Britain prepares for 1 million Omicron cases as the Covid variant spreads


LONDON – The surge in Omicron-Covid cases in the UK is so steep that the country has been told it should hit a million cases by the end of the month.

The UK health authority said Wednesday that omicron has a significant growth advantage over the Delta variant, “which means it is likely to outperform Delta in the UK and become the dominant variant”.

That assessment is based on an analysis of UK data showing increased risk of transmission in households, increased secondary attack rates (the likelihood of each case infecting a different person) and increased growth rates compared to Delta, the UKHSA said.

“If the growth rate and doubling time continue as we have seen in the last 2 weeks, we assume that in the next 2 to 4 weeks at least 50% of the coronavirus cases will be caused by the Omicron variant” , it said in a statement.

The UK currently has 568 confirmed cases of the variant, but UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told UK lawmakers on Wednesday evening that “we know the real number of infections will be significantly higher”.

“The UK Health Authority estimates that the [current] The number of infections will be about 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, and that brings the number of infections closer to 10,000, ”he said.

“At the currently observed doubling rate of two and a half to three days by the end of this month, infections could exceed a million,” warned Javid, saying the UK is facing the “twin threats” of Omicron and Delta variant, which still hold the majority of cases worldwide matters.

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told CNBC on Thursday that “the Omicron data is hugely worrying,” pointing to the 2.5-day doubling of cases in the UK.

A fan wearing a face mask looks on during the Sky Bet Championship game between Nottingham Forest and Fulham at the City Ground on October 24, 2021 in Nottingham, England.

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Altmann emphasized, however, that the immunology landscape with Omicron is not much worse than with the Delta variant.

“As in if you are an unvaccinated person or a two-dose vaccinated person who has lost weight [whose vaccine immunity has waned] They essentially have basic protection, little protection from infection, ”he told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe.

“If you’ve had a booster dose or two doses plus a previous infection, you are probably in the safe zone and that is what it looks like now in three different Omicron studies and in Delta studies.”

Risk profile

The Omicron variant was first spotted in South Africa in November and reported to the World Health Organization on November 24th. Two days later, the WHO described it as a “variant of concern” and found that it had mutations that were associated with increased transmissibility.

Since then, the variant has been identified in 57 countries around the world, according to the latest WHO record, and there are increasing cases of community transmission unrelated to travel.

Experts and vaccine manufacturers have made an effort to assess the risk profile of the variant. In particular, they are focusing on how quickly it spreads, whether it causes more serious illness and could lead to an increase in hospital admissions and deaths, and whether it undermines Covid vaccines.

Preliminary data, small studies, and anecdotal evidence suggest that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than Delta, but it causes milder illness and could undermine the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines currently in use.

However, the WHO technical director on Covid-19 stressed on Wednesday that it is “too early to conclude” that the omicron symptoms are weaker. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added that Omicron could change the course of the pandemic.

A number of countries responded to news about the variant with flight bans or quarantines for visitors from countries in southern Africa where the Omicron variant was first detected, as many are already struggling with an increase in delta cases in winter.

The UK went further on Wednesday, advising people who could work from home and introducing stricter measures on wearing masks and using Covid passports.

There has been several positive and negative news regarding the Omicron variant this week, but global financial markets have rallied in recent days as traders have bet that the economic impact of the Omicron-Covid variant will not be as severe as it was initially feared.

Fourth shot

Bourla’s comments came after preliminary research showed the Omicron variant can undermine protective antibodies created by the company’s vaccine, which it developed with BioNTech.

The vaccine makers released results from an initial laboratory study on Wednesday showing that a third dose of vaccine was effective in controlling the Omicron variant, but the effectiveness of the first two-dose series of vaccinations was significantly reduced.

“When we see real data, [we] will determine if and for how long the omicron is well covered by the third dose, “Bourla told CNBC.” And the second point, I think we’re going to need a fourth dose, “he added.

– CNBC’s Annika Kim Constantino and Spencer Kimball contributed to this story.