The new omicron COVID-19 variant multiplies 70 times faster than the delta variant in human airways, according to a new study.
“The researchers found that Omicron SARS-CoV-2 infects and multiplies 70 times faster than the Delta variant and original SARS-CoV-2 in human bronchus, which may explain why Omicron may transmit faster between humans than previous variants,” a press release by the research team at Hong Kong University said.
However, the much higher rate of multiplication may explain why it spreads so quickly from person-to-person.
The Hong Kong researchers noted, that when omicron reaches lung tissues, it replicates itself 10 times more slowly than the original version of COVID-19, which could result in less severe illness.
“‘It is important to note that the severity of disease in humans is not determined only by virus replication but also by the host immune response to the infection,” the lead scientists Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai said.
He added: “It is also noted that, by infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic.”
“Therefore, taken together with our recent studies showing that the omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from omicron variant is likely to be very significant,” Chan added.
The study’s findings are still under peer review for publication.
The WHO had declared that omicron, which was detected last month in South Africa, was a variant of concern. Much about the variant is still unknown, other than its high transmissibility, which led to travel restrictions across the globe in attempt to contain its spread.