New research from Britain and South Africa suggests the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus is milder and results in fewer hospitalizations than other versions.  

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland unveiled a study Wednesday showing that people who had contracted omicron were at least 60% less likely to be admitted, compared to those who had been infected with the delta variant, which had been dominating the world in recent months.

A separate study conducted at Imperial College London revealed that people diagnosed with omicron were 15%-20% less likely to seek emergency care at a hospital, while also showing a 40%-45% decline in the number of omicron patients who needed to be admitted for severe symptoms.  

And scientists at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases Wednesday released a study that discovered the risk of hospitalization was 70%-80% lower among patients who tested positive for omicron, compared with those who tested positive for delta or other strains. The NICD researchers also said Wednesday the omicron outbreak in that country appears to have peaked, with a 20% decline in new infections in the last week.  

But John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Thursday during a virtual press briefing that South Africa should not be used as an example for what may happen in other nations with omicron. 

More encouraging news came Wednesday in the U.S.-based military publication Defense One, which said the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the largest of its kind in the U.S. military, will soon announce the development of an experimental vaccine that can offer protection against all coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, as well as its variants, including omicron and delta.

Researchers at Walter Reed have begun the first phase of human clinical trials of its new vaccine after gaining positive results from animal trials completed earlier this year.   Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, the director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, told Defense One that it has been working to develop the “pan-coronavirus” vaccine for two years. He said the human trials took longer than expected to begin because researchers needed to find subjects who had neither been vaccinated nor previously infected with COVID-19.  

Meanwhile, authorities around the world continue to impose more coronavirus restrictions in response to the wildfire-like spread of omicron. In Australia, Premier Dominic Perrottet of New South Wales state reintroduced an indoor mask-wearing mandate Thursday after it recorded 5,715 new cases, nearly double the 3,763 new cases posted on Wednesday – the bulk of Australia’s record one-day total 8,357 confirmed cases.

In China, authorities in the northern city of Xi’an have imposed a strict lockdown of the entire area of 13 million residents in an effort to curb a spike in new cases.  The order bans people from leaving their homes unless they have essential jobs, and mandates that only one person per household may shop for supplies every two days.  

Xi’an, the capital city of Shaanxi province, has confirmed more than 200 new locally transmitted cases in recent weeks, although it is not known if the surge is being driven by omicron or delta.  

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

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