COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Early data collected in Denmark on COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are causing optimism, suggesting that highly vaccinated countries could reduce the repercussions of the Omicron variant.
"It is too early to relax, but it is encouraging that we are not following the worst-case scenario," said Tyra Grove Krause, the chief epidemiologist at Denmark's State Serum Institute, as quoted by CNN.
Denmark's nationwide coronavirus testing and statistics gathering program enabled scientists to analyze real-time data about the pandemic.
Denmark was also one of the first countries outside of Africa to report cases of the Omicron variant, and has since become a European model in handling the spread of the variant.
Officials in Denmark recorded 12,500 Covid cases this week, compared with 11,000 late last week, but hospitalizations have so far been far lower than expected.
Last week, Denmark's government science institute said new daily coronavirus hospital admissions could range between 120 and 250 patients by Christmas Eve, but this figure has remained at 125.
The early signals from Denmark, along with other emerging data and studies from the UK and South Africa, suggest Omicron is less likely to cause patients to be hospitalized than the Delta variant.
However, Grove Krause stressed that concerns remain about the national health system, because Omicron infections are still disproportionately concentrated among the young.
Even as cases have slowed, there are other signs of Omicron's potential to cause chaos. Over the last two weeks, the number of cases among healthcare workers has more than doubled.
A Scottish study suggested that the risk of hospitalization was almost 60 percent less with Omicron than Delta, while another study conducted by Imperial College London revealed that those with Omicron were 20 percent less likely to go the hospital, and 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized overnight.
Much lower hospitalization rates were also seen in South Africa, the epicenter of the original Omicron outbreak.
Compared with Delta, Omicron is far better at evading vaccines and causing infections in those who have already been inoculated. But Denmark's experience shows that a rapid booster rollout might be able to help cut down rising infection numbers.
According to website Our World in Data, Denmark has the highest per capita rate of booster shots of any European Union country, at 36.8 percent of its population, which is more than double the level from two weeks ago.
Overall, 77.2 percent of the Danish population has received at least two doses of the Covid vaccine.
Denmark has also carefully monitored hospitalization rates for both Delta and Omicron. Between 22nd November and 17th December, the hospitalization rate was higher for Delta cases, at 1 percent, compared with 0.6 percent for those who had contracted the Omicron variant.