Omicron spreads as cases soar to new record

Luxembourg on 20 January reported more than 3,000 new coronavirus infections Library photo: Romain Gamba / Maison Moderne

Luxembourg on 20 January reported more than 3,000 new coronavirus infections Library photo: Romain Gamba / Maison Moderne

The omicron variant of the coronavirus continues its steady advance in Luxembourg at the start of January, making up nearly 90% of cases sampled in the latest report by the national laboratory LNS.

The LNS publishes a weekly analysis of variants in the grand duchy and while the delta variant for months was the only mutation detected in Luxembourg, omicron has quickly replaced it as the dominant variant in the country.

Omicron first appeared in the LNS’s report for the week from 6 to 12 December, when it accounted for 0.8% of samples sequenced by the laboratory. By the week of 27 December, it made up nearly three quarters of cases, becoming the dominant variant.

And in the latest report--for the week of 3 to 9 January--the omicron variant was assigned to 89.6% of national cases collected. In total, the laboratory analysed 1,546 national samples, out of 10,680 cases diagnosed in Luxembourg that week.

The delta variant was detected in the remaining 10.4% of cases.

The World Health Organization earlier in January warned that half of Europe could catch the omicron variant within the next six to eight weeks. Infection numbers have rapidly increased, also in Luxembourg, where a new record of daily new infections was broken this week.

The health ministry posted 3,064 new cases on Thursday, with 26,318 infections considered active. But the number of patients receiving hospital treatment has remained largely stable, with 59 people in regular care and 15 patients in intensive care.

The infection rate among unvaccinated people was at 723.94 among 100,000 compared to 379.19 per 100,000 vaccinated people.

While omicron appear to be causing a less severe form of disease, the WHO has warned of judging its severity too soon.

“A number of countries have shown that infection-severity from omicron in their populations has been lower compared to delta. However, these omicron impacts have been mostly observed in countries with high vaccination rates,” it said. “Without the vaccines many more people would likely be in hospital.”

As Israel is rolling out a fourth vaccine jab, the European Medicines Agency last week, however, warned that repeat booster doses every four months could end up weakening the immune response.

Repeated vaccinations within short intervals are not a sustainable long-term strategy, the EMA said. But the EU’s drugs regulator also warned that Sars-CoV-2 isn’t endemic yet, like other viruses such as the flu.

“Nobody knows exactly when the end of the tunnel will be reached,” said the EMA’s head of vaccine strategy Marco Cavaleri in a briefing. And while more information is needed on the impact of the omicron variant, the EMA said that preliminary data indicates that vaccines provide effective protection against severe illness or hospitalisation.