Omicron: January lockdown ‘cannot be ruled out’ as cases doubling every two days and numbers highest in London


ases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant are doubling every two to three days with London and Scotland at the epicentres of the spread, a leading epidemiologist revealed on Wednesday.

Professor Neil Ferguson said a January lockdown could not be ruled out if hospitalisations spiral over Christmas and into the New Year.

It comes as the Government is considering fresh measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including vaccine passports and the return of working from home advice.

“Case numbers are doubling at least every three days maybe even every two days at the moment,” Professor Ferguson told BBC 4’s Today programme.

“So it is accelerating very fast. To put that in context it is the same if not faster than we saw with the original strain of the virus in March of last year so it is a concern.”

Professor Ferguson said it appears that Omicron can evade vaccine antibodies better than any strain of the virus so far and protection against mild disease is halved in the double jabbed.

However early data from South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, shows the vaccinated, particularly those who have had a booster jab, are protected against severe disease and symptoms are mild.

Omicron is likely to overtake the dominant Delta variant in the UK before Christmas if it continues to spread at its current rate.

Professor Ferguson said the variant had been “detected it almost every region” but cases are higher in London as city which sees a large number of visitors from abroad.

The variant could have been “seeded” in Scotland during the COP26 climate change summit last month, he said.

He added: “There is a rational just epidemiologically just to try and slow this down to us more time to principally get boosters into people’s arms because we do think that people who are boosted will have the best level of protection, but also to buy us more time to better characterise the threat.

“If you imagine a Plan B plus with working from home might slow it down so it wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down so it’s doubling rather than every two or three days every five or six days. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to charicterise this virus better and boost population immunity.”

Plans for people to work from home around the Christmas period and the introduction of vaccine passports are being drawn up by the Government to slow the spread of the variant.

Bu the Cabinet is said to be split over the proposals.

Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said: “We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalisation, and there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so for Omicron.”


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