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What’s the difference between Omicron and other variants?

Omicron is the most heavily mutated version of coronavirus found so far, with lots of different mutations that haven’t been seen before. The most concerning difference between Omicron and other known variants is that it has an “unusual constellation of mutations,” according to the director of South Africa’s Center for Epidemic Response and Innovative.

How is it detected?

The PCR tests continue to detect infection, including Omicron. Swabs from PCR tests, which are sent to labs for analysis, can show if the variant looks like Omicron, Delta, Beta or a different strain. 

Another way to detect it is with Rapid or lateral flow tests (LFTs), which can be used at home. They tell you if you’re negative or positive with coronavirus, but they can’t tell you which variant you are infected with.

If you get a positive LFT result, you must self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test as soon as possible to confirm the result.

How serious are the effects of Omicron?

Omicron was brought to our attention on the 26th November 2021, when the world was alerted of a fast-spreading variant (SARS-CoV-2) Omicron. It has now been detected in more than 30 countries and scientists are in a race to understand the threat of the variant. There are signs it potentially could bypass some of our immunity, however, there are also claims that it could be milder than earlier versions of Covid, such as Delta. It might take scientists weeks to understand the transmissibility and severity of Omicron, as well as its potential to bypass vaccines and cause reinfections.

Deputy PM Raab has announced that there are currently 10 people in England who have been admitted to hospital with Omicron, while one person on the 13th December 2021 had died with the variant. Thousands of cases of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus have now been detected in the UK, but only a small number of people are ending up in hospital.

With infections doubling every two to three days, health officials are warning that a large wave will soon hit the UK. Mr Sajid Javid, a British politician, told MPs “There are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK.” Sajid Javid also added that “in the next 48 hours” Omicron is expected to become the dominant variant in the capital. It is much more transmissible than other variants and currently represents more than 44% of infections in London.

What are the symptoms?

Scientists and Doctors believe the symptoms of the Omicron are different from previous strains. Although some people have mild reactions, many have become aware that they are not the same as previous COVID symptoms. 

Symptoms of the Alpha, Delta and Beta strains include;

  • A high temperature
  • A new, continuous cough
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell/taste

But early reports show Omicron to have some symptoms of its own;

  • A scratchy throat (as opposed to a sore throat)
  • Runny nose 
  • Extreme tiredness
  • A dry cough
  • Mild muscle aches
  • Lower back pain
  • Night sweats

What are the protocols?

The advice for anyone who has Covid symptoms and a positive test result (any variant) are still the same. You must stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days. If you come into close contact with someone who tests positive in England from Tuesday 14th December, people who are double-vaccinated should take daily lateral flow tests for seven days, rather than immediately self-isolating. 

New Protocols

Mr Javid updated MPs on new changes to COVID passports in England.

The changes include:

  • People in England will need two jabs and a booster dose to get into large venues, or a negative lateral flow test. 
  • The COVID pass for international travel will include those from the ages of 12 to 15 years old.

Why do boosters work better than two doses of the vaccine?

When tackling the omicron variant, studies have found that compared to two doses of the Covid vaccine, a booster shot is far more effective in offering a significant level of protection. Two years ago, before Omicron, studies had shown that the immunity provided by the Covid vaccines diminished around six months, therefore the booster shots are essential to increase protective antibodies to fight infection. Although the double vaccine should still reduce the risk and stop you becoming hospitalized, the protection you receive after a third dose is far better.  

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