THE UK has been plunged into new Covid restrictions thanks to the concerning Omicron variant.
There are four key measures the Government is analysing to consider whether further rules will be needed in the fight against the strain.
This could mean rules on how many people we can meet up with, vaccine passports for small venues or self isolation rules for vaccinated people.
In the worst case scenario, another lockdown could be used to keep a lid on infections, possibly in the new year when Omicron is expected to be the dominant variant.
Prime Minister Boris Johsnon revealed the four key numbers that will determine if England needs more restrictions at this week’s gloomy Downing Street Briefing.
He said: "[We will be] guided by the hard medical data around four – efficacy of vaccines, severity of Omicron, speed or spread and rate of hospitalisations.
"We will monitor the data and keep it under review and we need to be humble in the face of the virus.
"As soon as it becomes clear boosters are capable of holding Omicron and we have boosted enough then we will be able to move forward as before."
Most read in Health
Covid 'Plan C' could include NHS passports for PUBS & tighter face mask rules
Omicron could spark Covid ‘pandemic 2.0’ if world stays in denial, warns scientist
Why fry-ups make your hangovers WORSE & how long to wait before boozing
UK Omicron infections rise by 45% in 24 hours as Brits plunged into Plan B
The PM added: "We don't yet know Omicron's severity, its rate of transmission nor still the effect of our vaccines against it.
"Omicron is spreading far rapidly than its Delta variant."
EFFICACY OF VACCINES
Omicron has mutations that have been shown in prior research to give variants the ability to dodge immunity – either from natural infection or vaccination.
There have been no real-world studies that look at how vaccines are working against Omicron yet.
🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
But laboratory studies show promise.
Pfizer has said that two doses of the vaccine showed a significantly reduced effectiveness against Omicron, suggesting people can still get infected with the variant.
However, two jabs are still expected to work against severe disease owing to how the body uses a range of immune cells, including T cells, for protection.
Boosters increased neutralising antibodies against Omicron in people’s blood 25-fold compared with two doses.
Experts said this showed that booster doses could offer good protection against Omicron, strengthening the argument for rapid top-up dose rollouts.
UKHSA Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins said: “Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against becoming severely ill from this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay."
The World Health Organization has said it was “highly unlikely” super-strain Omicron could completely evade protection offered by jabs.
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Tuesday: "We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalisation… There's no reason to expect that it wouldn't be so [for Omicron].”
SEVERITY OF OMICRON
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there was "some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta".
This could be due to three reasons – the way the virus has evolved, because it is infecting younger people, or because vaccines are dampening its severity.
In South Africa, where Omicron grew dramatically in a space of a few weeks, experts said hospitalisations were mostly in younger people, with children being admitted at much higher rates than before.
The UK has an older population, with an average age of 41, compared with 27 in South Africa.
Experts do not have all the answers for Omicron’s severity and caution that even if the disease is milder, it doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems.
If vaccine protection is weakened even just a little bit per person, it could drive up hospitalisations to concerning numbers.
It may also be harder to track if people with the bug suspect they only have a common cold and do not get tested or self-isolate.
So it’s hard to tell, at this stage, if a lower disease severity would put more or less pressure on the NHS.
SPEED OF SPREAD
Cases of Omicron in the UK are currently doubling every two to three days, the top medical officers and scientists say.
Public health chiefs are able to track Omicron cases in the testing system by looking for an indicator called SGTF or “S-gene dropout” that is not seen in Delta.
Until the week beginning 23 November 2021, the weekly count of cases with SGTF was routinely less than 150.
These cases were likely the Alpha variant, which also has SGTF but is not in great numbers in the UK currently.
In the most recent week of data, up to 6 December, SGTF cases increased to 705.
Some of these will be Alpha but most will be Omicron.
Prof Whitty showed this dramatic increase in graphs in Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing, commenting that cases were going up “incredibly fast now”.
The number of people testing positive for Covid generally across the UK is increasing and daily case numbers are at levels seen in January 2021.
RATE OF HOSPITALISATIONS
Sage said it is possible hospital admissions from the new variant in England could exceed 1,000 per day – and still be increasing – by the end of the year.
A modelling sub-group of Sage said that if Omicron’s immune escape reduces vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation from, say, 96 per cent to 92 per cent, “that would effectively double the number of vaccinated individuals who are not protected from hospitalisation”.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the “incredibly steep” increase in cases in South Africa means “we are now seeing this translate into increases in hospitalisations”.
He said there was some data suggesting “around about a 300 per cent increase in hospitalisations over the last week”.
The demographics are different in South Africa to the UK, for example not as many people are vaccinated.
Prof Whitty said: “At the moment the spread is in younger people who you would not expect to go into hospital.
“It’s once you start moving up the ages and into vulnerable groups that you will start to see that.”
Hospital rates are currently stable, as are deaths.
About 760 people are being admitted to hospitals in the UK every day and 122 are dying, compared to the record highs of 4,582 and 1,820, respectively, in January.
Most of the people ending up in hospital with Covid are unvaccinated.
Source: Read Full Article