OMICRON is at least 2.4 times more likely to reinfect people who’ve already had Covid, scientists have revealed.
The variant has a “substantial” ability to swerve immunity in people previously infected with the virus, the first real-world study of the new variant found.
Scientists have found Omicron is 2.4 times more likely to reinfect people[/caption]
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) warned its report has “important implications for public health globally” as Omicron drives a huge spike in cases.
NICD data yesterday showed 11,535 new Covid cases recorded in the last 24 hours, a surge of 368 percent from last Thursday’s figure of 2,465.
Of the 51,402 people who took a test a whopping 22.4 percent tested positive – up from 3.6 percent last Wednesday.
Only a quarter of people in South Africa are fully vaccinated, but previous waves of infection from other Covid strains had built up natural immunity.
Prior infection was previously found to to slash the risk of catching Covid, but Gauteng province – where 80 per cent of people have tested positive previously – remains the epicentre of South Africa’s current explosion in cases.
Hospitalisations have also rocketed by 180 per cent in the last week, with 98 Covid patients admitted last Thursday compared to 274 Covid yesterday.
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It comes as Omicron continues to spread in the UK with suspected cases trebling in just five days, although confirmed infections stand at 42.
More than 19 million Brits have now had a booster – a third of the population over over the age of 12, with a study showing three jabs “massively” strengthen’s a body’s defences from Covid.
Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
NICD researchers said: “We find evidence of a substantial and ongoing increase in the risk of reinfection that is temporally consistent with the timing of the emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa, suggesting that its selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals.
“Immune escape from prior infection, whether or not Omicron can also evade vaccine derived immunity, has important implications for public health globally.”
They added: “Urgent questions remain regarding whether Omicron is also able to evade vaccine-induced immunity and the potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death.”
NICD researchers say there were 35,670 reinfections in the 2,796,982 cases examined since last March.
The reinfection risk of Omicron was substantially higher than the Beta and Delta variants during the second and third waves, the study found.
Scientists from the NICD said data suggests Omicron may cause less severe illness than previous variants.
But many of the first cases have been in younger patients which could skew the data.
Professor Paul Hunter, of The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said: “The implications of this paper are that Omicron will be able to overcome natural and probably vaccine induced immunity to a significant degree.
“But, the degree is still unclear though it is doubtful that this will represent complete escape.
“The other big uncertainty is whether this increases the risk of severe disease, hospital admissions and deaths.”
The NICD’s Dr Michelle Groom said that scientists are examining the variant’s possible immune escape.
She later tweeted: “Many cases are in younger age groups that are more likely to get mild disease.
“We need to wait and see how the variant behaves in other age groups.
Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case
Anne von Gottberg, microbiologist at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)
“Also takes time for severe disease to manifest so we will know more in the coming weeks.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dispatched a team of experts to Gauteng to help tackle the Omicron surge.
Anne von Gottberg, microbiologist at NICD, said around 75 per cent of samples sequenced are Omicron.
She said: “Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
‘ROOM FOR OPTIMISM’
But Barry Schoub, chair of the South African government’s committee on COVID vaccines, told Sky News initial signs were “good”.
He said: “Certainly, at this stage, the news does look to be promising – the great majority of the breakthrough infection (in other words, individuals that have had infection despite vaccination) is mild.”
Earlier this week, Israeli health minister Nitzan Horowitz said people who’d had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and a booster were “most likely protected” against Omicron.
He added: “There is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster will also be protected from this variant.
““The vaccine is really crucial right now. Anyone who is exposed to the variant without a vaccine will put themselves at unnecessary risk.”
Only around a quarter of people in South Africa are fully vaccinated[/caption]