Omicron: What we Know so far About the new COVID-19 Variant
The Delta variant, which was first detected in India towards the end of 2020, is still the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the UK. However, the new Omicron variant is beginning to spread, causing the UK government to take action and bring back compulsory face mask-wearing in public indoor settings such as on public transport, in venues and in shops.
What is Omicron?
Named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, Omicron is a highly mutated strain of COVID-19. It has spread rapidly through South Africa and has been causing concern in other countries, including the UK after cases were detected in various places in England and Scotland.
Why is it a Concern?
When a virus mutates, there is always the possibility that vaccines will be less effective against it and that it could affect people more severely. It is not yet certain exactly how dangerous Omicron is, as the data on this strain is brand new. However, the speed that it has been spreading in South Africa and the data that scientists have collected there gives us a clue to how it could affect people in the UK. One of the main worries over Omicron is that the NHS could be overwhelmed with new patients if the variant spreads to too many people in a short amount of time.
How can we Prevent the Spread?
The best way to slow down the spread of Omicron is to follow government guidelines and make sure to be up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. This includes wearing a face mask in public indoor settings, regular hand washing, avoiding people who show symptoms and self-isolating if you test positive for COVID-19 For more information and to book your COVID-19 vaccinations, please go to: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine/
Am I at Risk?
If you have been determined to be at high risk from health complications caused by COVID-19, then it is very important that you follow your doctor’s advice and take precautions to make it less likely that you will catch Omicron or any other variants of COVID-19. People who are most at risk include the elderly (especially people over 85), anyone with a pre-existing health problem that could be worsened by COVID-19 (e.g. lung conditions, compromised immune system, severe mental health problems) and pregnant women.
What if Someone I Know is at Risk?
If someone you know is at risk, then it is best that you take precautions to prevent yourself from catching and spreading COVID-19 to this person. If you have to come in close contact with them, then you must practice good hygiene, get tested regularly and make sure that your vaccines are up to date in order to reduce the risk of contracting Omicron (or any other COVID-19 variant).
What Happens Next?
We can’t be certain of what will happen in the future regarding Omicron. However, if we put in the effort to slow the spread, we can become more prepared to fight the new strain as more and more data is gathered on how it affects people and how it responds to vaccines. If you are feeling unwell and are presenting symptoms of COVID-19, please get tested and follow government guidelines. For more information, please go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-guidance