Top US scientist Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said the new Omicron variant of coronavirus is "clearly highly transmissible" but "almost certainly" not more severe than Delta variant.
Speaking to news agency AFP, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the Omicron variant, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.
The new variant is "clearly highly transmissible," very likely more so than Delta, Fauci said.
On the question of severity, he said, "It almost certainly is not more severe than Delta," said Fauci.
"There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe, because when you look at some of the cohorts that are being followed in South Africa, the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalizations seems to be less than with Delta," he added.
He further said lab experiments that tested the potency of antibodies from current vaccines against Omicron should come in the "next few days to a week." "I think that's going to take another couple of weeks at least in South Africa," where the variant was first reported in November, he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, said he believes that the Omicron variant is now spreading faster than Delta and will take over as the UK's dominant variant "within a matter of weeks", BBC reported.
It is too soon to assume Omicron is milder than Delta, the variant is currently dominant in the UK, he added. He further said that even if only a small number of people get seriously ill with Omicron, it could still cause problems.
The Omicron variant has been detected in nearly 40 countries but no death has yet been reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.