The next three weeks will be crucial in the fight against the “teenager” variant of Omicron, experts say.
As scientists gather to learn about the worrisome strain during the festive period, efforts are being stepped up to prevent its spread in the UK.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said in a press conference today that there was “no time to delay”, but there was no need to “panic”.
He expected it to be about three weeks before more information – around December 20 – when the new Covid restrictions will be in place. Reviewed by Boris Johnson.
While announcing that the booster will extended to all over 18 years old, Professor Van-Tam said: “It is always the case that at some point we will get a variant that interests us more.
“We are at that point with Omicron. It’s the new kid on the block for now.
“I think it’s right to say that scientists around the world, not just in the UK, unfortunately agree that this is getting more attention.
“But in acknowledging that concern, I want to be very clear and emphasize the very high level of uncertainty in our knowledge.
“There’s a lot more we don’t know than we know.
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“That’s going to change quickly as scientists campaign on this compared to what I’m predicting in the next three weeks. But people need to give us time to collect that data.”
He said at this stage, it seems Omicron is behind a explosion in South Africa. But it’s not clear – although there is no signal – it causes more severe disease.
As for how well the vaccine would work against Omicron, Prof Van-Tam said: “I want to make it clear that not all is ‘doom and gloom’ at this stage, and I do not want people to panic at this stage.
“If the effectiveness of a vaccine is reduced, it seems to some extent that the biggest impact might be in preventing infection, and hopefully a smaller effect in preventing serious illness.
“But we need to deal with that.”
Prof Van-Tam stands next to him as the head of the JCVI, the expert panel that today makes recommendations on tackling the variant with vaccines.
These include to extend boosters to 18- to 39-year-olds, inviting them three months after their second dose has passed.
Professor Van-Tam said: “The JCVI today announced the new urgency and further expansion of the reinforcement programme.
“We don’t know what will happen next. Like I said, the next three weeks will be scientifically uncertain.
“But while we wait for the fog to clear, in terms of what this variant really means, there is no time to delay and it is our chance to get ahead.
“Vaccine booster is the easiest thing we can do while we wait for that scientific fog to clear up.”
A few minutes later, in the House of Representatives, Secretary Heath Sajid Javid welcome advice from JCVI to get boosters for every UK adult.
“The strategy is to buy time and strengthen defenses while scientists learn more,” he said.
After three weeks, he said ministers would review the measures already in place – namely mandatory mask in stores and on public transport.
But he said the measures would not be maintained “for longer than a day is needed” if it turns out that Omicron is not more dangerous than Delta.
Experts previously said it looked like Omicron had toppled Delta in some areas in as little as two weeks.
That’s despite the fact that Delta is considered the “most relevant” version of the coronavirus to date.
total 11 cases of Omicron has been officially reported by the UK.
But experts say it’s likely nearly 200 and cases will almost certainly increase in the coming days.
Cath Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings, University of Leeds, said: “Vaccination is the most important mitigation measure as it can reduce transmission of the virus and it has a very noticeable effect. significantly in reducing the likelihood of serious illness.
“Even with good vaccination coverage, we still need to take other precautions to reduce our risk of exposure to the virus.
“The easiest ways to reduce the risk of infection are to use face coverings in busy, socially distant places, make sure spaces are well ventilated – so the air changes frequently – and make sure that people wash or sanitize their hands often.”
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https://www.thesun.co.uk/health/16887466/next-three-weeks-crucial-against-omicron-variant-jvt/ The next 3 weeks are crucial in the fight against the ‘baby kid’ Omicron variant, JVT warns