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New Omicron Data Has "Glimmer Of Christmas Hope" But More Research Needed, Says Leading Scientist

Covid test centre

3 min read

It is too early to "downgrade" the seriousness of Omicron despite this week's positive data on the new variant, a leading scientist has said.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), on Friday morning said while findings they published yesterday contained "a glimmer of Christmas hope," it would be premature to draw firm conclusions about the risk it poses to public health.

The UKHSA on Thursday said that people who catch Omicron, which has spread rapidly across the UK in recent weeks, were estimated to be 50 and 70% less likely to end up in hospital, and 31 to 45% less likely to attend A&E.

The findings were broadly in line with separate studies published this week by Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh, as well as research carried out in South Africa.

However, the figure of 70% less likelihood to be admitted to hospital is preliminary, UKHSA said, and highly uncertain because of the small numbers of Omicron cases currently in hospital.

Harries reinforced this point this morning, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the UKHSA findings were based on "very preliminary analysis and very small numbers".

“There’s a glimmer of Christmas hope in the findings we published yesterday but it definitely isn’t at that point at which we could downgrade it as a serious threat," she said.

Harries said there were "a number of different reasons" why scientists would need to continue studying Omicron data, including that its impact on the elderly is less clear than its impact on younger people.

"Critically, what we are seeing is Omicron largely in young people and it’s only just now that the cases are starting to tip into the older population, particularly the 60 and 70-plus year olds," she said.

Nonetheless, the new research has led to increased hope within government that it will not have to impose more stringent Covid restrictions in England before the New Year, which the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have decided to do.

Two government sources told The Telegraph that ministers moving to bring in beefed-up rules in the days between Christmas and New Year was less likely in light of the UKHSA findings.

Boris Johnson today used his Christmas message to urge people to get their booster jab, describing it as an "invisible and invaluable present" for everyone in the country.

The Prime Minister, speaking after the number of people to be boosted topped 30 million, said getting a third dose of the Covid vaccine would not just benefit the individual, but "friends and family and everyone we meet," and help ensure that "next year's festivities are even better than this year’s".

He stressed that the pandemic was far from over, and encouraged people to regularly test and "take extra care" this Christmas, especially when mixing with elderly people.

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