COVID: Warning that Omicron could make up half of all EU cases in coming months

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  • Covid-19
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Shoppers in Birmingham, as mask wearing in stores and on public transport becomes mandatory to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. Picture date: Tuesday November 30, 2021.
Governments across the world are reintroducing mask rules over Omicron fears. (PA)

Omicron could become the dominant COVID variant in the EU in the coming months, a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned.

The report noted Omicron was spreading around the world, with 70 cases identified in 13 EU nations on 1 December.

Most of the cases reported have some connection with southern Africa — where it is thought Omicron originated from — but nations are beginning to report incidents of community transmission. 

The report noted all cases of Omicron in the EU so far have been either mild or asymptomatic.

The ECDC emphasised that not much is known about the variant at the moment as it was only discovered a week ago.

Watch: COVID-19: Spain steps up vaccine drive amid Omicron variant fears

Read more: Germany could make Covid vaccination mandatory, says Merkel

But they did say the current evidence suggests Omicron could be significantly more transmissible than the Delta variant, which is the dominant strain across Europe. 

The report said their mathematical modelling indicates Omicron could cause over half of all COVID infections in the EU within the next few months.

They said this could happen even sooner if Omicron is more transmissible than is currently thought.

The ECDC also said there may be a chance the current vaccines may be less effective against the variant, noting: "The presence of multiple mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron VOC indicates a high likelihood of reduction of neutralising activity by antibodies induced by infection or vaccination."

They said this also meant there was an increased chance of reinfection but they did say that "the full extent to which the Omicron VOC evades or erodes existing vaccine- or infection-derived immunity remains uncertain". 

A man waits to board a train at Ashford Railway Station in Kent, as mask wearing on public transport becomes mandatory to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. Picture date: Tuesday November 30, 2021.
Masks are now required on public transport in England. (PA)

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The report concludes the risk of Omicron to the EU is currently high to very high, even though there is currently not enough data to make a full assessment. 

The ECDC recommends the governments of the EU redouble their efforts to vaccinate unvaccinated people and provide boosters to the most at risk and all people over 40.

It also called for tighter lockdown measures, social distancing, masks and improved contact tracing.

Finally, they suggested: "Travel-related measures should be carefully considered in light of the latest epidemiological situation."

Global health leaders on Monday said more will be known about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

Watch: COVID-19: South Africa doctors see 'skyrocketing' cases in vaccinated and unvaccinated but symptoms 'mild' in Omicron hotspot

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization (WHO), said it is still “very early days” in terms of understanding the new variant, but said information is coming in daily.

The Omicron variant has been reported in 23 countries, according to the WHO.

More than 10 cases of Omicron have now been detected in the UK. 

England tightened its COVID rules on Tuesday making masks mandatory in shops and on public transport, similar to the rules in the rest of the UK.

The UK also tightened travel restrictions requiring anyone arriving in the country to take a PCR test and isolate until they get their result back.

However, the government has so far resisted calls to go any further with restrictions.

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that events should not be cancelled due to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Speaking to broadcasters, the prime minister said: “The most important thing is that people should follow the guidance that we’ve set out and people shouldn’t be cancelling things, and there’s no need for that at all, that’s not what we’re saying.”

He said apart from the measures introduced, “we want people to continue as they are”.

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