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Omicron believed to have higher death rate than influenza: Japan health panel

This electron microscope photo provided by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases shows the coronavirus isolated at the facility. (Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

TOKYO -- An expert panel advising Japan's health ministry on measures against coronavirus infections announced on March 2 that the current COVID-19 fatality rate "is believed to be higher for the omicron variant than for seasonal influenza."

    Volunteers from the advisory board compiled an analysis comparing the severity of illness of omicron and seasonal flu, and presented the results at a meeting on March 2. Due to the lower severity of the omicron variant compared to previous coronavirus strains, some experts had suggested that it was comparable to seasonal influenza.

    The experts stated during the meeting that it is "difficult to compare" the two infectious diseases because of the different ways of counting the number of infected people and the different definitions of deaths, among other factors, as a premise for their analysis. With this caveat, they estimated the fatality rate for seasonal influenza using several methods and found it to be 0.006% to 0.09%. On the other hand, that of omicron, calculated from the cumulative number of deaths and positive cases since January 2022, was estimated at 0.13% as of Feb. 21.

    The panel members further noted that the fatality rate of omicron "is on an upward trend," given that deaths are reported late after the confirmation of infections.

    At a meeting of the House of Representatives' Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on March 2, Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government's COVID-19 countermeasures subcommittee, pointed out that "the biggest problem is that the number of newly infected people has remained high."

    According to the estimates presented by the advisory board, the replacement of the omicron variant with the omicron subvariant BA.2 in Tokyo will reach 74% by April 1, and Omi mentioned the possibility of infections spreading again.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim and Yuki Nakagawa, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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