Omicron Covid instances ‘doubling each two to a few days’ in UK, says scientist

Prof Neil Ferguson says coronavirus variant more likely to be dominant pressure within the UK earlier than Christmas

Final modified on Wed 8 Dec 2021 09.07 GMT

The unfold of the Omicron variant of coronavirus seems to be doubling each two to a few days, Prof Neil Ferguson has mentioned, including that it may very well be essential to impose new lockdowns consequently.

Ferguson, a member of the UK authorities’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and head of the illness outbreak modelling group at Imperial School London, advised BBC Radio 4’s Immediately programme on Wednesday that Omicron was more likely to be the dominant pressure within the UK earlier than Christmas.

“It’s more likely to overtake Delta earlier than Christmas at this fee, exactly when is difficult to say,” Ferguson mentioned, talking in a private capability.

“We’ll begin seeing an influence on general case numbers – it’s nonetheless most likely solely 2%, 3% of all instances so it’s sort of swamped, however inside every week or two we’ll begin seeing general case numbers speed up fairly markedly as nicely.”

He mentioned to this point case numbers had been notably excessive in London and Scotland. “London is to be anticipated as a result of that’s the place most of our overseas guests come,” he added. He mentioned it was much less clear why it had unfold extra rapidly in Scotland however speculated that it may very well be linked with the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

The variety of instances of the unique Omicron variant detected within the UK rose by 101 to 437 on Tuesday as Scotland introduced a return to working from house.

Concerning lockdowns, Ferguson mentioned it was troublesome to rule out something, including that we “haven’t bought a ok deal with on the risk”.

He added: “Clearly, if the consensus is it’s extremely seemingly that the NHS is just going to be overwhelmed then it is going to be for the federal government to determine what what he desires to do about that, however it’s a troublesome state of affairs to be in in fact.”

Pushed on whether or not lockdowns could be doable, he mentioned: “It definitely could be doable on the present time.”

He additionally famous preliminary work within the UK that means that two doses of Pfizer are roughly half as protecting in opposition to delicate illness as in opposition to different variants. However he mentioned: “We predict that safety in opposition to extreme illness is more likely to be maintained on the excessive degree, however we don’t have agency knowledge on that. That’s simply primarily based on extrapolation from previous expertise.”

Ferguson referred to as the tempo of Omicron’s development “very quick”, saying: “It’s the identical if not sooner than we noticed with the unique pressure of the virus in March final 12 months, so it’s a concern.”

He mentioned knowledge on the evasion of vaccines was preliminary however pointed to a examine in South Africa that mentioned “this virus Omicron can evade immunity antibodies generated in opposition to the very unique Chinese language pressure of the virus higher than any variant we’ve seen to this point”.

Lockdowns or different restrictions may assist to guard individuals from an infection and collect data, Ferguson mentioned. “There’s a rationale, simply epidemiologically, to attempt to sluggish this down, to purchase us extra time principally to get boosters into individuals’s arms as a result of we do suppose people who find themselves boosted can have one of the best degree of safety doable, but in addition to purchase us extra time to actually higher characterise the risk.

“So in case you think about a sort of plan B plus with working from house would possibly sluggish it down – it wouldn’t cease it however it may sluggish it down, so it’s doubling moderately than each two or three days, each 5 – 6 days.

“That doesn’t look like lots, however it truly is probably lots when it comes to permitting us to characterise this virus higher and increase inhabitants immunity.”

Ferguson mentioned the “key query” of whether or not the UK determined to aim to sluggish the unfold of Omicron would “critically depend upon actually the risk it poses when it comes to hospitalisations. In the meanwhile we don’t actually have deal with on the severity of this virus.

“There’s a little bit trace within the UK knowledge that infections are a little bit bit extra more likely to be asymptomatic. However we actually have to agency up that proof on the present time.”

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