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Individuals with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are 80% less likely to end up hospitalized than those with prior strains of the virus, according to a new study from South Africa.

The pre-print study from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases found that Omicron has a 70% less risk of severe disease, although once a patient is hospitalized the risk of severe disease is the same as earlier strains. Scientists compared data on recent Omicron infections to Delta infections between April and November.

The authors pointed out that the differences could be due to higher levels of immunization within the population in recent months than earlier this year, and not because of inherent differences in the variants. However, the researchers did control for factors like age, prior infection status and vaccination status.

So far, there has been only one confirmed death in the United States from the Omicron variant. The European CDC has reported that the overwhelming majority of cases in the European Union are asymptomatic or mild and cases in South Africa's Gauteng province, where the Omicron outbreak first began, are already on the decline.