Fewer Deaths Associated with Omicron than Delta

fatal accident Iceland

Most of the COVID-related deaths at the National University Hospital during the current wave of the pandemic have been due to the delta variant, RÚV reports.

Over the course of last year and the first 20 days of January, there have been twelve COVID-related deaths at the hospital. Of those, three individuals had the omicron variant. Two of those patients were men, one was a woman; all three were in their 90s and none had been admitted to intensive care. Another patient who died within this time frame had omicron as well as another illness, the latter of which had caused the person to be admitted to the hospital in the first place.

Per the press conference that Civil Defense held on Friday, upwards of 90% of the daily COVID infections in Iceland are omicron infections. Proportionally, however, fewer of these infected individuals require hospitalization than people who have been infected with the delta variant. According to data shared by the hospital, once omicron became the dominant variant, the percentage of people aged 50-74 who need to be admitted to the hospital following infection dropped from 6-8% to less than 1%.

Patients who fall ill with omicron tend to have milder symptoms and less serious lung infections than those who get delta and are less likely to require intensive care or respirators. At time of writing, no children had been admitted to the hospital due to omicron, but children now make up as much as half of existing infections.

Minister Calls for Easing Restrictions Immediately

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Science, Industry, and Innovation, has stated that there is no need to await additional data on the newest wave of the pandemic – social restrictions should be eased immediately, RÚV reports. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has expressed contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital and with the protection afforded by vaccines.

More infections, fewer hospitalisations

Despite a rising number of infections – almost a week after regulations were tightened – Minister Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has stated, in an interview with RÚV, that there is no need to await further data for social restrictions to be eased. The Minister’s rationale is predicated on the fewer hospitalisations that have resulted from the Omicron variant as compared to older variants; there has been almost no alteration in the number of people being treated for COVID-19 at the National University Hospital over the past few days.

There are 35 COVID patients in the hospital today. Children are the majority of those getting infected, and severe illness caused by Omicron is rare; although 90% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 over the recent days have been infected with the Omicron variety, the majority of COVID-19 deaths have been traced to the Delta variant

Nearly 1,500 individuals were diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday, about half of whom were self-isolating. Never before have as many individuals been in quarantine or self-isolation – 24,500 (7% of the nation) – since the pandemic began. An estimated 15% of Icelanders have now been infected with COVID-19. 

Calls for a serious discussion of restrictions

Minister Áslaug Arna believes that it is time to have a serious discussion on relaxing social restrictions: “We sometimes act fast to tighten restrictions, but we can also act fast to ease them. We don’t need to wait for data and then more data to implement relaxed regulations; on the contrary, continued restrictions require substantiating data in each case.

As noted by RÚV, the current government has not been unified in its stance toward social restrictions, and members of the Independence Party have suggested that it’s time to take a new tack with regard to the pandemic, among them Minister of Foreign Affairs Kolbrún Reykjfjörð Gylfadottir.

In terms of social restrictions, Áslaug Arna states that it is necessary to consider the burden that regulations have on society: “If we were a restriction-free society today, and a virus with similar infection numbers and hospitalisations began to spread, would we have the legal authority to take such extreme measures as we are taking today?”

Most ICU patients unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason expressed his contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital, i.e. that despite increased cases, there were fewer hospitalisations. 

“There are not a lot of hospitalisations, and there are not a lot of COVID-patients requiring intensive care, which is pleasing. It’s not causing a strain on ICU’s .”

Þórólfur added the caveat that a high number of COVID-19 infections could, however, put a strain on the hospital, especially considering the high rate of infections among hospital staff. As noted by RÚV, children in primary schools comprised a third of total infections on Wednesday and nearly half of total infections on Tuesday. 90% of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 are infected with the Omicron variant, which is not the case for ICU patients: 

“The majority of those who are in intensive care are unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant. It’s clear that the vaccines are preventing severe illness,” Þórólfur observed.