First Person Dies From Omicron Covid Variant In U.K.

Topline

At least one person in the U.K. has died with the omicron coronavirus variant, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday as he urged people to set aside the notion the new strain is a milder form of the virus and get a booster shot to curb its spread. 

Key Facts

Speaking at a vaccination clinic in London, Johnson said omicron is “producing hospitalizations” and at least one patient “has been confirmed to have died” with the variant.

Johnson said the best thing everyone can do is to “get our boosters” and dispel the “idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus.”

The prime minister has refused to rule out tougher coronavirus restrictions to contain the variant, which now makes up roughly 40% of cases in London, and long queues formed at vaccination centers Monday, the first day people aged 30 to 39 could get the jab in England. 

On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said at least 10 people were in hospital in England with the variant and a total of 3,137 cases have been reported across the U.K.

Key Background

Though omicron was first identified in South Africa, many health authorities and experts around the world are keeping a close eye on the U.K., which has an advanced medical surveillance system, older population and high vaccine coverage. Experts have not yet drawn firm conclusions due to such little data and information on how the variant might impact deaths and hospitalization can lag behind figures on new infections. As of mid-December, no deaths from omicron have been reported by the World Health Organization or the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Early evidence suggests previous coronavirus infection offers little protection against omicron and reports from the U.K., Norway and South Africa suggest it may be more transmissible but cause milder symptoms of Covid-19 than previous variants. 

What To Watch For

It’s possible revamped vaccines will be needed. Major manufacturers and experts are divided on whether existing shots are still effective or whether booster shots of current formulations should be sufficient. 

Tangent

As well as queues forming at vaccination clinics, England’s online vaccine booking system crashed Monday under “extremely high demand.” Booking for booster shots expands to include all adults on Wednesday and people have been told to “try again later.” Home testing kits are also unavailable on the government website after demand surged following new guidance instructing contacts of people with Covid-19 to take a rapid test every day for seven days from Tuesday. 

Further Reading

Here’s What The CDC Knows About The First U.S. Omicron Cases (Forbes)

Beyond Omicron: what’s next for COVID’s viral evolution (Nature)

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