The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is less likely to result in severe disease and hospital admission, Government public health experts have said.
Publishing preliminary findings of its research into the new variant, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said Omicron appears to result in less severe disease for those infected with it.
However, the agency warned that the new strain is more transmissible than previous variants such as Delta, and could still lead to significant numbers of people needing hospital treatment over coming weeks.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the latest data as “promising” but urged the public to remain cautious over the Christmas break, adding it was “still too early to determine next steps”.
The announcement comes as the UK experienced yet another record-breaking number of daily reported Covid cases, with 119,789 reported as of 9am on Thursday.
The results of the research are consistent with that of two other early studies into Omicron by Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh, both released on Wednesday.
According to analysis by the UKHSA, the risk of hospital admission for an identified case with Omicron is reduced compared with a case of Delta.
Someone with Omicron is estimated to be as much as 45% less likely to attend A&E compared with Delta, and as much as 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital.
However, Omicron is believed to be infecting more people who have previously had Covid, with 9.5% of people with Omicron having had it before.
Vaccination is also believed to give less protection against Omicron, although a booster jab provides more protection against symptomatic disease compared with the first two doses alone.
Data suggests protection starts to wane 10 weeks after booster vaccination.
The agency has also warned that Omicron’s faster rate of transmission than Delta may mean that a large number of people are likely to require hospital admission, leading to a large amount of pressure on the NHS.
Mr Javid said: “This new UKHSA data on Omicron is promising – while two doses of the vaccine aren’t enough, we know boosters offer significant protection against the variant and early evidence suggests this strain may be less severe than Delta.
“However, cases of the variant continue to rise at an extraordinary rate – already surpassing the record daily number in the pandemic. Hospital admissions are increasing, and we cannot risk the NHS being overwhelmed.
“This is early-stage analysis and we continue to monitor the data hour by hour. It is still too early to determine next steps, so please stay cautious this Christmas and get your booster as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.”