The new version is causing concern for some people. Are you?

Omicron research is still in its early stages, making it difficult to say much.

According to Dr Julian Tang of Leicester University, there’s been lots of speculation about Omicron so far. Omicron has been a mystery for many scientists. Prof Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University, an epidemiologist said, “Relatively little information about Omicron.

Here are the facts. South African officials reported an increase in Covid cases due to the new Covid variant on November 25. Due to the large number and type of mutations, or changes, to the variant, it could be more transmissible, the scientists said – meaning it could spread faster than previous iterations.

The next day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a variant of concern, and named it Omicron – the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet – following its variant naming system.

The species has been found in 20 different countries around the world, including Britain.

According to Dr Michelle Groome, South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases, there was an ‘exponentially increasing’ number of infections in the country over two weeks. In mid-November, the country – where just a quarter of the population have been jabbed – was seeing roughly 300 new cases per day.

They had 2,858 reported cases last Monday. It was 8.561 by Wednesday, and 16.055 on Friday.

Based on what’s being seen there, experts say the South African scientists’ initial assessment seems correct – Omicron is likely more infectious than the currently dominant Delta variant, which itself was 60 per cent more infectious than the Alpha variant which overtook the original Wuhan virus in late 2020.

This is what has most concerned me. 

Omicron can be even more infectious

It is not possible, however, to compare South Africa with European countries because of its low vaccine rate.

Prof Woolhouse said, “We need more numbers to put it on the table.”

I’ve read some worrying things about the ‘vaccine escape. Is this a sign that our vaccines aren’t going to protect us from Omicron?

Omicron has spread quickly in South Africa, indicating that it can overcome immunity. However, there are no indications that vaccines won’t be as effective.

According to scientists who spoke with us, the jabs still offer a’very strong’ defense against serious illnesses. The booster program, which will offer every adult a third dose before January 31, is vital.

We know that the South African study last week looked at medical records of approximately three million Covid-positive people. It found 35,670 suspected reinfections – people who’d caught Covid a second time after having tested positive three months or more before. The scientists concluded that Omicron is three times more likely to infect than the Alpha or Delta variants.

Francois Balloux is the director of University College London’s Genetics Institute.

The spike protein is prone to mutations. [is likely to]Enhance the Omicron version’s capability to overcome immunity.

The spike protein is part of the Covid virus that allows it to bind to healthy cells – much like a key entering a lock. They cover the outer shell of this spherical virus particle.

The majority of Covid vaccines (including the Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs) are meant to imitate the coronavirus surge protein. They work, in part, by teaching the immune system to create defensive cells called antibodies which recognise and attach to this part of the virus – stopping the key from ever entering the lock.

Since long, scientists have known that spike proteins are more susceptible to Covid antibodies not recognizing the virus. Even if a person is fully vaccinated, it’s possible for the virus to escape the body’s defenses. Experts suspect the existing antibodies against Omicron will not be as effective. Omicron’s spike protein contains 32 different mutations from its predecessors.

It is not known how significant this effect is. The immune system does not only develop antibodies to combat viruses, but also other cells.

The Covid vaccines also trigger the creation of T-cells and B-cells – fighter cells that attack foreign invaders – and experts believe that these cells will still be able to identify the Omicron variant, neutralising it before the majority of fully vaccinated people become seriously unwell.

Similar patterns were observed with the Delta version, which was introduced in March to the UK. Early lab studies suggested mutations to the spike protein would allow it to slip past many of our antibodies, and scientists estimated the jabs would be only 67 per cent effective – a massive fall from the initial 90 per cent touted by the manufacturers.

Half a year later, however, experts think that protection from Delta caused by vaccines has fallen to just three per cent.

Dr Tang said that virologist Omicron is a beneficiary of both T- and B-cells.

“The worst effects of the disease will not be felt by the majority of those who have been vaccinated.”

Do you believe Omicron causes milder illnesses than the previous versions?

From South Africa again, Omicron early symptoms suggest that most people with Omicron have only mild symptoms. Experts caution against making predictions and/or making comparisons at this stage.

Based on the current evidence, little is known about the severity of infection – with or without vaccination – caused by Omicron. Prof Balloux explained that South Africa is a country with a very low vaccine rate, however, a substantial number of its population have been infected since the Covid-19 wave. South Africa has a relatively young population, at 27.6 an age. [compared with 40 in the UK]. Further data is needed to make accurate predictions on the threat of Omicron spreading worldwide.

At a Wednesday press conference, Maria Van Kerkhove from WHO said that he had seen cases of Omicron that ranged in severity and mildness. Some patients might be showing mild symptoms, however it’s early.

The severity of Covid illness depends on a multitude of factors, which is what makes this a particularly difficult question to untangle – and a proper answer may not come for many months.

Omicron, although not causing serious illness, could quickly spread through the vaccinations. This increases the chance that Omicron will infect vulnerable individuals whose immune systems are not sufficiently trained or unvaccinated.

Penny Ward (a King’s College London pharmacist expert) said, “It might be a while until we know the impact on older, less vulnerable people.”

What is the rate of Omicron’s spread in the UK?

Scientists believe that there have already been many other cases of Omicron variants in the UK. There were 437 confirmed cases.

One cluster was found in Scotland. Individual cases were seen throughout England, and parts of Wales. No cases have been reported in Northern Ireland. 

Experts warn the actual number could be closer to 2,000 — more than four times the official count. Experts warn that mutant strains are increasing in number every 2 to 3 days. They also believe that this could lead to a significant increase in Christmas-related outbreaks.  

“We have seen it happen in Alpha and Delta,” Dr Tang said. This virus is likely to spread quickly because there are so many restrictions.

But it is likely to take some time for it to catch up with Delta. Delta still has nearly 50,000 new cases every day. 

Were there any more restrictions?

Sajid Javid Health Secretary confirmed Monday that the hospitalisations will be “what matters most than any other measure” when considering new measures. Based on the information we have so far, they are not likely to increase for some time.

Experts said that this variant would significantly lower the effectiveness of vaccines, before social restrictions like lockdowns are necessary in the UK.

Whitehall officials already have plans to work remotely in England and people are told that they should follow this policy even if they reside in Scotland.

Although No10 asked businesses to not cancel Christmas parties, many are doing so. 

Studies show the booster jabs, which have now been given to nearly 90 per cent of Britons over the age of 70, provide an unprecedented level of protection against the virus – and even if Omicron ‘dents’ this, we’re starting from an ideal position to fight it off, said Dr David Strain, clinical Covid lead at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

In November an Israeli study showed that the protection against symptoms of infection was up to 94% with a third dose.

The effect of this is already being seen in the UK, where hospitalisations are now falling – particularly in older age groups – even as Covid cases rise.

Dr Strain said that the boosters had put us in an excellent position prior to this variant’s arrival. Omicron is a bit of a detriment to that campaign, but once you have all your boosts you will still be able to fight it.

The strength of boosters, according to the disease modelers, is so strong that even an enormous wave of Omicron could be tolerated by the NHS.

Professor Woolhouse stated that “Healthcare systems could suffer some loss of protection due to the effectiveness of boosters.”

“But, before I can say it with confidence,” he said. Researches on the effectiveness of boosters against this variant is a top priority.

To combat the spread, the government announced on November 25th that six South African country-based travellers would be temporarily banned and all other passengers will need to undergo PCR tests upon their arrival.

Last week, masks were again required in public indoor spaces including public transport and shops.

Ministers claim that these measures will save the UK time and allow scientists to analyze the variant.

We’ve been told that boosters are vital – but the rules keep changing. Where and how do I find out when to order my boosters?

Three months following the completion of their second dose, all adult vaccine recipients will be eligible for a booster Covid vaccination. This was announced by Government officials last week. The entire adult population should have the chance to receive a third dose before January.

NHS England released an update on Friday that stated the rollout will begin in December 13

The eligibility criteria for booking a booster are as follows: those over 40; those 16 years old with an existing health problem that places them at risk of Covid; frontline healthcare and social workers who received their first dose less than six months ago.

The invitation should be sent to these groups via email or text message.

As with the original vaccine campaign, everyone will be invited to participate in the second round of vaccinations on December 13. This will again be done via text message or email.

If you visit the NHS Covid vaccination booking site, the yellow box above the page states: “The NHS is currently working on plans… to offer a boost dose to all 18-year-olds and older. Wait to hear from the NHS.

The Government recommends that people book a jab appointment or locate a walk-in service through the NHS website (go to, scroll down and click ‘Find out about Covid-19 vaccination’ – or Google ‘book a Covid jab’, and click on the top result, titled: Book or manage a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination).

It is easy to complete the process. You will need to provide your name, address, age and date. The booking page asks you if it is possible to know your NHS number. However, this doesn’t mean you have to worry if you do not.

After this, you’ll be provided with a list of clinics near you where the booster can be used. You might find these at your local GP office, pharmacist, community centre or hospital hubs, as well as walk-in services.

Accessing the internet is difficult for anyone who doesn’t have a computer. Family doctors recommend that you book your booster shot through your GP.

Doctor Dean Eggitt from Doncaster said, “If you call up your practice for help with a booster shot, they should be able organise it. But, because you may be waiting for a long time on the phone, it might take longer to arrange online.

Housebound people will have priority under the new system. They should be aware of their GP and arrange a booster at home. Contact your GP if the situation is not clear. Hospitalized patients who are still waiting for their booster can also receive it in the hospital.

Some areas have special “booster buses” that offer jabs to passersby at various locations each day, like the Isle of Wight or Hampshire.

Is there enough vaccines for everybody?

But the problem will not be in finding people who can administer them. The Government claims that there is enough vaccines available to give every person in England an additional shot before January 31st.

In order to achieve this goal, it will be necessary to double the amount of boosters that are administered each day from 350,000 to 500,000.

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, stated last Tuesday that 1,500 pharmacies will begin to provide boosters along with temporary vaccine centers that are ‘popping up as Christmas trees’ as well as 400 military personnel as well as a jabs army’ of volunteers.

GPs will also be called on to carry out more boosters, and will be offered up to £30 per vaccine given. However, doctors warn that this could impact the quality of patient care.

Dr Eggitt stated that the challenges were immense. He said, “If we are to achieve this goal, the practices must decide what less they will do, which may mean temporarily suspending routine medical checks.”

But what about Christmas? Are you allowed to continue as planned for Christmas?

But experts warn that you should be cautious. Although it is impossible to predict how fast the Omicron variant of the Delta will spread, it has been proven that it can take several months for it to become widespread.

Omicron’s chances of being caught are very low right now. This will continue for the next three weeks. Socializing with your family remains a safe activity.

Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia stated that he doesn’t believe Christmas should be a cause for concern.

‘During Christmas and Boxing Day you’re actually mixing with fewer people than you do on a normal day – so if anything you’re reducing your chances of catching it during this period.’

Scientists warn that Delta, which is responsible for more than 50,000 new cases each day, poses a greater threat to human health.

Ministers sent mixed messages. Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, warned the public to not’snog under the mistletoe’. Mr Javid responded that it had nothing to do with who the Government is.

He encouraged everyone to complete lateral flow exams before going to Christmas parties.

Professor Hunter stated that ‘if you are over 50 and have concerns about your health, Omicron and general well-being, I recommend you avoid Christmas parties at busy bars. The number of people who you might be mixing with will likely increase.

“I would not tell anyone to change their Christmas Day plans.”

Prof Woolhouse explained that the data does not support any policy shift before Christmas. Still, hospitalisations are falling and so is the number of deaths.

‘I agree that taking a lateral flow test before attending a Christmas party would be wise – we know these tests will flag up this new variant, as well as others.’

Do you think that more jabs might be necessary, after the booster is finished?

Possibly. The UK purchased extra booster jabs of Moderna and Pfizer from Thursday. They will be used in 2022 and 2023. While vaccine developers have already begun to plan to modify their existing jabs for the new version, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will need new vaccines.

Moderna and Pfizer jabs are easily modified to adapt to the new mutations. Pfizer stated last week that it is examining the Omicron variation to determine if an adjustment was necessary. If this is the case, Pfizer said that new doses could be developed in as little as six weeks. Shipping would begin in just three months.

Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer have both stated they are currently analyzing the effectiveness of Omicron vaccines. Ugur Sahin is the chief executive officer and co-founder at BioNTech in Germany. He stated: “We believe it’s possible that vaccinated individuals will already have substantial protection from severe disease caused Omicron.

Professor Lawrence Young of Warwick Medical School is a virus expert and said that it was prudent for manufacturers to modify future boosters to Omicron regardless of the outcome. “There is only so much that can happen to spike proteins, but Omicron has the largest number we have seen. Any vaccine which can match this will be well-equipped to fight off future variations.

It seems like there are more questions than answers. What will be the next step?

Experts estimate that it will take several months for us to have an accurate understanding of Omicron.

Researchers around the world are now studying the variant. Omicron will examine blood samples of people who are either infected by the virus before they get vaccinated or have never been exposed. This is to determine how these two interactions work. The first thing they’ll be doing is assessing the effectiveness of current Covid antibodies at neutralizing this variant. Laboratories cannot measure the level of protection provided by prior immunity. However, they do not provide any indications about the extent of the disease.

Penny Ward from King’s College London is a pharmacist expert. He said, “The only way to know how many people will be in hospitals or died as a consequence of this variant is by real-world data that involves people.”

It is clear that the bigger the number of people who contract the virus, then the clearer it will be. Prof. Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London said last week that it would take several weeks, if not months, before clearer results are available.

Is this the end of the fabled pandemic?

According to Friday documents, government scientific advisors advised Ministers that Covid could pose a danger to the NHS “for at least five more years,” according to records.

After that, the scientists – members of the Government’s virus modelling group Spi-M – said it was likely the virus would settle into a ‘predictable endemic state’ – where the virus continues to circulate in the population but does not threaten to overwhelm the health service.

Two more years of vaccine supplies have been purchased by the Government for annual boosters to be administered in 2022/23.

Prof Woolhouse said, “After Omicron, there will be another variation, and another afterwards.”

Scientists draw a parallel with the Russian Flu pandemic, which killed approximately one million people in 1890s. Recent research suggests that Russian Flu may have been caused by a coronavirus, OC43. It is similar to that which causes Covid. Professor Young explained that the Russian Flu pandemic was a form of coronavirus called OC43. It lasted approximately 4 years, before finally dying out. We should expect to observe a similar pattern.

Professor Woolhouse had some optimism: “The vast majority of Russian Flu deaths occurred in the first two year.” Based on this, as well as the effectiveness of our vaccines I believe we are safe from the worst.