UK raises Covid-19 alert level as Omicron’s coronavirus variant spreads – Community News
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UK raises Covid-19 alert level as Omicron’s coronavirus variant spreads

In a move that should be about as surprising as a fight erupting on a reality TV show, the UK government has raised the coronavirus (Covid-19) alert level from level three to level four. Today, the four Chief Medical Officers of the UK and the National Health Services (NHS) England National Medical Director issued a joint statement recommending that this leveling be done. And the alert levels are like golf scores and the number of rhinoceroses in your bed. The higher the number, the worse the situation.

What is the reason for this three becomes four situation? Well, the joint statement noted that “Covid-19 transmission is already high in the community, still primarily driven by Delta, but the rise of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health services.” It explained that “early evidence shows that Omicron spreads much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic Omicron disease is reduced.” In addition, the joint statement emphasized that “when vaccine protection is reduced as with Omicron, it is essential to supplement that protection with a booster.”

Speaking of boosters, here’s what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about the rollout, as seen in the following video from Sky News:

In Ferris Bueller’s modified words, a new, more portable variant can go pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every now and then you could miss it. As I reported last month for Forbes, the UK responded to the discovery of the Omicron variant in southern Africa by suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Apparently, however, such travel restrictions turned out to be about as hollow as a fishnet tuxedo. They didn’t keep the Omicron variant out of the UK Less than a month later, this new variant-on-the-block is already spreading in the UK and could soon become the “alpha dog” variant there, possibly before the end of 2021.

It is not yet clear whether the Omicron variant will cause more or less severe Covid-19 than previous versions of the virus. Even though the Omicron variant appears to be less virulent than the Delta variant, the Omicron variant does not become soft and cuddly. The joint statement did say that “severity data will become clearer in the coming weeks, but Omicron hospitalizations are already occurring and are likely to increase rapidly.” So the Omicron variant has already landed people in the hospital.

In addition, it is of concern that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Astra-Zeneca/Oxford vaccines may provide “reduced” protection against the Omicron variant of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). That’s like being told that your pants offer less protection for your genitals. Hence Johnson’s appeal to people to get boosters.

So what exactly does Level Four mean in the UK? Level four is the second highest level on the coronavirus (Covid-19) alert scale and is represented by the color orange. In this case, orange is the new “high or rising transmission level”. Level Four calls for the implementation and continuation of social distancing measures.

The highest possible level is level five, which is represented by the color red. Red wouldn’t be good. It would imply that there is a “material risk of health care being overwhelmed”. Such a situation would require extremely strict social distancing.

Directly below level four is level three, where the UK was yesterday. Level three means that “the virus is generally in circulation” and allows for “gradual easing of restrictions”. Yellow is the color for level three.

One step below level three is level two, which is when “case count and transmission is low”. This is the teal level and allows “minimum social distancing, enhanced tracking”. And finally Level One, the green level, is one that is unlikely to apply in the coming months: “Covid-19 is no longer present in the UK.”

Remember, in July, when Johnson had said that “it is very likely” that “the worst of the pandemic is behind us,” as Alan McGuinness reported for Sky News? The following tweet contained the video of Johnson uttering those words:

Umm, “very likely” turned out to be “not really the case”. It appears that the Covid-19 coronavirus essentially said, “sorry, but no sorry.” What Johnson said over the summer and all that UK Freedom Day stuff that came with it turned out to be a premature statement. And as you may know, anything premature can lead to disappointment and a messy situation.

Since then, the UK has faced Covid-19 spikes fueled by the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2. And with the weather turning colder and drier, coupled with holiday travel and gatherings, the Omicron variant could spark another winter wave.

The so-called “wall of immunity” in the UK will help against the winter wave. At the moment, however, this wall looks a bit like other walls that are not fully built. Certainly, the vaccination rate against Covid-19 in the UK is higher than in the US. However, surpassing the US in a pandemic response measure was like beating Mr. Snuffleupagus in a unicycle race. Despite starting their vaccination program much earlier than many countries around the world, other countries quickly caught up, surpassing the US in percentage of the vaccinated population.

As of December 11, according to the UK government dashboard, 81.3% of those aged 12 and over in the UK had been double vaccinated and 40.2% had been triple vaccinated. These vaccination coverages are not yet at the herd immunity thresholds needed to really stop the transmission of the virus. Such thresholds are likely to be in the range of 80-90% of the total population vaccinated, not just those 12 years and older.

In addition, the Omicron variant and its 50-plus mutations throw a wrench in the business. While two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Astra-Zeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccines may provide less than 50% protection against the Omicron variant, a UK Health Security Agency study suggested that with booster vaccination, 71% to 75% protection against symptomatic Covid-19, as Lisa Kim reported Forbes. So perhaps one of the keys in the UK is to boost as many people as possible as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, until the UK is able to reach the herd immunity thresholds, it won’t be enough to give more people a boost. The UK will also need to combine other Covid-19 precautions, such as wearing face masks and social distancing measures. At the same time, everyone will have to realize that the pandemic is not over until it is really over. After all, the UK has seen what can happen after making premature statements.

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Rakesh

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