The United Kingdom has reported its first official death of a COVID-19 patient who had the omicron variant, in what is believed to be the first confirmed omicron death worldwide.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters Monday that the patient had died, but provided no other information about the patient, including age, vaccination status, or any co-morbidities.
“Sadly, yes, omicron is producing hospitalizations, and sadly at least one patient has now been confirmed to have died with omicron,” Johnson said.
“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus ― I think that’s something we need to set [to] one side ― and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” he added.
The death comes amid speculation, absent sufficient evidence, that the omicron variant might cause less severe disease than its predecessors. A World Health Organization report over the weekend noted some preliminary findings may support that theory, but stopped well short of endorsing it.
Given omicron’s rate of transmission ― U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC cases are doubling every two to three days ― even if it’s a less deadly variant it could still pose a grave threat to society at large, particularly with hospital capacity already at its limits.
“There is a tidal wave of omicron coming,” Johnson warned U.K. residents in a televised address Sunday.
“And I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose ― a booster dose ― we can all bring our level of protection back up.”