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 - Sputnik International, 1920
Omicron COVID Strain
The new COVID variant was initially detected in South Africa and Botswana and sparked major concerns due to its high number of mutations (32). The WHO dubbed the strain Omicron and warned it may prove to be more transmissible and dangerous than other coronavirus variants.

Omicron is ‘Ray of Light’ for End of COVID-19 Pandemic, UK Expert Says

© REUTERS / PETER CZIBORRABritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson checks a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a visit to a vaccine centre in Northampton
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson checks a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a visit to a vaccine centre in Northampton - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.01.2022
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More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, official statistics now indicate new variants of the disease are no more deadly to populations that have built up immunity from vaccination and natural infection — as scientists and doctors are now arguing.
A government scientific advisor has called the new Omicron variant a "ray of light" in the COVID-19 pandemic.
University of Warwick infectious disease modelling professor Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M), told Times Radio on Saturday morning that the emergence of less severe strains like Omicron would transform the disease into a mostly-harmless seasonal illness.
"The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe," Tildesley said. "Ultimately, in the long term, what happens is COVID becomes endemic and you have a less severe version."
The highly-infectious Omicron variant is known to cause far milder symptoms than the previous Delta strain that it has almost completely supplanted in countries including South Africa, where it was first identified, and the UK.
The academic said the pandemic would eventually go the way of the common cold and other viruses that have become endemic winter bugs "that we've lived with for many years."
"We're not quite there yet but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term," Tildesley said. "It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe."
"Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be," the advisor said, stressing that as Spring approaches "and we see the back of Omicron," the nation will come to live with COVID-19 as an endemic disease.
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (red) infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), also known as novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.12.2021
Omicron COVID Strain
From Pandemic Plague to Seasonal Sniffle: How Viruses Mutate Into Milder Strains to Survive
Meanwhile an Australian epidemiologist said COVID-19 was no more deadly than seasonal flu.
Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz from the the University of Wollongong told the Mail Online his "very rough best guess" was that those vaccinated against the pandemic virus were no more at risk than from winter big. "Add the new medications into the mix and it gets even more complex," he said.
Using government figures the news site calculated that only one in 630 people testing positive for coronavirus now are dying — compared to one in 33 at the peak of the second wave of infections last January, a 19-fold drop in mortality.
And Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show the number of deaths registered nationwide in October last year was almost identical to the same month in 2019 — before the pandemic.
Sociologist Professor Robert Dingwall of Nottingham Trent University, a former member of the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), cautioned that it could be weeks until fatality rates for Omicron could be known for sure.
But if preliminary indications bear out, the government's "Plan B" measures would no longer be justified.
"We should be asking whether we are justified in having any measures we would not bring for a bad flu season," Dingwall said. "If we would not have brought in the measures in November 2019, why are we doing it now? What's the specific justification for doing it?"
"If the severity of COVID infection is falling away to the point that it is comparable with flu then we really shouldn't have exceptional levels of intervention," he stressed.
Tildesley has previously taken a pessimistic view, repeatedly warning against moves to lift lockdown measures and return to normal life.
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