Omicron is Surging, while Delta Continues to Rove

Key Points:

  • European leaders are reinstating coronavirus restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the continent.
    • Germany and Portugal have announced post-Christmas curbs and greater social distancing measures; The Netherlands has gone into lockdown; France, Cyprus and Austria are tightening travel restrictions; and Denmark has closed many indoor spaces. (CNBC)
  • Omicron Severity
    • A December 22 report from Imperial College London found evidence of a reduction in the risk of hospitalization for Omicron relative to Delta infections, averaging 20-25% for hospital visits, and 40-45% for those admitted or hospitalized for at least one day.
    • While there is a larger risk of infection with Omicron, due to the reduction in protection provided by both vaccination and natural infection, the report stated that a previous infection reduces the risk of hospital visit by approximately 50% and of a hospital stay of 1+ days by 61%.
    • These findings are in contrast to a December 16 report from the Imperial College that found “no evidence (for both risk of hospitalization attendance and symptom status) of Omicron having different severity from Delta.”
  • Omicron Symptoms
    • Data released last week from South Africa’s largest private health insurer suggest that symptoms include a scratchy or sore throat, nasal congestion, a dry cough and muscle pain, especially low back pain.
    • Other reports are showing only subtle differences between Omicron and previous strains, with one possible difference being that Omicron is less likely to cause a loss of taste and smell.
      • Omicron:  An analysis of a small Omicron outbreak in the Netherlands found only 23 (smell) and 12 (taste) percent loss in vaccinated persons. It’s unclear, though, whether the differences are because of Omicron or some other factor, like vaccination status.
    • Many symptoms vary depending on vaccine status. One report shows that vaccinated patients with Delta or the original coronavirus tend to present with headache, congestion, sinus pressure and sinus pain, while unvaccinated patients are more likely to have shortness of breath and cough, along with flulike symptoms.
  • Case drop may show South Africa’s omicron peak has passed
    • South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak.
    • After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province of South Africa, the decrease started earlier and has continued.
  • FDA authorizes first pill to treat COVID-19
    • Pfizer’s updated results showed the treatment cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% if given within the first five days of symptoms, the efficacy was similar.
    • Paxlovid combines a new antiviral drug named nirmatrelvir and an older one called ritonavir and is administered as three pills given twice a day for five days.

Recommendations for Industry

Omicron Is Surging, while Delta Continues to Rove

As shown in TAG’s weekly COVID-19 matrix, as well as many articles in the news, Omicron is here. TAG sees the U.S. as being in a transition period, with the Delta variant still working its way through some communities, while other communities are solidly in the grip of Omicron with cases rising dramatically. If your community is not yet in this rise, be prepared – you will be. And at the rate it is being seen in other countries – you will be very soon.

Are you prepared? For continued wellness checks? For increased labor shortages? For back-ups for essential personnel? If not, we highly recommend you set a plan now so you’re not caught short. Because of the seemingly reduced severity of Omicron, one idea coming out of the UK that TAG sees as a practical approach for US businesses is the retesting on days 6 and 7. If a person who tested positive tests negative on days 6 and 7, UK is allowing the early release from isolation.

There also seems to be a silver lining to the rapid increase of Omicron – that is, the S. Africa case rate trends seem to be showing an even faster decline than other variants. Additionally, while data is still being studied, it seems to be showing reduced severity and hospitalizations. So, while 2022 appears to be coming in like a lion, we can hope that it takes on the idiomatic characteristics of the month of March and quickly softens to those of a lamb.

Risk Matrix:

Omicron is now the dominant variant in the U.S.

In case you missed it


  • In the US, according to HealthMap and the CDC, influenza numbers are increasing with almost all of them being the H3N2 strain (Influenza A). Cases are increasing as identified through indicators, including hospitalizations. Although early activity had focused on those ages 5 to 24, the proportion of illnesses in older age-groups has risen in recent weeks.
    • Several states are starting to report low numbers of deaths due to flu and cases are approaching where they were 2 years ago. Unfortunately, the “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 that public health leaders wrongly predicted last year might happen this year.
    • However, it should be noted that testing for flu is likely unusually high this year because that is the only sure way to differentiate between flu and COVID-19.  
    • According to the CDC, “Influenza activity is increasing, with the eastern and central parts of the country seeing the largest increases and the western part of the country reporting lower levels of influenza virus circulation at this time.”
  • According to the WHO, “Globally, influenza activity continued to increase but remains well below levels observed in previous seasons.”

Food Safety & Public Health: