Strain B.1.1.259 has arrived in Britain just one day after its emergence in Belgium. There are two British cases of the new ‘Omicron‘ variant of SARS-Cov2, one in Nottingham, one in Brentwood.
It is clear with this news that it is too late to contain the new strain internationally, as it is in various countries thousands of miles apart already. The transmission rate of the new strain is rapid. In response to the news, the UK Government has decided to re-tighten containment measures. Chief of these is the resumption of compulsory facemask use in shops and public places. There will also be the reintroduction of PCR tests for anyone entering the UK, while all contacts of Omicron cases will have to self-isolate, even if double-jabbed.
Until we have a clearer idea of the Omicron variant’s threat, these measures are reasonable and proportional. But there are possible signs, albeit from far too small a sample-size to be conclusive yet, that Omicron’s emergence is good news. Early indicators from the patients found to carry the strain suggest that the symptoms it causes are milder by far than those of earlier variants. None of them has needed hospital treatment, and the Covid-19 (fever) they have suffered has not been at all severe.
With many respiratory diseases, Natural Selection leads them to evolve into less lethal forms. This stands to reason; when they are exceptionally lethal, they so-to-speak kill off their own ‘food supply’. This is to say, the more humans the diseases kill, the fewer humans are left for them to feed off of. The main hope among epidemiologists all along has been that this will happen to SARS-Cov2. It is possible, although not yet certain, that Omicron is the first of its non-lethal forms. If it becomes dominant and dislodges earlier variants therefore, it will actually benefit us all.
Do not get too hopeful on that just yet. Time will still have to tell. But there are reasons for hope.
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