Cases of Omicron have more than doubled in the North-East region within 24 hours rising to 261 according to data released by the UK Health Security Agency on Wednesday. It seems a further 90 cases of the variant will be confirmed shortly.
A total of 13.1 per cent of COVID cases in the region are thought to be Omicron, though figures are sketchy at this stage simply because testing for Omicron is more complex as its symptoms vary. According to the World Health Organisation, “On average it takes five to six days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.” They also believe even those who have received two Covid jabs can still catch the virus now set to put extra pressure on the NHS at a vital time.
People who have COVID-19 can infect others from around two days before symptoms start, and for up to 10 days after. A scratchy feeling in the throat, muscle aches, night sweats and constant fatigue have all been recognised as symptoms of the variant.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has warned a rise in COVID hospitalisations is “nailed on” after cases hit a record high, as he urged people to cut back on socialising ahead of Christmas.
There are concerns business could be hard hit in the region given the extra guidelines introduced by the government. These include compulsory face coverings in many public spaces. The need for people to again work from home where possible; and the introduction of a need to prove your COVID vaccination status, or that you’ve returned a negative test, in order to enter certain locations or events.
Hospitality venues in Newcastle Upon Tyne have already reported a 20 per cent drop in trade in the last seven days with a further fall expected now that Plan B measures are in force.
The wider picture for the area’s Asian communities is also of great concern. Abu Shama manager of the Black and Minority Ethnic Network in Sunderland told Asian Standard: “Our advice to the Asian community is to get your booster or vaccination as quickly as possible and follow the latest guidelines to keep everyone safe. We’ve had a vaccination clinic at our centre in the city, and we’ve been busy spreading the word across the community.
“The onset of Omicron is a worry not just because it will affect business, but also because we have a lot of people working in local hospitals who themselves are doing their best to protect the public.
“There’s little doubt after Christmas the advice we give face to face will probably be reduced, so it’s really important for people across the Asian community to get their jabs as soon as possible – it’s very safe and means we can all support each other at this difficult time.”
According to the latest research the highly transmissible variant multiplies 70 times faster than Delta in human airways. Recent studies have also shown Omicron can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection. The overall threat from this variant is likely to be very significant.”
Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s public health director has said: “I do think there is a danger that we are in the position we were in with the first wave of this, where it was circulating very widely in people who were not getting very ill in the community for some time before we then had that huge wave of problems when it got to April 2020.
“There is a danger that we are in that spot now and this is the time when we can do something about it. We don’t want to have that same pattern happen to us again.
Meanwhile leaders of Durham County Council said in a statement: “The emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant poses a serious threat to our communities.
“The number of confirmed cases is doubling roughly every two days, and in reality, it is probably spreading at an even quicker rate than that.
“The message from the experts and scientists who have guided us through the pandemic is clear: get your booster.
“Vaccines have played an essential role in allowing us to live without restrictions for many months. They have eased the pressure on the NHS and social care, and they have saved countless lives.
“The indication is vaccines, and specifically the ramping up of the booster programme, offer our best chance of preventing Omicron spiralling out of control.
“The booster will increase your levels of protection against COVID, and as more people come forward, the greater our protection against Omicron.
“Thankfully, there are other tools at our disposal that we know are highly effective at reducing transmission and saving lives.
“Omicron is a threat, but we have defences available to us. Our best chance is for everyone to step up, make sure they are fully vaccinated, and take every precaution possible to protect themselves and others and keep the pressure off the NHS and social care.”
Health minister Gillian Keegan has told the media while said the Government was “not intending to make any more restrictions” between now and Christmas Day, the Prime Minister “won’t hesitate” to recall Parliament if he needed to bring in extra measures.