Britain has reported what appears to be the world’s first confirmed death from the heavily mutated Omicron variant of COVID-19.
There have been initial signs that the new variant causes less severe symptoms than the dominant Delta strain—but, making his announcement of the death Monday morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that may not be the case.
Speaking at a London vaccination clinic, Johnson said: “Omicron is producing hospitalizations and sadly at least one patient has now been confirmed to have died with Omicron. 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.”
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the number of Omicron infections “is doubling every two to three days,” and warned, “we’re in a new race, whether we like it or not, between the virus and the vaccine.”
In London, the variant already accounts for 40 percent of coronavirus cases, and will soon become the dominant strain of COVID-19, Johnson added.
Prime Minister Johnson urged people in Britain to book booster appointments. As of Dec. 10, the World Health Organization had received no confirmed reports of death from the Omicron variant.
In the U.S., Omicron infections have been confirmed in at least 30 states, according to The Washington Post.