Omicron ‘will soon be dominant Covid variant here’ warns Greater Manchester health boss
As it’s been confirmed the first person in the UK has died from the Omicron variant, Professor Kate Ardern says the situation is evolving ‘very fast’ with lots of Omicron cases already identified in the city-region.
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One of the top public health leaders in the region has warned it will not take long for Omicron to become the dominant Covid variant in the North.
The Wigan Council director revealed that 55 cases of the new variant were identified in the borough last week – much more than previously reported.
NHS staff and volunteers will work ‘flat out’ over the next two weeks to deliver the booster vaccines to as many people as possible by the end of the year.
It comes as Omicron is expected to become the dominant variant in London later today and soon spread from the South East to the rest of the country. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that at least one person in the UK has died with the Omicron coronavirus variant so far.
Prof Ardern stressed the importance of rolling out booster jabs, but said that a ‘package of measures’ will be needed to stop the spread of the new variant.
She said: “Transmission rates in the North of England are not quite as high as they are in the South of England. But it won’t take long for us to catch up.”
The public health director set out the ‘very serious situation’ at a health and social care scrutiny committee meeting in Wigan on Monday.
She explained that the NHS – and GP practices in particular – will be expected to run seven-day-a-week vaccination clinics and work 12-hour shifts as the roll-out of the booster jabs is prioritised over other services in the health care system.
This is because booster vaccinations are needed to protect against serious consequences of Omicron which has been found to be more transmissible.
The time it takes for the infection rate of Omicron to double is currently two to three days, Prof Ardern said, compared to five to six days for the Delta variant.
However, it takes seven to 14 days for the booster jab to fully protect people – and anyone who is infected with Covid must wait 28 days before vaccination.
That is why other measures are required to slow down the spread of Omicron.
Prof Ardern added: “The challenge is whether those measures will be enough to slow down the rate of Omicron spread to allow the vaccination programme to try and at least keep up – or preferably get ahead.
“It’s very important that we do adhere to public health measures to try to reduce the spread of Omicron. It’s not enough to just rely on vaccination.”
Prof Ardern then joined her fellow Greater Manchester directors of public health in issuing a statement warning of Omicron “the threat is real” on Tuesday.
They warned that the case numbers for Omicron are likely to underestimate the real total and it was not yet possible to say how severe Omicron will be, with much analysis at the moment having to draw on South Africa, a country with quite different population profiles to the UK.
The statement suggested there were around 416 probable cases of the variant in the city-region by last Friday (10 December).
They pleaded with people to get their booster jabs booked as soon as possible and encourage those reluctant to do so.
However, they also said that as it will take time to get everyone vaccinated with extra shots it is also vitally important that people follow all the Covid-19 public health measures, guidelines and suggestion to slow the spread of Omicron.
And they said support is available through local councils for those who need to self-isolate.
The statement ended: “We have said throughout the pandemic that the way we will overcome the virus is together. This starts with what we each do ourselves.
“It can be tempting to look around and find examples of people who don’t appear to be doing the right thing and lose your own motivation to carry on.
“We’re asking all of our residents to put these feelings to one side and think about their actions not just as individuals but as citizens.
“The combined impact of the actions we all take personally will be essential to overcome the significant threat the Omicron variant has sent our way.”