Omicron could fuel largest wave of pandemic, government advisers warn

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Leading government scientific advisers have warned that the Omron version could cause the UK’s biggest wave of COVID cases yet, if allowed to spread unchecked.

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Advisors to Sage cautioned that a “very strict response” may be needed from Downing Street, while scientists from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said a spike in cases could overwhelm the NHS.

The warnings came as nine new cases of the more transmissible Omicron variant were identified in England, bringing the total to 22.


Boris Johnson has clashed with health officials and independent scientists about the level of restrictions, with the prime minister insisting that measures introduced this week – mandatory masks in shops and public transport, and more stringent checks on passengers – should be taken to curb cases and keep the new version away.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that travel restrictions would not stop the international spread of omicrons, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged that such cases would continue to rise in the UK.

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A total of 48,374 Covid infections were reported on Wednesday, with 171 deaths, taking the UK death toll to 169,020.

Cases are also high in Europe, with the continent’s politicians ready to debate making COVID vaccination mandatory due to low vaccination rates in the 27-nation bloc. “It makes sense and is appropriate to lead this discussion now,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, adding that 150 million Europeans are illiterate.

Meanwhile, clear information on Omicron’s transmittance is expected “within days”, according to the WHO. The government’s own sage advisor, leaked in minutes BBC, noted that it is too early to determine the severity of disease caused by heterogeneity or to reach firm conclusions because of data limitations.

However, at the November 29 meeting, scientists said that “any significant reduction in protection against infection could result in a much larger wave of infections. This in turn would potentially lead to higher numbers of hospitalizations.” , even being less affected by serious illness would have protection.

“Before the data is available, it is important to be prepared for a potentially very significant wave of infections with the hospitals concerned.”

Nervtag, a sub-group of Sage, echoed similar warnings during an “extraordinary meeting” held on November 25. “We cannot rule out that this wave will be of the same or even greater magnitude than the previous waves,” advisors said in minutes revealed on Wednesday.

In the event of such an outcome, this increase in infections “would be accompanied by a wave of severe cases, and the subgroup cannot rule out that this could be enough to overwhelm NHS capacity,” Nervatag said. .

Experts likewise called for “early and strong action” to limit the spread of the variant in the UK. He did not specify the measures, but reiterated the need to accelerate Britain’s vaccine programme. The PM said on Tuesday that the government is aiming to provide boosters to all adults by the end of January.

For now, scientists are racing to better understand Omicron’s transmissibility, its lethality, and its ability to evade immunity acquired through injection or infection.

The WHO said early indications suggest that cases caused by the variant are “mild”, adding that there is no evidence of Omicron reducing the effectiveness of vaccines – yet the body has no data to support its claim. failed to provide.

Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, said it is “definitely too soon” about such claims.

If immune levels in the population are insufficient to provide protection, then omicron “could spread rapidly across the UK and we could see a serious increase in hospitalisations,” Prof Hunter said.

“On the other hand, if it spreads less rapidly and existing immunity is still sufficient to reduce the risk of serious disease, it may have only a relatively small impact on health care provision. We don’t know yet.”

Although top government scientists are unsure how big the wave of Omicron infections could be, Sage advisors warned that “very stringent response measures” may be needed from Downing Street.

During the 29 November meeting, experts noted that pre-departure COVID testing would be “valuable” for travelers returning to the UK. They say the current policy of a single PCR test within two days of arrival would “identify significantly fewer cases” than additional testing on day five or eighth.

No 10 said ministers make “balanced” decisions on the scientific advice it receives. Asked whether the government had ignored the guidance, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We take note of any clinical advice we receive at all times, and then we need to find out what is right, A balanced decision needs to be taken on this.”

Labor said the lack of pre-departure testing for those flying to the UK from abroad was “a clear gap in the country’s defence” against the Omicron version – calling for “tougher action at the border now”.


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