British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the first known death in his country from the omicron variant of COVID-19 on Monday, underscoring the potential virulence of the strain that moves swiftly but had appeared to cause only mild illness.
Mr. Johnson, speaking at a vaccination clinic in West London, said there have been a number of hospitalizations involving omicron, according to the BBC.
“I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters,” Mr. Johnson said.
Scientists are trying to paint a more detailed portrait of the variant first detected in South Africa in late November. Early reports suggested people with the variant didn’t get very sick, though patients were in younger age groups or might have been protected from some level of immunity from prior infection or a vaccine.
Mr. Johnson said he does know the variant spreads quickly.
“The risk is plainly there, we can see omicron spiking now in London and some other parts of the country,” he said. “Here in the capital, it probably represents about 40% of the cases. By tomorrow, it’ll be the majority of the cases, and it’s increasing the whole time.”