Europe’s biggest omicron outbreak ‘appears mild’, say Norway Covid experts

·3 min read
The Louise Restaurant and Bar in Oslo - Alamy
The Louise Restaurant and Bar in Oslo - Alamy

The omicron outbreak at an Oslo Christmas party seen as "the biggest in the world outside South Africa" is so far only causing mild disease, with Norway's state epidemiologist expressing hope that it might mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

As many as 120 people who attended the Louise Restaurant and Bar on the night of Nov 26 tested positive for Covid. Around half of those have screened positive for omicron, with 13 proven to have the variant in sequencing.

"They have symptoms like fever, cough, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, but for now none of them have become severely ill and none of them have been treated in hospital," Tine Ravlo, an Oslo infectious diseases doctor, told The Telegraph.

Scatec, a solar power company, booked the biggest room at the restaurant, on the Oslo waterfront, for a "Julebord" Christmas supper on the same day omicron was named and designated a "variant of concern".

The company's 120 employees enjoyed a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal. For most of the evening they were isolated in their own room, but according to Joppe Gjelseth, who owns the restaurant with his brother, they began to mingle with other guests after 11.30pm until the nightclub closed at 3am in the morning.

The next day, one of two Scatec employees who had recently returned from South Africa tested positive. When others got tested over the coming days, 70 of the 120 at the party turned out to have the virus, together with 50 other guests at the restaurant.

Norway's state epidemiologist, Frode Forland, said the sheer number of people infected at a single event added to evidence that omicron was considerably more infectious than the delta variant.

"We don't know if it will be more transmissible, but we suspect that is the case after the first investigations we have from South Africa, and also the spread we've from this outbreak in Oslo," the told The Telegraph.

Dr Ravlo said Oslo had had few restrictions at the time the party took place, and while Norway had imposed quarantine on newly arriving travellers from South Africa that day, the two executives believed to have brought in the infection had arrived days earlier.

The company went beyond what was necessary by insisting everyone who attended the event was double vaccinated and everyone took an antigen test, she said, adding: "At that time, we didn't really have that many restrictions in Oslo, so they followed the rules."

Prof Forland, director of infectious diseases at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said one of his agency's three scenarios for omicron was that it would be both very mild and very transmissible.

"That is the hope. That is the best scenario we can have," he said. "That it's getting minder, most people will get it, and they will get a natural immunity."

If that were the case, it may mark the beginning of the end for the Covid pandemic, he said, adding: "It might be that it has now replicated and mutated so many times that this is the optimal position from the virus' point of view, to spread widely and not kill the hosts.

"That's what we've seen with other diseases beforehand. And of course, then it gets into more like an endemic phase."

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