explainer

Omicron is a very different disease - and that's a good thing.

Pandemic fatigue is understandable, especially considering what we have endured over the last two years: lockdowns, social distancing, QR code check ins, new variants, changing restrictions, separation from loved ones and more.

With this in mind, some may be experiencing a bit of pandemic fatigue or even anxiety regarding Omicron case numbers.

But what can potentially provide some hope is the fact Omicron is a very different disease compared to Delta: and that’s a good thing. 

So, what should we be expecting when it comes to the Omicron variant and Australia’s higher case numbers?

We spoke to Dr Ziad Basyouny, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (FRACGP) to get the answers.

Watch: Thank you to masks. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

Australia's number of infections were always expected to be high at the moment. 

For those who are feeling a little bit anxious seeing the high case numbers across the country, Dr Ziad understands why you feel that way. But he also wants you to know that case numbers like these were expected by health experts.

"In my view the biggest mistake in the handling of this pandemic is that we let our politicians run with the 'COVID-zero' slogan. It's just not sustainable or achievable to not have any cases whatsoever," he tells Mamamia.

Now when it comes to our more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, their concern is warranted. It's imperative these vulnerable groups get their booster or third full dose, Dr Ziad says. 

"Taking precaution is still key: wearing masks if in high-risk settings and opting for outdoor social interactions as transmission in these settings are quite low. This is also where RAT tests are handy: making sure those around you take one before visiting someone who is vulnerable, for peace of mind."

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Dr Ziad thinks case numbers won’t stay high for too long. 

 "I'm optimistic we're getting around to the drop. Looking at data from South Africa, the UK and Denmark, as well as Australia's positivity rate: I think we're close."

One promising thing about the Omicron variant is the infection is far milder compared to a variant like Delta. 

Dr Ziad notes the perception of a 'milder infection' to the public may be different from what doctors perceive it as. 

"When the public hears the word mild, they would probably assume a runny nose, a bit of a headache and it's gone. Which for many that is all they will experience. But sometimes, you will get the shakes, a fever, body aches, loss of taste and a cough," says Dr Ziad.

"But in terms of clinical status that is still a mild disease compared to what it could be: for the vast majority, it will not progress to a severe disease. Your risk of transitioning into intensive care is also far lower, and that should bring hope."

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Another promising thing about Omicron is that it is more contagious. 

Yes, you read that right. The fact Omicron is a milder infection but more contagious is a good thing, Dr Ziad notes. 

"It's potentially 30 to 40 per cent more contagious than Delta. It's also the most contagious thing we’ve seen since measles."

The idea of contagion does sound scary in itself, but let's take a step back. To move from a pandemic to an endemic (the flu and common cold is endemic), the virus needs to be highly transmissible but with a very low mortality rate. 

Dr Ziad explains: "The common cold is so frequent in winter, that many of us get it. But it kills very few people. So, Omicron could potentially be our answer to moving from a pandemic to an endemic."

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Omicron might be 'the start of the end' of this pandemic.

With the endemic argument in mind, the above could be a potentially true statement, says Dr Ziad. 

Of course, the next twist is very difficult for medical experts and epidemiologists to predict, but there is a level of cautious optimism. 

"Preliminary data is also showing that Omicron can raise a person's antibodies. With this in mind, we are thinking Omicron could actually displace Delta. If there was a room full of 100 people, two had Delta and two had Omicron: the Omicron variant would be more transmissible, infect easier and help raise the antibody levels to the point that Delta couldn't infect afterwards," he explains. 

Current hospital stats are promising, and do reinforce the efficacy of vaccines. 

Earlier this week it was revealed that in NSW up to 50 per cent of COVID-19 hospital admissions were not specifically related to the virus, but rather found incidentally. 

"Heart attacks, births, falls: They come into hospital, they have a swab taken and it confirms COVID," said NSW health minister Brad Hazzard. 

Although hospitals are under increasing strain, which is important to acknowledge, preliminary data does show Omicron has a lower hospitalisation rate than expected.

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"Someone shared with me that a family member of theirs was sent to hospital for a broken femur bone, and with the standard protocol COVID-19 swab test, found they were positive to the virus, with little symptoms," Dr Ziad shared. 

"This is why it's important to look at ICU numbers as a metric, rather than general hospital numbers. The UK is also a good measure, with around 40 per cent of their hospital admissions incidental. Also in Australia, the majority of ICU admissions are unvaccinated."

It's clear those who are unvaccinated in the ICU are evidently experiencing more severe symptoms, especially respiratory problems.

Listen to The Quicky's COVID-19 Q&A: Illegal ingredients, omicron immunity and faster boosters. Post continues after audio.


Brad Hazzard said: "As health minister on behalf of our entire public health team - whether it's the nurses, the doctors, the paramedics, all emergency staff - please just think about them and go and get vaccinated."

"We do know that the vaccinations make it far less likely that you will suffer any major consequences once you actually do get the virus, such as your likelihood of ending up in the ICU."

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Statistically speaking, most of us will get Omicron at some point.

Looks like what Brad Hazzard said could prove to be true. "Most of us will get Omicron at some point."

As for whether a person can contract COVID more than once?

"Before Omicron, contracting COVID again was very hard," says Dr Ziad. "Now since Omicron is more transmissible, it's a bit more common to potentially get Omicron again, but with less symptoms."

Even though the news cycle has been overwhelming, remember there are still some small positives among the uncertainty. You can read more about this, here.

You can follow the work of Dr Ziad FRACGP on Twitter here.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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