OMICRON causes a milder disease and boosters DO work, the first official probe into the mutant variant has found.
A report from the UK Health Security Agency revealed real-world data on how serious Omicron is – bringing good news and Christmas cheer.
Experts concluded the variant – which has thrown Britain's path out of the pandemic off course – does spark a less serious illness than Delta in most people.
UKHSA also confirmed that two vaccine doses aren't enough to give strong protection, but a booster significantly reduces the chance of both symptomatic infection and hospitalisation.
It is thought the level of vaccination and prior natural infections is causing milder symptoms from Omicron, which matches what medics in South Africa had suggested.
This, plus a number of other studies released yesterday, is thought to have been enough to persuade the PM there wasn't a need for Christmas restrictions.
However, ministers have hinted a New Year lockdown isn't off the table just yet, due to worries over hospitalistions.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the latest data as "promising" but urged the public to remain cautious over the Christmas break, adding it was "still too early to determine next steps".
And, the study also found immunity gained from boosters wanes quicker with Omicron than with Delta – after ten weeks.
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Dr Jenny Harries, UKHSA Chief Executive, said: “Our latest analysis shows an encouraging early signal that people who contract the Omicron variant may be at a relatively lower risk of hospitalisation than those who contract other variants.
"However, it should be noted both that this is early data and more research is required to confirm these findings.
“Cases are currently very high in the UK, and even a relatively low proportion requiring hospitalisation could result in a significant number of people becoming seriously ill.
"The best way that you can protect yourself is to come forward for your first two doses of vaccine, or your booster jab and do everything you can to stop onward transmission of the infection.”
But the report came with a grim warning an NHS crisis could still come thanks to how quickly the variant can spread.
While the disease for most is likely to be mild, the experts found it isn't quite mild enough to avoid large hospitalisations – even if the proportion of an infection wave who becomes seriously is small, if the wave is big, that portion grows.
This is because for those that do become very ill, the chance of being rushed to hospital and dying is still high.
And due to Omicron spreading so quickly, it means that infections will rise to a point where large numbers will still be being hospitalised – even if for the majority it is a mild illness.
This, on top of NHS staff shortages as they too battle with the virus, means it is likely the healthcare system will become overwhelmed.
A person with Omicron is estimated to be between 31 and 45 per cent less likely to attend A&E compared to Delta, the study found and 50 to 70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital.
But this is still early data, due to the smaller numbers of people in hospital at the moment, and experts have said they are worried about the effect of the variant on over-65s.
Most of the people infected in Britain so far are largely younger than 40, so the severity of the variant on the older population – which might then translate into hospitalisations – is still an unknown.
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As of December 20, 132 people with confirmed Omicron have been admitted to or transferred from emergency departments. Over 40 per cent of hospital admissions were in London.
Of those patients admitted to hospital, 17 had received a booster vaccine, 74 people had two doses and 27 people were not vaccinated. For six people it wasn't known and eight of them had only one dose.
Currently 14 people have died from the variant, between the ages of 52-96.
It comes after Boris Johnson declared Christmas can go ahead without a lockdown – but New Year’s Eve looks risky still.
No10 is on red alert for the NHS being swamped with Covid cases in the coming weeks.
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Mr Johnson will mull over new hospital data before making a decision on what measures may be needed.
After 48 hours of confusion and a Cabinet backlash, the PM finally confirmed that no new Covid restrictions will be brought in before the festive weekend.
But as the Omicron variant continued to surge, he warned that “the situation remains finely balanced”.
The threat of more curbs loomed as Mr Johnson said “we cannot rule out further measures after Christmas”.
Pubs could be forced to serve outside and indoor mixing capped as soon as next Tuesday.
Mr Johnson urged families holding festive get togethers to protect granny and grandpa from Covid by leaving windows open to “keep fresh air circulating”.
Today confirmed cases of the new more infectious strain rose again, with all Covid infections rising to their highest number yet.
Another 119,789 cases were reported along with Omicron infections hitting 90,906.
Good news from South Africa:
SOUTH Africa – where the variant was first found, before cases exploded – has seen a noticeable drop in new Covid-19 cases in recent days.
This may signal the country's dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.
After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday.
"The drop in new cases nationally combined with the sustained drop in new cases seen here in Gauteng province, which for weeks has been the center of this wave, indicates that we are past the peak," Marta Nunes, senior researcher at the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics department of the University of Witwatersrand, told The Associated Press.
"It was a short wave … and the good news is that it was not very severe in terms of hospitalizations and deaths", she said. It is "not unexpected in epidemiology that a very steep increase, like what we saw in November, is followed by a steep decrease".
Earlier this week Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon heaped further pressure on Mr Johnson to tighten rules as she unveiled a draconian Boxing Day clampdown on football fans, pubs and socialising north of the border.
And in a New Year’s Eve blow, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events were also cancelled.
But a ray of hope was sparked in suggestions restrictions after Christmas could be avoided altogether if hospital admissions in London stay under 400 a day, according to sources.
In the capital four out of five cases tested were Omicron, as the mutant bug continues to spread across the UK.
Hospital admissions in London are not the only measure being used to assess the severity of the strain – but it a key part of the decision making, the i reports.
At the UK’s peak in January, London’s admissions were reaching 900-a-day – compared to 245 Brits hospitalised in the capital on Sunday.
If they continue to stay at around the same figure, England could be looking forward to more freedom and less impact on the hospitality industry.
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