Omicron spread over Christmas still unclear, virologist says

17:13 December 27, 2021

5:32 PM December 27, 2021

A Norfolk virologist has said we won’t fully understand how the Omicron variant spreads until the end of next week.

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that no new Covid restrictions will be introduced until the New Year.

But Mr Javid said people should “be careful,” take a lateral flow test before socializing and celebrate New Years Eve outdoors if possible – or have ventilation indoors if not.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid
– Credit: PA Wire / PA Images

Virus expert Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia School of Medicine said it was difficult to draw many conclusions from the data at this point.

In the days leading up to Christmas, he had said he was optimistic that the data suggested that Covid-19 cases were leveling off and that Omicron was not growing exponentially.

But he said data over the Christmas period would be very difficult to understand for a number of reasons.

He said: “The latest numbers are expected to be really insightful, but it probably comes close to the illusion.

“It’s for a number of reasons, but in my 40-year career, interpreting numbers around the holidays – and Christmas – is a nightmare.”

He said people were probably less likely to take and submit test results in the run-up to Christmas and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day itself, while there was also a delay in processing samples over the Christmas period.

He added that the difficulties people faced in obtaining test kits in the days leading up to Christmas could also skew the statistics.

He said: “After that you get a bit of a rebound, but some people still won’t have the test results recorded, while there is a delay in processing as well.

“I would be very happy if the latest figures show the cases to remain stable. But the only thing that would really tell us a lot for sure is if the cases are skyrocketing. If that has happened, then we are clearly in trouble.”

Professor Paul Hunter of the UEA Norwich Medical School.  Photo: Bill Smith

Professor Paul Hunter.
– Credit: Archant 2013

Professor Hunter said it wouldn’t be until late next week that the data would become useful.

He said: “There is some pretty reassuring data and some pretty scary data and trying to find the balance is very difficult.

“Is it better to have intense pressure for a few weeks, or is it better to have less pressure, but over two months?”

“You are going to see doctors and nurses and there is, rightly, really worried about this spike, while much of the rest of the country might wish it to be overcome more quickly so that their activity is not scaled down.

“But there are also mental health issues to consider and children are at greater risk of being abused when restrictions that keep them at home are introduced.”

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