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Omicron is now Britain’s dominant Covid strain

18 December 2021

5:41 AM

18 December 2021

5:41 AM

If you test positive for Covid now in Britain, the odds are that it’s Omicron: it’s now the dominant strain in England and Scotland. Data released this evening by the UK Health Security Agency showed that by Tuesday, 54 per cent of PCR tests were positive for S-gene target failure (a proxy for Omicron). For perspective, it has only taken eight days for the variant to become dominant: Delta took nearly a month. North of the border, Sturgeon said that the ‘tsunami [of cases] was starting to hit’ and confirmed that in Scotland more than half of cases were Omicron too. Again, that’s using S-gene dropout as a proxy. Some 13,741 Omicron cases have been confirmed in England so far: 696 in Scotland, 313 in Northern Ireland and 159 in Wales.

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London has seen the fastest growth with the report showing 81 per cent of tests showing S-gene dropout. All other English regions are around 50 per cent, with the exception of the North East which remains relatively low at 27 per cent.


The report includes estimates for the doubling time which, staggeringly, suggest the virus is doubling even faster than two days. The data shows in the North East it could be doubling every day. With a reproduction rate as high as 4 to 5, it is hard to see what meaningful impact any restrictions will have.

Hospitalisations from the variant remain low, with only 65 confirmed Omicron cases. So far only one death has been confirmed. However, the true number of hospitalisations from Omicron are likely to be far higher and admissions have been increasingly rapidly in London. Interestingly though, 25 per cent of Covid admissions in the capital on Thursday were patients who had already been in hospital a week or more.

At the current growth rate Omicron could account for 100 per cent of cases before Christmas — though some scientists say the Delta epidemic has not yet shown signs of falling. The pace of Omicron’s spread explains the record case numbers recorded in the UK: a further 93,045 reported today.

Its quick takeover is to be expected: the history of Covid in Britain so far has been that of one variant supplanting (rather than running alongside) another within a short amount of time. This has happened so fast that the official chart of variants (which goes to 4 Dec) doesn’t even include Omicron.

Soon, the above will all be Omicron. Whether that’s a better or a worse thing depends on the severity of the variant — and we could be two or three weeks away from working that out.

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