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Omicron Variant – What are the Facts?

Omicron Variant – What are the Facts?
29 November 2021

It remains unclear how much of a threat the new Omicron COVID-19 variant poses, so what are the definitive facts?

On 26 November 2021, the World Health Organisation designated B.1.1.529 (known as the Omicron variant) as a variant of concern.

At the time of writing, six cases have been recorded in Scotland, alongside the three already detected in England. Several measures have been reinstated in the UK, including mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and shops, as well as compulsory PCR tests for everyone entering the UK.


What Does the World Health Organisation know About Omicron?


There are significant uncertainties at this stage regarding Omicron’s transmissibility, the severity of disease, and response to vaccination. But here’s what we know so far:


  • Omicron has a high number of mutations, some of which may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility
  • Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics are able to detect the Omicron variant
  • Most of the cases identified are travel-related, although this is expected to change
  • WHO states that the use of masks, physical distancing, ventilation of indoor space, crowd avoidance, and hand hygiene remain key to reducing transmission of SARS CoV-2 even with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
  • WHO recommends that efforts should be intensified by public health authorities to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage in all eligible populations, but with priority for populations at high risk for serious disease who remain unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated.



What Has Changed in the UK?


Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently confirmed new, temporary measures in the UK. These will be reviewed in three weeks (as of 27 November 2021)


  • All international arrivals to take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative test
  • Face coverings to be made compulsory in shops and public transport
  • All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
  • From 04:00 Sunday 28 November South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibi, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola will be added to the UK’s travel red list



Do I Need to Change Anything at My Workplace?


The official workplace guidance from the government has not yet been updated, but any upcoming additional workplace safety guidance will be available here.

As with other changes in risk throughout the pandemic, those companies who have reopened office space will need to plan ahead in the event of an Omicron case amongst their staff, particularly amongst those travelling nationally and internationally.

*Editor’s note – This is a developing story. All information presented is correct as of 29.11.21, referencing the WHO document: Enhancing Readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical Brief and Priority Actions for Member States

Picture: a photograph of a person putting a face mask on 

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 29 November 2021


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