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15th December 2021

Latest information about the Omicron variant

Is Omicron More Transmissible?

All the indications are that it is significantly more infections than the Dela variant. Some estimates put it at three times as infectious. This means that it’s spreading very rapidly, and the number of new cases is doubling every 2 or 3 days.

Does Omicron Cause More Severe Disease?

There’s no evidence yet that Omicron causes more severe disease, but again, researchers will have a clearer picture in a few weeks.

Can Omicron Evade Immunity?

The WHO said it has preliminary evidence of increased re-infection risk with Omicron, but the agency has not shared the supporting data yet.

When it comes to vaccinated immunity, it’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that Omicron partially lowers vaccines’ effectiveness against infection.

That’s because it has 32 mutations in the spike protein alone, some of which were associated with immune escape for previous variants.

What’s the Bottom Line Right Now?

Bob Wachter, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, summed it up aptly in four steps: get vaccinated, get boosted, “get prepared mentally to act more cautiously if Omicron proves to be more infectious, immune-evasive, or both,” and “follow the news & science — will be much clearer in 2-3 weeks.”

NewAtlas provides a fairly thorough, fairly readable coverage of Omicron in What is Omicron, where did it come from, and how dangerous is it? Read the article here.

What are the new rules for England?

As of 15 December 2021:

Some venues and events are legally required to check the Covid status of visitors over 18. This applies to:

  • nightclubs
  • indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people
  • unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people
  • any venue with more than 10,000 people

You can now only enter these venues if you can show:

  • an NHS Covid Pass confirming you’ve been vaccinated with two doses of an approved vaccine (or a single dose of Janssen vaccine)
  • negative PCR or rapid lateral flow test (LFT) result, taken within the last 48 hours (the NHS Covid Pass can also show this as long as you’ve reported the LFT)
  • you have a medical exemption or are taking part in a clinical trial

You have to use an NHS test for this and must report your LFT result online or by calling 119.

Proof of natural immunity – for instance, a positive PCR test taken in the past six months – is not accepted as an alternative to proof of vaccination or a recent test.

Some large events aren’t included in the rules, including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals, protests and mass-participation sporting events (such as a marathon).

How do I get a Covid Pass in England?

You can get a Covid pass for domestic use via the NHS App if you’re 18 or over, registered with a GP, and meet any of the following conditions:

Over-16s can also get the NHS Covid Pass for foreign travel if:

  • you’ve had two vaccine doses (or one Jansen jab)
  • you’ve had a positive PCR test result in the past six months, and finished self-isolating (this pass lasts for 180 days)

If you don’t have a GP, or mobile, you can access the pass via the NHS website or by calling 119 to request a letter. This only shows your vaccination status (not test results) and has no expiry date.

How does Scotland’s vaccine passport work?

People can use the NHS Scotland Covid Status App to show proof, the NHS App (if from England or Wales) or Covidcert NI app (if from Northern Ireland), or else print off a paper version.

Under-18s are exempt, as are vaccine trial participants, and those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Over-18s must present proof of a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken within the last 24 hours – or proof of vaccination – to enter venues that are part of the scheme:

  • nightclubs
  • adult entertainment venues
  • indoor events with more than 500 people
  • unseated outdoor events with more than 4,000 people
  • any event with more than 10,000 people

How do Covid passports work in Northern Ireland?

The Covid passport scheme applies to:

  • nightclubs
  • licensed hospitality premises, including “bring your own” alcohol venues
  • cinemas, theatres and conference halls
  • indoor events with 500 or more attendees with some or all of the audience not normally seated
  • outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees with some or all of the audience not normally seated
  • events where more than 10,000 people will be present regardless of whether they are seated

People can either show proof of vaccination, proof of a negative lateral flow test taken in the previous 48 hours, or proof of a positive PCR test taken in the previous 30-180 days.

The COVIDCert NI app can be used to show proof of vaccination, or a paper version can be requested.

How do Covid passports work in Wales?

People need to show their NHS Covid Pass to gain entry to:

  • cinemas, theatres and concert halls
  • nightclubs and comparable venues
  • unseated indoor live events for more than 500 people
  • unseated outdoor live events for more than 4,000 people
  • any event for more than 10,000 people

Over-16s who have been fully vaccinated in Wales or England can use the pass to prove their status, but it’s only compulsory for over-18s.

It’s also available to people who’ve had a negative lateral flow test in the previous 48 hours.