Omicron to become dominant ‘in weeks’

The omicron variant of coronavirus is likely to become dominant within “a few weeks” but not before Christmas, Northern Ireland’s chief scientific advisor has said.

Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young at Parliament Buildings, Stormont during a Covid-19 press conference.
Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young at Parliament Buildings, Stormont during a Covid-19 press conference.

Professor Ian Young, speaking during a press briefing yesterday, said the evidence gathered so far indicates the new strain spreads even more quickly than the delta strain which is dominant on these shores at present.

“At the moment, the delta form of the virus remains dominant and that is going to continue to be the case – at least for the next few weeks,” he told reporters.

“It’s vital that we continue to double down on the existing measures and to get community transmission and hospital numbers down as low as possible before omicron really begins to have an impact.

“All of the evidence which is emerging from elsewhere – from South Africa and the rest of the UK – is that omicron will have significant impact once it becomes established here.”

He continued: “The omicron form of the virus differs in a number of significant ways from the delta form which is currently dominant.

“In particular, there is very high certainty that it is more transmissible than the delta form, and it is also highly likely that it has some immune escape properties – which means that people who have previously been exposed to Covid infection will not have the same protection against the omicron form.

“We are hopeful that vaccination will continue to offer a high degree of protection against severe disease.”

Prof Young also addressed reports that omicron may result in less severe disease in some cases than delta, saying: “It’s likely that omicron will not become dominant [in Northern Ireland] until after Christmas.

“Experience in South Africa and the early trends in the UK suggest the increase will be rapid and, potentially, the wave will be large compared with previous waves of the virus.

“We’re less certain about what the impact on hospital admissions and pressures will be, and more evidence around that will be required.”

There were five new coronavirus deaths reported by the Department of Health at Stormont yesterday, bringing the total to 2,912. Another 1,933 new infections were reported.