Will Omicron lead to a shutdown?

The latest COVID-19 variant, Omicron, sadly looks to be as contagious as feared.

As we report this week, there is a “very high” risk the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will become dominant in Europe by early next year and lead to a growing number of hospital admissions and deaths, according to the European Union’s public health body.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that the Omicron variant of concern (VOC) was likely to overtake Delta within the first two months of 2022.

The news came as the United Kingdom recorded its most daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday (15 December) as a senior British health chief said there could be a “staggering” rise over the next few days. A further 78,610 COVID-19 infections were reported on 15 December in the UK, about 10,000 more than the previous high reported in January.

And the latest variant is already causing significant disruption. France has called on people who had planned to visit the UK to “postpone their travel”.

In a statement, released yesterday, the French government said that “In the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the government has chosen to reinstate compelling reasons for travel to and from the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.”

It added that, in the UK government’s own words, the UK will face a ‘tidal wave’ linked to the Omicron variant in the coming days. Thus, there will now be a requirement to have a compelling reason to travel to or from the United Kingdom, for unvaccinated and vaccinated people. They will not allow travel for tourism or business reasons.


Meanwhile, the White House on Wednesday insisted there is no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely available and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus.

Yet there is much we don’t know about the latest variant. The fact is that scientists around the world are racing to understand Omicron, which has a large number of worrisome mutations in important regions of its genetic structure that could affect how well it spreads from person to person.

How quickly the number of cases doubles, known as “doubling time,” can give a preview of what the disease burden could be in a few weeks… and the extent to which nations will be forced, as a combination of increased infections, workforce sickness and government regulations, to once again shut down sections of the economy.

Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks

Follow us on twitter: @risksEmerging

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