Omicron sub-variant discussed by infectious disease expert
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The pandemic is gathering steam once again, with case rates in England the highest they have ever been. The rise could see an increase in death and hospital admissions, experts have warned in a new study. According to the latest data from Imperial College London’s latest React-1 study, the two variants of Omicron – BA.1 and BA.2 – have caused twin peaks in the pandemic – one in January, and another in March.
Professor Christl Donnelly, Jameel Institute, Imperial College London, and Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, said: “It’s still the case that if you see more infection, you would expect, even if it’s a very small proportion of those, to see more of the severe outcomes.
“So we don’t yet know when we’ll see a peak in the oldest age group – the 55 plus – and because those people are at higher risk of severe outcomes, that is a particular worry.
“It is possible if the prevalence continues to go up, that you will see further increases in the severe outcome rates.”
From March 8 to March 31 there was a prevalence of 6.37 percent compared to 4.41 percent in January.
The study, which has been published as a preprint, said: “We observed Omicron ‘twin peaks’ as BA.1 replaced Delta and BA.2 replaced BA.1, while at the same time, society opened up with all legal restrictions related to Covid-19 in England lifted as part of its ‘Living with Covid-19’ strategy.
“Nonetheless there are worrying signs of increasing hospitalisations and deaths due to Covid-19 in England during March 2022, which may reflect the very high and increasing rates of infection, particularly in older people.
“These trends in England may presage what might be expected in the USA and other countries as BA.2 takes hold as the predominant variant worldwide.”
The latest data from round 19 will be the last from the React study, which has been running since May 2020.
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However, the experts warn that ongoing surveillance is needed to monitor severe outcomes from the disease and to track new variants as they emerge.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme, and chairman in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine, Imperial College London, said: “One thing we’ve learned and is very, very clear looking at that whole pattern over the 23 months, is things go along and then something happens.
“It is really important that there is continued surveillance looking for these new variants, and I believe that will be the case.
“As part of the ongoing surveillance of Sars-CoV-2 Covid-19 there is going to be a sequencing facility looking nationally at these variants and picking them up as they appear in the population.”
Responding to the findings, Doctor Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “We are now seeing record numbers of people currently infected with Covid, and it’s particularly concerning to note the unprecedented and still rising levels in older people.
“Nearly 20,000 people are now in hospital with Covid in England and the NHS, and its exhausted staff are once again really struggling to cope with increasing admissions and bed occupancy.
“NHS leaders and their teams are increasing their Covid services and reopening coronavirus wards, but the Government must take heed, combined with chronic staff shortages, and a waiting list backlog that now tops 6.1 million, we really need a realistic conversation about the current situation in the health service.”
What are the symptoms to spot?
The symptoms of Covid have changed as successive variants have come to the fore.
The NHS recently added nine new symptoms to its official list.
Symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) in adults can include:
- A high temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- An aching body
- A headache
- A sore throat
- A blocked or runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling sick or being sick.
“The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu,” says the NHS.
It advises trying to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and either:
You have a high temperature
You do not feel well enough to go to work or do your normal activities.
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