Scientific adviser: We don’t yet know if Omicron resists vaccines or is more contagious

28 November 2021, 10:55 | Updated: 28 November 2021, 11:05

By Asher McShane

A leading scientific adviser to the Government told LBC today that more time is needed before the effects of the Omicron Covid variant can be properly understood.

Dr Mike Tildesley, Associate Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M, the modelling subgroup of Sage), told LBC it is "very early days" on the Omicron Covid-19 variant but scientists will hopefully have new data soon.

He said: "What we do is we do model what can happen when new variants come in.

"There's an awful lot of uncertainty which really needs to be resolved because we've seen these changes and measures but don't yet know whether this new variant will significantly evade immunity from the vaccines or if it's more transmissible so we can model this with a range of uncertainties around this, but it's actually very important, particularly when it comes to looking at effectiveness of new measures, whether new measures are really needed for us to try and resolve those uncertainties as rapidly as possible."

Dr Mike Tildesley told LBC it's "very early days" on the Omicron variant
Dr Mike Tildesley told LBC it's "very early days" on the Omicron variant. Picture: LBC

He said hopefully over the next week there will be more data that can be collected but added: "I suspect it's going to be a while yet before we really have confidence as to what this new variant is going to do."

Dr Tildesley added that the Government is in a "difficult" position and said: "The problem that the Government have, of course, is that in a sense they're caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to controls, because if they don't put in controls and then it turns out that Omicron is really bad, then, of course, they're reacting too late.

"If they do put in controls, and it turns out, actually Omicron is no more risky than Delta was, that, of course, they're ... under fire for introducing measures when they're not needed."

Boris Johnson has ordered the return of mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport, and for contacts of Omicron cases to self-isolate, even if they are vaccinated, after the concerning variant was detected in Britain.

All international arrivals will have to take a PCR test by the end of their second day in the UK, as the Prime Minister prepared to reimpose measures to control the spread of coronavirus over fears the new strain could evade existing vaccines.

The Prime Minister said the "temporary and precautionary" measures will be reviewed in three weeks, while the Government's vaccine experts will be tasked with considering whether to extend booster jabs to all over-18s.

Mr Johnson announced the strengthening of England's rules at a Downing Street press conference, after two cases of Omicron were identified, in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, with both linked to travel to southern Africa.

He said the strain, designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation, appears to spread "very rapidly", can transmit between the double-vaccinated and may partially reduce the protection of existing vaccines.

Downing Street said compulsory mask-wearing will return in England's shops and on public transport in the coming week, falling back into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but will not be required in pubs and restaurants.

To slow the "seeding" of the virus in the UK, Mr Johnson said anyone who enters the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

But the Prime Minister said border measures can "only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together", so all contacts with a suspected case of the new variant will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they intend to mirror the border restrictions.

On Saturday, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed the two Omicron cases in England after genomic sequencing overnight.

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