The Omicron variant of Covid-19 was first detected in South Africa with the first recorded cases in the UK reported in December 2021. Initial reports from South Africa suggested that this variant could be milder, but as South Africa has a younger average population and they were experiencing the variant in the summer months, it was hard to be sure.
In the UK, case numbers have soared, inevitably resulting in hospitalisations and deaths, so while it may be a milder variant, its impact should not be underestimated.
What we know of Omicron
Although Omicron may be a milder variant, it is also more transmissible than previous variants. This in itself makes it a cause for concern. Since it is not mild for everyone, the greater number of infected people will result in high hospitalisation and mortality rates.
Due to the fact thateven those with mild symptoms need to isolate, it has also resulted in staff shortages in all sectors, including the NHS.
While the key Covid-19 symptoms of a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and loss of taste or smell canbe present, this may be in as little as 50% of the Omicron cases. Information from the ZOE COVID study app suggests that the common symptoms of Omicron are headache, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing and a sore throat.
While Omicron is usually mild, the risk remains of serious illness, death, Long Covid or of passing it on to others who are more vulnerable.
In a workplace, thegreater transmissibility can mean large numbers of workers having to isolate at the same time, severely effecting productivity and perhaps even requiring the temporary closure of the premises.
Good hygiene and ventilation are more important than ever to help prevent a severe outbreak.
Omicron seems to also be more resistant to the vaccine. However, although it is not quite as effective as against the previous strains such as the Delta variant, it does still offer good protection.
To tackle the increase in Omicron cases, a booster vaccine is available for all adults, while children over the age of 12 can have two jabs. Uptake of the vaccination has been good and remains an effective way of avoiding serious illness.
Regular testing in the workplace is a good way to quickly identify and isolate cases. Matrix Diagnostics is one company that can provide a Covid-19 test for all of your employees with rapid antigen testing for quick results and PCR tests with laboratory analysis.
Recently, there have been reports of a new sub-variant. BA.2 Omicron may have more than 28 mutations from the current dominant BA.1 Omicron strain. It has been dubbed ‘Stealth Omicron’ as PCR tests do not identify it as an Omicron strain. However, testing will still identify it as Covid-19 and it is essential to identify infections and isolateif infected.
Experts are still learning about this sub-variant. At present, it does not seem to be more severe and it is uncertain if it is more transmissible than BA.1 Omicron.
However, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the measures of good hygiene, ventilation, vaccination and testing remain vital – and no variant should be underestimated.