Most infected with Omicron ‘won’t get seriously ill’, says Neil Ferguson

·3-min read
Most infected with Omicron ‘won’t get seriously ill’, says Neil Ferguson

Omicron is spreading rapidly in the UK but most Britons won’t get seriously ill because of rising immunity, an expert advising the Government has said.

Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said having two vaccinations or Covid previously offers 85 to 90 per cent protection from serious illness.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed in the next week as case numbers rise dramatically.

Ferguson, known as Professor Lockdown, is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Its scientists are warning that Christmas may have to be cancelled for a second year with calls for a two-week circuit breaker lockdown and a ban on indoor mixing to prevent hospitalisations from the Omicron variant peaking at 3,000 a day.

Professor Ferguson added: “From a public health perspective, it means we expect immunity people have built up over the last 12 months to be better preserved against severe disease than against infection.

“If you’ve been infected before or only had two doses of the vaccine you have very little protection against being infected with Omicron.

“But the protection against severe disease should hold up well. Perhaps 85 to 90 per cent protection.”

He added that Omicron did not yet appear to be more severe than the previous Delta and Alpha variants.

The scientist said: “The severity aspect is the least well defined because we’ve observed relatively few hospitalisations.

“Case numbers are low. We don’t see a particularly strong signal of any change in severity compared with Delta.

“That’s not to say it’s going to look like the Alpha wave we had a year ago because we do expect all those people with immunity and vaccination will have milder disease.

‘But intrinsically Omicron doesn’t look to be much different to Delta. There is a lot of uncertainty so we’ll know a lot more about that in a week’s time because numbers of cases and hospitalisations are building quickly.’

The UK reported more than 90,000 new Covid cases in another record daily total on Friday (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)
The UK reported more than 90,000 new Covid cases in another record daily total on Friday (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Ferguson also said the 10-day quarantine should be cut to seven days if people are made to test negative before they are released.

“It’s always a trade-off between effectiveness and people’s adherence. If it could be coupled with lateral flow testing, testing negative to release, and that was looked at some months ago.

“All the modelling and analysis would suggest if it’s coupled with lateral flow testing it’s not going to reduce the effectiveness of the measures that much.

“If it’s a change from 10 days to seven days with no testing then you have a slightly bigger impact on the effectiveness of the measures.”

A major incident has been declared in London amid “huge concern” at the spread of Omicron.

It comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “incredibly worried” about staff absences in vital public services including the NHS, fire service and police due to rapidly rising cases.

The declaration of a major incident will allow authorities to work together and support each other to reduce service disruption and allow more time to give out booster jabs, the mayor’s office said.

Mr Khan said Covid-19 cases in London have rapidly increased, with 65,525 new positive tests in the past seven days, and 26,418 cases reported in the last 24 hour period alone – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

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