Given the greater infectiousness of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many experts have been concerned that it could push the healthcare system to its breaking point. However, the seemingly less hazardous nature of the variant has led researchers in Switzerland and Germany to conclude that hospital overload is unlikely.
In the UK, the decoupling of case numbers and hospital admissions gave the researchers reason for optimism. But they needed to be sure the same would be true in Switzerland where there are more unvaccinated individuals and fewer with natural immunity.
To find out, Swiss researchers worked with partners to model scenarios for both Switzerland and Germany. They created a model incorporating: age, vaccination and booster status, and the case reproductive number. The results suggest that the Omicron variant is unlikely to cause record numbers of admissions to ICUs, either in Germany or in Switzerland, even under unfavourable conditions.
According to the models, Harald Renz of Philipps University in Marburg, a co-author of the current study, expects a peak in the number of infected people around the end of February to mid-March in Germany. In Switzerland, this could happen somewhat earlier.
If the effective reproduction number remains below 2, the occupancy of ICUs in Switzerland and Germany by Omicron patients is unlikely to reach critical levels, predicts the model.
But additional measures might be needed. To help decouple infection rates and hospitalisations, it will be necessary to improve immunity in the overall population, said another of the researchers.
Ivan Lunati said that measures should be geared more towards specific characteristics of individual sub-groups if the primary goal is to avoid overburdening the healthcare system. “I think it’s time to implement specific strategies for different risk groups,” he said.
The authors also point out that uncertainties remain. The exact risk from the Omicron variant, including long-term consequences in severe cases, as well as vaccine efficacy and fading of protection, have not yet been thoroughly investigated. Given the uncertainties, the authors emphasise that the results should be understood as plausible scenarios rather than accurate predictions.