Early figures from South Africa, where the Omicron coronavirus variant was first identified, suggest it causes a far lower rate of serious illness and death than previous waves of the pandemic.
Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology, told the BBC’s Newsday programme that this was despite the fact that the new variant was far more transmissible.
He predicted that the number of people who end up in hospital would be nowhere near that of earlier stages of the outbreak.
He said there seemed to be an uncoupling of a high case rate and the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
“There is going to be some people that are going to end up in hospital and die of Covid-19. But that is not going to come any way close to what we had experienced during the course of the first three waves,” he said.
The Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November. Countries around the world responded by restricting travel from southern Africa.