The omicron variant of Covid-19 has spread around the world at a rapid pace since it was first detected in southern Africa in November, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about it.
More data is needed to determine its exact characteristics and how it responds to our existing coronavirus vaccines, but it seems beyond a doubt that it is more transmissible than any previous strain we have encountered so far in the pandemic, including Alpha and delta variants.
Omicron has been detected in at least 110 countries so far, with countries like the Netherlands, Germany and South Korea re-imposing lockdown measures to slow the spread.
The UK has continued to experience extremely high Covid infection rates over the festive period, with the total number of daily cases in England rising to a pandemic peak of 218,724 on January 4, according to the UK Health Agency.
One aspect of the Omicron variant that has become clear in recent weeks is how it differs from the original Covid strain.
While the World Health Organization estimated that people infected with the first strain of coronavirus took between two days and two weeks to show symptoms, the Omicron variant is thought to incubate much faster, closer to three to two weeks five days.
“Recent analysis by the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectivity may be shorter for the Omicron variant than for the Delta variant,” UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on December 6.
That would explain why it has spread so quickly and successfully, as the shortness of its incubation period gives those affected a shorter window of time between suspecting they have contracted the virus and experiencing an flare-up, making it less likely to have a positive one Test result is recorded Time to warn others to self-isolate and prevent transmission of contagion.
A shorter incubation period “makes a virus much, much, much harder to control,” warned Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security The Atlantic recently.
Another feature of Omicron that may make it harder to spot than other strains is that its symptoms differ somewhat from the three main indicators we’ve learned to look for: cough, fever, and any loss of taste or odor sense of smell.
Early warning signs for the new variant, on the other hand, are a sore throat, lower back pain, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, muscle pain and fatigue, sneezing and night sweats.
The current evidence from Omicron cases analyzed in the UK says patients recover within five days to a week on average, although some of the symptoms, such as cough and fatigue, may last longer.
In more severe cases, shortness of breath has also been reported, lasting up to 13 days afterwards.
People with Covid are usually thought to be contagious to others about two days before they show their first symptoms and about 10 days after.
If you think you have symptoms of Omicron, or the still dominant Delta variant, the current advice from the NHS is to get a PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate at home to protect others.
Our best hope against Omicron together at this time is to take up the offer of vaccination that has now been offered to all adults in the UK, as studies have shown that three vaccinations are likely to offer a far higher level of immunity to the new strain that only two .
But, as Mr Javid said in the BBC finale Andrew Marr Show, there are “no guarantees in this pandemic”, so the public is also advised to adhere to the restrictions currently in place including wearing masks in public spaces, abandon unnecessary social commitments this winter and exercise extreme caution.