Omicron will become UK’s dominant Covid variant ‘within weeks’, says scientist

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The Omicron variant will become the dominant strain of Covid in the UK “within weeks”, a scientist specialising in emerging infectious diseases has said. 

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was current concern that Omicron “is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant” and there were probably more than 1,000 cases in the UK at the moment.

He told BBC Breakfast it was not clear how evidence from South Africa would translate to the UK as we have a highly vaccinated population.

But said that it is only a matter of time until it overtakes Delta as the UK’s most dominant variant.

Prof Hunter added: “How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.

“The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that’s the question that we’re struggling to answer at the moment.”

He said travel restrictions would have a minor impact, adding that “one of the problems with travel restrictions like this is that it then de-motivates other countries to actually be open about their own situations for fear of what they would see as economic sanctions. So I think once the infection is spreading within a country, then border restrictions don’t really add anything.

“We’ve known that long before Covid. This has been knowledge that we’ve had for decades, if not centuries, to be honest.”

Asked if the UK was closer to the start of the pandemic than the end, Professor Paul Hunter told BBC Breakfast: “I wouldn’t necessarily agree totally with that. I think this virus is around (and) going to be around forever.

“The last time we had a big coronavirus outbreak we think was 130 years ago and that virus is still circulating, we get infected with it fairly regularly, every three to six years, and it basically just causes the common cold.

“That is likely the way that this pandemic is going, so we will be repeatedly infected with Covid, we will be repeatedly infected with new variants but by and large, they’ll just be another cause of the common cold and at that point, we’ll stop worrying about it, but we’re not we’re not quite there yet.”

Asked about Christmas, he said: “The thing about Christmas Day itself is that when we meet with our families, we actually interact with fewer people over the Christmas break than we do in our normal working week.

“Often respiratory viruses like Covid spread less rapidly through society while we’re on our Christmas break than they do at other times… So personally, I don’t think the primary focus of the Christmas break where you meet with your family on Christmas Day, Boxing Day is under threat.

“Clearly if you’re a vulnerable person, and if you’ve not been vaccinated or you’ve not had your booster then think twice about maybe going to the office party, that sort of thing, but in terms of the Christmas Day and surrounding days, I don’t think that is really under threat.”

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