Has Anyone Died From Omicron COVID Variant? First Death Reported in U.K.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a person died of the Omicron variant on Monday, in what appears to be the first confirmed death caused by the new form of COVID.

Speaking in London, Johnson told reporters that "sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron."

He said that people should "set on one side" the idea that Omicron is milder than other variants and instead focus on its high rate of transmission.

It comes as 10 people in the U.K. were in hospital with the Omicron variant on Monday, the country's health secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.

There were 4,713 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country on Monday, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Over the past couple of weeks, reports had emerged that Omicron might cause less severe disease than Delta based on early data from South Africa, though scientists had warned that it was too early to say whether this was the case.

The death in the U.K. appears to be the first confirmed globally. On December 12 the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that there had been "no Omicron-related deaths reported thus far" within its reporting area.

That followed a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 10, which stated that "no deaths have been reported to date" based on 43 cases of Omicron reported between December 1 and December 8.

On December 10 fact-checking site Snopes reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) had told it that it had not received any reports of deaths caused by Omicron.

However, it is possible that an Omicron-related death had occurred previously but had not been officially confirmed.

Last week, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID, warned against referring to Omicron as "mild" and stated that "people will die" from the variant in an interview with New Scientist magazine.

"Many patients have presented with mild disease and if you compare it to other waves, Omicron seems to be more mild. We will get more data on that soon," she said. "But it doesn't mean it's only mild—we have seen the full spectrum of severity with the variant, and people will die from it."

A similar point was made by Jerome Adams, a former U.S. Surgeon General, on December 5. Adams tweeted that a substantially higher transmission rate could cancel out a lower severity and increase death rates.

The rise of the Omicron variant has prompted countries to ramp up their booster shot rollouts as data suggests a booster vaccine will provide more protection against the variant than first or second shots.

Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press briefing in London on December 12, 2021. The U.K. government confirmed its Omicron-related death on December 13. Kirsty O'Connor/WPA Pool / Getty