging,” the White House’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday, following early figures from South Africa that suggest it may not be as bad as initially feared.
However, Fauci cautioned that more data was needed to draw a complete picture of omicron’s risk profile. The World Health Organization said the variant was “of concern” on Nov.26, prompting a flurry of international travel bans and new Covid restrictions.
“Clearly, in South Africa, omicron has a transmission advantage,” Fauci told CNN, adding that “although it’s too early to make any definitive statements about it, thus far it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.”
“But we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe, or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to delta, but thus far the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity,” Fauci said.
At least 15 U.S. states have detected the omicron variant, as of Sunday, and that number is expected to rise, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News this weekend.
It comes as South Africa sees a rise in Covid cases attributed to the omicron variant, as well as an uptick in hospitalizations. Given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Covid omicron variant, experts are watching the real-world data coming out of South Africa closely.
A report from the South African Medical Research Council, released Saturday, suggests that the strain could cause a milder infection. It’s too early to tell whether it poses a greater risk of death, however, given the relatively small amount of data and how recently the variant was detected.
The report also revealed that more younger people were being admitted to the hospital with Covid omicron infections, but this could be related to lower rates of vaccination among such age groups in South Africa.
The document details the situation over the last two weeks at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in the Gauteng province where omicron was first detected, and which is now seeing a rampant rise in Covid cases.
The main observation in the report was that the majority of patients were not oxygen dependent (as was common in previous waves, the report stated) and that most of the patients in the Covid wards were “incidental Covid admissions,” having had another medical or surgical reason for admission to the hospital.
These findings follow anecdotal reports from doctors in South Africa that the omicron variant could cause milder symptoms. The South African doctor who first spotted the virus said she had seen “extremely mild” symptoms among her own patients, but there has been no official data to back up those observations.
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