Omicron is the name of the newest COVID-19 variant. The emergence of this new variant has pushed governments to action. In the UK, stricter travel requirements have been reimposed, and the use of face masks has once again become compulsory.
Below, we have compiled and answered some of the most common questions regarding the Omicron variant.
Is Omicron more infectious than previous variants?
The truth is that we simply don’t have enough information about the variant to make any conclusive statements about its long-term implications, but what we do know allows for some cautious optimism. Some data has suggested that the Omicron variant might be more infectious than previous variants, with it spreading across south Africa faster than the Delta variant. While this is concerning, it is worth noting that the countries in the south of Africa have some of the lowest immunisation rates, with only a quarter of those aged 18-34 having been vaccinated. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is still determining whether the increased infection rate is due to the variant itself or these other factors.
Is Omicron deadlier than previous variants?
While hospitalisation rates have increased, neither South Africa nor Botswana’s healthcare systems were swarmed with patients. This is rather positive as these nations have been hit hardest by Omicron. Most infected with the Omicron variant have not even experienced the more severe symptoms of COVID, including loss of smell and taste, but instead suffer from a mild cough. Most of those hospitalised were also unvaccinated.
However, the population in these countries are on average much younger than those of Europe or the U.S. Younger people tend to suffer milder symptoms and therefore it is unclear if Omicron's symptoms are actually milder or if they only appear to be so because of the average age of the infected.
It will be a few weeks before the WHO can determine the impact accurately, but as for now there is no indication that it is more severe than previous variants.
Do existing COVID-19 tests identify the Omicron variant?
Existing tests will detect the Omicron variant. This means that all tests, whether PCR or Lateral Flow, can still be used. However, the reason the UK now uses PCR tests upon entry is because PCR tests can be sent for genomic sequencing to identify the strain of the virus. For Day 2 tests, positive results are often (but not always) sent for sequencing to check the variants that might be entering the country from abroad - the strain is not reported back to you as the patient (or to us), but is disclosed to Public Health England for public health reasons.
Do existing vaccines work on the Omicron variant?
Based on current information it may be the case that vaccines offer less protection against infection by the Omicron variant. However, it is still believed that vaccinated individuals will be less likely to suffer severe symptoms than those who are unvaccinated. The pharmaceutical companies who have developed the vaccines are also confident in their ability to tweak the formula in order to combat this variant. Therefore, getting vaccinated and receiving the booster shot are essential to protect yourself and your loved ones.
What can I do to protect myself against the Omicron variant?
The guidance remains the same as it always has been. It is critical to maintain social distancing, test often, wear proper fitting face masks indoors and get your vaccinations and boosters as soon as they become available.
To stay up to date with the spread of the Omicron variant and to stay safe, please use the below resources:
From £250In Stock | Free Delivery For Self Tests
Results are typically available the same day by midnight.
This test is suitable for travel testing in addition to general testing.