All Brits ‘will be exposed to Omicron in coming weeks’ as NHS ramps up booster drive

BRITS have been warned they are very likely to be exposed to Omicron in the coming weeks, as experts say two jabs is not enough protection.

The variant is growing at a speed never seen before and two doses of the Covid vaccine offer limited defences.

Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease, said Omicron is spreading so fast that people are “very likely” to meet someone infected with it unless they are “living the life of a hermit”.

It comes at a time when people are being told to work from home but continue to enjoy Christmas celebrations.

Prof Riley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Omicron is spreading so quickly that, I think, unless you are living the life of a hermit, you are very likely to come across it in the next few weeks.

“I don’t think anyone should be going around thinking they are not going to catch it, I think that situation has changed.”

It comes as the Health Secretary has warned that Covid cases in London are almost dominated by Omicron already.

Sajid Javid told Sky News Omicron was spreading at a "phenomenal rate" and now accounted for about 40 per cent of infections in London.

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Following London, 20 per cent of Covid cases in the South East are caused by Omicron, and 12.3 per cent in East England, data from the UK Health and Security Agency shows.

It comes after experts warned that Omicron “will find” those who are unvaccinated.

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But two doses of the Covid jab alone are not enough to protect against the strain either, UK data shows.

A booster shot is the best protection against Omicron, with early data suggesting it pushes efficacy back up to 75 per cent. 

More than 40 per cent of UK adults have already had a booster vaccination but the Prime Minister has moved forward his target to offer jabs to all adults by the end of December. 

Prof Riley, a University of Edinburgh academic, also warned “a lot of people” could still end up in hospital even Omicron turns out to be milder, as early data suggest. 

She said: “There is a huge ‘if’ about this, ‘is it milder?’. I think it is very dangerous to compare data from South Africa, say, to the UK.

HOSPITAL PRESSURES

“Even if it is milder and, therefore, a smaller proportion of infected people end up in hospital, given that so many people are going to come across this virus, even a small proportion of a lot of people is a lot of people in hospital.”

It comes as Mr Javid revealed the first hospitalisations with Omicron have occurred.

He said in a round of interview this morning that in England, there’s about 10 people in hospital with Omicron, with more in Scotland.

Mr Javid said on BBC Breakfast: “The number of infections is doubling every two or three days, there’s going to be a tidal wave of infection.” 

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA, also confirmed that they are getting reports of individuals going into hospital over the last few days with the variant.

She told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “We’re also seeing hospitals diagnose more and more people coming through their emergency departments, and we expect to see increases in that number. I have not had a report of death yet.

“But it’s really important to remember it is just over two weeks since we first detected the cases in the United Kingdom, and that hospitalisations start to be seen in about two weeks and deaths usually at three to four weeks.

“I think it’s too early to make any assumptions at this point in time.”

Dr Kit Yates, senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, said hospital admissions could reach 10,000 a day. 

He told Sky News: “If we are doubling every three days, that could increase to 100,000 by the end of the month. 

“If it’s doubling every two days – and we think it’s somewhere in between – then we could be talking about maybe 900,000 cases a day by the end of the month, and that’s the ones that we are catching, not the ones that were missing.

“And certainly in terms of hospitalisations, there’s been some estimates from Denmark suggesting about 1 per cent of Omicron cases being hospitalised, so if we are up at a million cases, then we could be talking about 10,000 hospitalisations a day, which is more than double what we saw last January.

“So it’s a concern for sure.”

Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) predict that the super-strain will cause thousands more hospitalisations, depending on how it is tackled.

In calculations published on Saturday, the group projects a peak of between 2,410 and 7,190 daily hospital admissions in England.

For comparison, the January peak was 3,800.

The worst case scenario assumed the variant evaded vaccines at a high rate as well as weakened effectiveness against the variant from boosters.

The experts – whose modelling feeds into Government scientific advice – said if lockdown-style measures were used from December, rather than the current Plan B, hundreds of thousands of hospitalisations could be avoided. 

But the models were based on data that is now out of date, with the UKHSA revealing vaccines are more effective against Omicron than expected. 

Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said the numbers are not “firm predictions” because there is only “sketchy data” for Omicron.

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