UK braces for Omicron “tidal wave”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered that vaccine booster jabs be brought forward by a month, as the nation’s medical advisers increased Britain’s five-stage COVID alert level from three to four. Level four means that “transmission is high and pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising”, whereas level three meant that the epidemic was in general circulation.

1,239 cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were reported on Sunday, bringing the country’s total of Omicron cases to 3,137, and Johnson has warned that Britain is facing a “tidal wave” of Omicron:

“No one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming,” the British Prime Minister said in a televised ­address, after the country’s medical advisers raised the Covid alert level due to a “rapid increase” in ­infection from the variant.

Mr Johnson… called the spread of the mutation “an emergency”, as Omicron was doubling every two to three days.

“We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop,” he said…

The four chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland said the move was prompted by advice from the public health body the UK Health Security Agency.

“Transmission of COVID-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds ­additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services,” the officers said.

“Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced … hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly”…

In England, face masks were made compulsory in many indoor public places last Friday and, from Monday, people were advised to work from home if possible.

The UK’s COVID infections are running at their second highest level on record, just below the January peak:

Hospitalisations, on the other hand, are relatively low:

As are deaths:

It will be interesting to watch how the explosion of Omicron cases in the UK translates into hospitalisations and deaths in the weeks ahead.

Initial reports are that Omicron infections have so far caused “mild” illness or asymptomatic cases. Hopefully this continues.

The optimistic scenario is that the Omicron strain, while very contagious, ends up being far less lethal than the Delta or earlier strains. If this is the case, then Omicron could spread rapidly among the world’s population, become the dominant strain, effectively vaccinate the world, deliver ‘herd immunity’ and end the pandemic.

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