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Omicron: More than 100 cases of new Covid variant discovered in London

·4-min read
Omicron: More than 100 cases of new Covid variant discovered in London

More than 100 cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been identified in London, The Standard understands.

The capital, being a global city, is among the regions with the highest number of cases of the mutation in the UK, if not the highest.

So far, 437 cases of the Omicron have been identified in the UK after 101 were added to the total on Tuesday.

Scientists believe Omicron may spread more quickly than other variants and that it could evade vaccines to some degree, though, they are still expected to give good protection against hospitalisation and death from the virus.

Ministers are ramping up the booster programme and urging millions of people yet to have a first or second jab to get fully-vaccinated.

Boris Johnson told members of the Cabinet that, while it was too soon to draw conclusions on the Omicron variant, early indications showed it “was more transmissible than Delta”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman later said that no contingency measures were discussed, adding that it was still too early to implement the Government’s Covid Plan B, which includes the return to working from home, Covid passports to enter some venues and mandatory face coverings in indoor settings.

But he made it clear the Government would be able to move swiftly if data showed that the Omicron variant risked a major spike in infections which could overwhelm the NHS.

Scientists are due to give an update to Ministers by December 18 – which raises the possibility that a return to tougher lockdown restrictions may need to be implemented after MPs have broken up for the Christmas recess on December 16.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We are able to move relatively swiftly, obviously we want to make sure Parliament has its say…there will be elements that will need to be brought in but we have done the work already on things like certification to ensure we are ready to move if we need to.

“We do have further measures already set out through plan B which we can move to should they be required. It’s too early to say at this stage.”

Earlier, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said he thought Omicron would take over from Delta in the UK as the dominant variant of coronavirus “within a matter of weeks”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we can now say that this variant is spreading faster in the UK than the Delta variant at the same time.

“I am pretty confident that it’s going to take over (Delta) probably in a matter of weeks.”

Reports so far suggest that in most cases the disease from Omicron is mild.

However, if cases of the variant spiral then it could put the NHS under huge strain as it already struggles to cope with normal winter pressures and waiting lists of around six million.

Dr Barrett said more work would show what fraction of people are getting very ill with Omicron.

“And the potential problem is that even if that’s a very small fraction, a small fraction of a really big number can still cause problems,” he explained.

Professor Tim Spector, from the Covid Zoe app, said that in around ten days’ time the UK could have more cases of Omicron than some countries it had put on the travel red list.

The professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London told BBC Breakfast: “The official estimates are about 350-odd Omicron cases, and because the current testing is missing a lot of those, it’s probably at least 1,000 to 2,000 I would guess at the moment.

“And we are expecting this to be doubling about every two days at the moment, so if you do your maths - say assumed it’s 1,000 at the moment, and you think it’s going to be doubling every two days, you can see that those numbers are going to be pretty (high) certainly in about ten days time.

“By that time, we’ll probably have more cases than they will in some of those African countries.”

He questioned whether travel restrictions from some African countries could be justified once Omicron had spread in the UK to this extent.

Other scientists have suggested the doubling period could be longer, by a day or slightly more.

Prof Spector explained how even if Omicron led to mild symptoms, it could still impact hugely on the health service and lead to more deaths.

“If we assume that it is not more severe and possibly milder than Delta, but it’s much more transmissible,” he said.

“So it means that perhaps twice as many people are going to pass it on from when someone gets it in a crowd.

“Eventually you will get more deaths and problems, because nearly everyone is infected or re-infected.”

Prof Spector also said that data from the Zoe symptom study app suggests that about half of all cases at the moment of Delta are being “missed” because they are not presenting with “classic” Covid symptoms of fever, new and persistent cough and a loss or change of smell or taste.

“Omicron is probably more, much more similar to the mild variants we’re seeing in people who have been vaccinated with Delta than anything else,” he added.

“And so it is going to be producing cold-like symptoms that people won’t recognise as Covid if they just believe the official Government advice.”

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