Professor Eleanor Riley said the Omicron variant is spreading so fast that all people are likely to meet someone infected with it in the coming days, and that people should not think they won’t catch it
Every person in the UK could be exposed to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the coming days unless they are “living the life of a hermit”, an expert has warned.
Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease, said the new coronavirus strain is spreading so fast that people are “very likely” to meet someone infected with it.
The University of Edinburgh academic also warned “a lot of people” could still end up in hospital even if the mutation proves to provoke milder symptoms than the Delta variant.
Prof Riley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Omicron is spreading so quickly that, I think, unless you are living the life of a hermit, you are very likely to come across it in the next few weeks.
“I don’t think anyone should be going around thinking they are not going to catch it, I think that situation has changed.”
She added: “There is a huge ‘if’ about this, ‘is it milder?’. I think it is very dangerous to compare data from South Africa, say, to the UK.
“Even if it is milder and, therefore, a smaller proportion of infected people end up in hospital, given that so many people are going to come across this virus, even a small proportion of a lot of people is a lot of people in hospital.”
Health officials have urged those eligible to get their booster jabs as the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine sees the risk of symptomatic infection with the Omicron variant “significantly reduced”.
Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron compared to Delta.
But the preliminary data, which looked at 581 people with confirmed Omicron, suggested effectiveness seemed to “increase considerably” in the early period after a booster dose, giving around 70 to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.
Meanwhile, the government is reportedly considering tougher restrictions after it emerged that the new variant makes up 30% of new Covid cases in London.
Evening Standard / eyevine)
Communities Secretary Michael Gove, who has also tested positive for the virus, said that London and Scotland were hotspots and the situation was “deeply concerning”.
The new data suggests that Omicron will now become dominant by as early as next week.
The Government said that, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 58,194 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
The last time a higher daily figure was reported was on January 9, when 59,937 cases were recorded.
An additional 448 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK, bringing the total number to 1,265.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said while their early data should be treated with caution, it indicates that “a few months after the second jab, there is a greater risk of catching the Omicron variant compared to Delta strain”.
She added: “The data suggest this risk is significantly reduced following a booster vaccine, so I urge everyone to take up their booster when eligible.”
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