Children could stand a higher risk of contracting the new coronavirus variant, Omicron. UK experts issued this warning after data from South Africa revealed that children below the age of five accounted for nine per cent of recent Covid admissions in the province worst-hit by Omicron.
An early report from South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases showed that children were 20 per cent more likely to be hospitalized compared with the previous Delta variant.
The report however added that very few children get seriously ill with Covid when infected with the new variant. The report said:
In Gauteng, nine per cent of all admissions in the last three weeks were in children younger than five years. However, this trend is changing and the proportion of admissions in children younger than five years has decreased from 14 per cent (week 46) to 11 per cent (week 47) to eight per cent (week 48).
The Omicron variant is now dominant in London. Across the UK, more than 78,000 new cases were recorded as of Wednesday- the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic.
The spike in spread of the virus has prompted calls for measures to be introduced in schools to stop the virus ‘ripping’ through schools.
Addressing a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus on Tuesday, Professor Christina Pagel, of University College London, raised these concerns with MPs. She said:
There are indications it [Omicron] is more severe for children. Children at best have one vaccine dose, millions of them have none. We know that Delta ripped through schools this term. We have to expect unfortunately that Omicron is going to do the same if we don’t do something about protecting schools in January.
Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at UCL, told the Standard it was important to be measured over these concerns as children rarely suffer serious illness from viral infections regardless of the variant. He said:
We are reassured by messages from South African paediatricians that they are not seeing children with severe illness. We are seeing no signal at all in this in the UK although very early days. The key issue is that serious illness remains very rare in children regardless of variant.