Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson has said Omicron is spreading rapidly in the UK but most Britons won’t get seriously ill because of rising immunity.
The British epidemiologist said having two vaccinations or Covid previously offers 85-90 percent protection from serious illness.
Although Britons still have ‘very little’ protection from catching the virus even with this immunity, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
He said hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed in the next week as case numbers rise dramatically.
SAGE’s scientists are warning that Christmas may have to be cancelled for a second year with calls for a two-week circuit breaker lockdown and a ban on indoor mixing to stop hospitalisations from the Omicron Covid wave peaking at 3,000 a day.
Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson (pictured) said having two vaccinations or Covid previously offers 85-90 percent protection from serious illness, he added
Leaked minutes of a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warn that restrictions are needed ‘very soon’ to avoid hospitalisations rising to 3,000 a day.
Professor Ferguson added: ‘From a public health perspective it means we expect immunity people have built up over the last 12 months to be better preserved against severe disease than against infection.
‘If you’ve been infected before or only had two doses of the vaccine you have very little protection against being infected with Omicron.
‘But the protection against severe disease should hold up well. Perhaps 85-90 percent protection.’
He said the ‘very large epidemic’ meant ‘even that level of protection’ is ‘not perfect’ and could lead to ‘very large numbers of hospitalisations’.
‘With increasing amounts of data coming in. It is a real concern we will be heading into something that has the risk of affecting the behaviour of the health service,’ he added.
‘People are changing their behaviour and that will have an impact, whether it is enough is hard to say.’
He added that Omicron did not yet appear to be more severe than the previous Delta and Alpha variants.
Britain’s daily Covid cases have rocketed to record levels for the third day in a row with 93,000 people diagnosed in 24 hours
Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain’s Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows
He said: ‘The severity aspect is the least well defined because we’ve observed relatively few hospitalisations. Case numbers are low. We don’t see a particularly strong signal of any change in severity compared with Delta.
‘That’s not to say it’s going to look like the Alpha wave we had a year ago because we do expect all those people with immunity and vaccination will have milder disease.
‘But intrinsically Omicron doesn’t look to be much different to Delta. There is a lot of uncertainty so we’ll know a lot more about that in a week’s time because numbers of cases and hospitalisations are building quickly.’
The professor also said the 10-day quarantine should be cut to seven days if people are made to test negative before they are released.
Columbia researchers found that all four major Covid vaccines, (L-R) Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, failed to consistently provide adequate protection against the Omicron variant on their own. People jabbed with Pfizer produced 21 times less antibodies against Omicron, while protection from Moderna fell nine-fold. And neutralising antibodies from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson were almost undetectable. People who had been triple-jabbed (far right graph) with Pfizer and Moderna showed a 6.5-fold drop in neutralising antibodies against Omicron, compared to the levels recorded when their blood was exposed to the Wuhan strain
A separate study by researchers at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard also found two doses of vaccine are less effective against Omicron. However, their study showed third doses bring neutralising antibodies back to the level they were against the Delta variant. The graphs show neutralising antibody levels against the original version of Covid compared to Delta (left) and Omicron (right). The dotted black line shows antibody levels after two jabs, while the solid black line shows antibody protection after three jabs. The booster line is much steep against Omicron, meaning that third doses there is higher protection after three jabs, the researchers said
‘It’s always a trade off between effectiveness and people’s adherence. If it could be coupled with lateral flow testing, testing negative to release, and that was looked as some months ago.
‘All the modelling and analysis would suggest if it’s coupled with lateral flow testing it’s not going to reduce the effectiveness of the measures that much.
‘If it’s a change from 10 days to 7 days with no testing then you have a slightly bigger impact on the effectiveness of the measures.’
An emergency Cobra meeting will discuss if a joint response to the threat of the Omicron variant is needed across the UK. The meeting will raise fears that more curbs could be imposed before Christmas – despite the opposition of Tory MPs and Downing Street’s apparent determination to get through without them.
It comes as Britain recorded its highest number of daily infections since the pandemic began, with a total of 93,045 people testing positive for Covid in the past 24 hours, up 60 per cent in a week.
Industry experts had feared the Government’s increasingly alarmist messages surrounding the Omicron mutant strain was affecting customer confidence over what should be a peak period for pubs, bars and restaurants.
Festive takings are expected to fall by up to 40 per cent in December – crippling venues that survived by a thread during previous lockdowns and expect to receive no financial support this time around.