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Omicron cases are exploding. Scientists still don’t know how bad the wave will be “As this year begins, the Omicron variant is smashing COVID-19 infection records across Europe, North America, Africa, and Australia. With massive numbers of people infected or in quarantine, tens of thousands of flights and trains have been canceled, and work and schools disrupted. Earlier in the pandemic, the frightful, near-vertical rise in cases would have triggered stringent lockdowns. Not this time: Many governments are banking on early indications that vaccines still protect against severe disease and that Omicron may be a gentler variant. It’s a risky bet, because scientists still can’t predict Omicron’s ultimate toll. Initial data from South Africa, Denmark, and the United Kingdom suggest it causes less severe disease, but they come with major caveats. And even less severe cases can strain hospitals already at the edge of their capabilities. In a worrying sign, COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the United States surged this week. Virologists, molecular biologists, and epidemiologists are biting their nails and hoping cases will soon peak and begin to fall. They are also working at top speed to sort out the properties of the new variant. Here are some of the key questions they are trying to answer…”

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