Eight reasons to still enjoy a wonderful Christmas. ELEANOR HAYWARD explains why, despite new Covid restrictions this festive season carries greater hope than previous.

All of it felt familiar and depressing: Christmas is fast approaching, a new mutant has appeared, alarmist voices call for Covid restrictions to be restored. Scientists are confident that we will be able to defeat the Omicron threat, despite being concerned about Omicron. Many experts predict that vaccines can still be used to prevent severe diseases and warn there’s no evidence of an increase in hospitalizations from the new strain. Omicron could not overcome the “T-cell immunity” many of us have, which they also pointed out. We can now look forward to Christmas with joy this year.

Obtained immunity

The 32 unique mutations in the spike protein, which is the portion of the virus that antibodies target, have been shown to make the Omicron variant more resistant to existing vaccines. In the past 48 hours, many scientists offered some reassurance. Jonathan Van-Tam from England, the deputy chief medical officer of England, warned against panicking and stated that he hopes vaccines will still protect people from serious illnesses. South Africa’s Chief Covid Advisor during the initial response, Professor Salim Abdool Karaim stated that existing vaccines were still able to prevent severe illness and hospitalization. On top of antibodies, there are other crucial components to the immune system – such as T-cells – which are less easily fooled by mutations.

Many scientists predict vaccines will still protect against severe disease and say there is no sign of the new strain causing an increase in hospital admissions (stock image)

Many scientists believe vaccines will protect against severe diseases, and that there’s no evidence of the new strain increasing hospital admissions. (stock image).

A booster for success

The extraordinary success of booster jabs exceeds all scientific expectations. They boost immunity even further than before the second dose. Increased antibodies from boosters will’mitigate” any decrease in Omicron-protective ability. Professor Wei Shen Lim (chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) stated that a higher immune response would reach further and offer additional protection.

Grave illness

Omicron may be more dangerous than other viruses, according to early signs. However there’s no evidence that Omicron causes more death or severe illness. According to some South African doctors, symptoms have been described as ‘extremely mild. And yesterday Professor Van-Tam reassured the public: ‘If vaccine effectiveness is reduced, the biggest effect is likely to be in preventing infections – there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease.’ Even though there has been an increase in cases across southern Africa, it is not yet seen an increase in deaths or hospitalisations. Omicron is still being treated by key medications, such as dexamethasone, and other antivirals.

Tweaked vaccines

Scientists are prepared to defend Omicron in the unlikely scenario that it completely bypasses vaccines. Pfizer claims it will only take 100 days to develop a modified version of the jab that can be targeted at this new variant. Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Moderna are also quickly preparing Omicron specific jabs.

Pfizer say it will take just 100 days to roll out a tweaked version of its jab so it can target the new variant (stock image)

Pfizer claims it will only take 100 days to develop a modified version of its jab in order to target the new variant. (stock photo)

Uncertainty ahead

The panic caused by this new variant could lead you to believe it’s more dangerous, fatal, or better at getting around vaccines. There is no evidence to support any of these claims. Yesterday, Professor Van-Tam gave a Downing Street briefing and stated that “We don’t yet know what will happen next.” There will be scientific uncertainty for the next three weeks. There are many examples of variants which looked terrifying in theory, but didn’t materialize.

Response time is quick

Alpha and delta are two of the previous dominant mutant variants. Both of these mutants had spread throughout the globe by the time scientists realized they were present. It took only three days for South African scientists to identify Omicron and Britain to ban flights. Scientists have had this time to investigate and slow down the spread of the variant, as well as to give booster shots to people.

Britain’s stable epidemic

Covid chaos reigns in Europe these weeks but cases are stable and death rates are declining in the UK. Hospital admissions are down and there are 7,530 patients in NHS hospitals with Covid – down from 9,666 on November 1 and almost 40,000 at the January peak. The UK will be able to handle an Omicron wave if it occurs.

Unlockdown impossible

Ministers insist that Christmas lockdown would only be implemented if the circumstances suddenly turn against Britain. Sajid Javid Health Secretary has told families that they should plan as normal for a wonderful Christmas. Sajid Javid suggested yesterday that the primary metric used to determine restrictions was hospitalizations. The UK’s hospital admissions are declining. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer suggested that it might not be possible for people to accept another lockdown.

Ministers have consistently stressed a Christmas lockdown would be considered only if a dramatic turn of events meant Britain suddenly faced catastrophe (stock image)

Ministers repeatedly stressed that Christmas lockdown would only be used if the circumstances suddenly turn against Britain (stock photo)