Omicron: Symptoms, cases, and what we know so far

28 November 2021, 15:16 | Updated: 30 November 2021, 10:37

Nine cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the UK, with symptoms including body aches and pains.
Nine cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the UK, with symptoms including body aches and pains. Picture: alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

The new Omicron variant of covid is rapidly being detected in countries across the world, including nine cases here in the UK.

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The WHO has designated it a variant of concern, and the UK and other nations have enforced strict travel rules to try and slow its spread.

But how much do we really know about the Omicron variant?

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

South African doctor, Dr Angelique Coetzee, was the first doctor to alert authorities to the possibility of a new strain, after treating covid patients whose symptoms were different to previous strains.

She told LBC the patients she has seen with cases of Omicron have all had "very, very mild" symptoms.

Patients have not noticed a change of taste or smell, a crucial symptom associated with the virus.

Instead, she told LBC "extreme fatigue or tiredness was the main complaint".

Headache, body aches and coughs were also identified in patients in South Africa.

"The impact of this is not that severe on surgeries. The patients coming in to the surgeries are not overburdening the surgeries."

Dr Coetzee said she had not seen any patients admitted to hospital with the Omicron variant, and there was no sign of patients struggling for oxygen.

Will the vaccine help fight the new variant?

It is not known exactly how much protection the coronavirus vaccine will have against the new variant.

The strain has 32 mutations on its spike proteins, double the number of the delta variant.

This means it is more likely to be partially resistant to the vaccine, but crucially it is thought the vaccine will still prevent people from becoming dangerously ill if they contract Omicron.

The UK government is reviewing its booster programme to consider accelerating its rollout to under 40s.

Where are cases of the Omicron variant?

The first confirmed case of a new variant was uploaded to global systems in Hong Kong, in someone who had travelled from South Africa.

There are now confirmed cases in Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Botswana, Italy, Germany and South Africa.

Many other countries including Austria and Australia are testing suspected cases.

This takes the total number of UK Omicron cases to 14 - with nine detected in Scotland, one in Nottingham, one in Essex and three in London.

Read more: Omicron variant: Three more cases identified in Scotland taking UK total to 14

Read more: Omicron rules explained: Where to wear face masks and who has to self-isolate

Read more: Boris Johnson to hold press conference as 14 Omicron cases detected in UK

International response to Omicron is 'totally over the top'

What have the experts said?

Experts are divided about how concerned the global community should be about the new strain of coronavirus.

The South African Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla told LBC the world's reaction to the new variant was "very unfortunate and uncalled for."

He said it is "too early to tell" whether this strain has the potential to make people seriously ill, but that the majority of patients in South African hospitals with coronavirus are young and unvaccinated.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health and Security Agency told LBC she is "concerned" about the virus.

"The changes in this virus, the mutations in this virus suggest that we will have less immunity from prior infection," she said.

She added Omicron has "over and above what the mutations were in Beta."

She argued the UK's travel restrictions are a natural response to protect the NHS.

But Dr Coetzee who originally logged the new variant said the global response is "totally over the top."

"What is happening out in the world there does not refer to what we're seeing in our surgeries" she insisted.

What is the UK doing?

PM Boris Johnson announced a wave of new measures yesterday to try and slow the spread of the new Omicron variant.

These come into effect at 4am on Tuesday and will be reviewed in three weeks time.

They include mandatory face masks in all shops and on public transport.

All arrivals to the UK from abroad will have to self-isolate and take a PCR test by day two, and isolate until they receive a negative result, even if they are double jabbed.

Contacts of any Omicron cases will also have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

At his press conference last night Mr Johnson tried to reassure the public. He said Christmas would be "considerably" better than last year, and the vaccine would offer a "measure of protection" against the new variant.