More signs emerged that the Omicron wave is taking a less serious human toll in Europe than earlier phases of the pandemic, while U.S. data showed daily average deaths from the disease exceeding the peak reached during the surge driven by the previously dominant Delta variant.
In the U.S., the seven-day average for newly reported Covid-19 deaths reached 2,258 a day on Tuesday, up about 1,000 from daily death counts two months ago, data from Johns Hopkins University show. That is the highest since February 2021 as the country was emerging from the worst of last winter’s wave.
While there is a large body of evidence suggesting that Omicron is less likely to kill the people it infects, it spreads much more quickly and therefore infects many more people than earlier variants, epidemiologists say. Case counts in the U.S. have dwarfed previous records.
“Milder does not mean mild and we cannot look past the strain on our health systems and substantial number of deaths,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday. “I know many people are tired, but many of our hospitals are still struggling beyond capacity.”
In Western Europe, where vaccination rates are generally higher than the U.S., a record surge in cases hasn’t generated the proportionate increase in hospitalizations and deaths that were seen earlier in the pandemic.
Even as Covid-19 cases hit record highs, the Netherlands eased restrictions imposed last month in the face of Omicron—as Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths remained subdued. Bars, restaurants, cinemas and theaters can reopen from Wednesday, with some continuing restrictions including that they close by 11 p.m.
The Dutch government, which has been the target of protests over its lockdown decisions, said the decision wasn’t without risk. It is following others in Europe such as the U.K., Ireland and France that have lifted or eased Covid restrictions.