While all eyes are turned towards South Africa, it’s more relevant to look towards Scandinavia, where the first two major spreader events involving the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus took place. Indeed, Norway has “the honor” of having hosted the first “superspreader event.”
We call it an event when an infectious disease spreads out of proportion. On Friday December 3rd, Norwegian authorities announced that, among the 120 participants at a Scatec company Christmas dinner, 60 had tested positive for the Coronavirus. Among those, 13 had tested positive for the Omicron variant, it was confirmed the very next day.
Scatec is a renewable energy company with an office in South Africa. That made this the largest outbreak of the Omicron variant in the world at the time. But it was soon to be outdone.
On Sunday, December 5th, Denmark announced its own superspreader event. Among 150 spectators at a concert, 53 had tested positive; then others at a Christmas lunch were also found to have tested positive. In all, by December 7th, the total cases of Omicron had passed the 260 mark, without any specifics on whether or not they were due to the original events.
Denmark is considered at the head of the class among world nations for sequencing variants – Omicron as well as its predecessors – which might explain the high number of confirmed cases there. But the speed at which these cases were detected also tends to confirm two intuitions that scientists have had for a week, based on South African data:
- This variant is more contagious than its predecessors: Great Britain also noted a rise in cases over the weekend;
- This variant produces fewer severe cases, judging by the small number of hospitalizations so far reported.
The preliminary data also suggests that this variant may be able to re-infect someone who has already been infected, by “fooling” our immune response defenses. How much greater this risk may be isn’t yet known. This question may loom very large this winter. But even if there are re-infections, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be more severe cases.
Our Denmark experience teaches how important testing is. With 200,000 PCR tests per day, this nation of 5.8 million people is one of the most highly tested countries on the planet. The number of cases may give the impression of a great epidemic, when it could simply mean that if other nations were doing the same tests, their numbers would be comparable.
This article was first published on December 8th, when we still didn’t know how much greater the risks of re-infection are.