Is Omicron more harmful than other Covid variants? And other questions

Covid rules have been strengthened in response to concern over the newly-identified Omicron variant.

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12/2/2021 1:56:00 AM

What's the Omicron Covid variant? Is it more harmful? How do I know if I have it? BBCYourQuestions has the answers you need

Covid rules have been strengthened in response to concern over the newly-identified Omicron variant.

O'Connell, NottinghamPhilippa RoxbyBBC Health CorrespondentScientists who’ve analysed the variant say they are worried by what they see in the lab. Omicron has more mutations than any other variants and they’re different too.This could mean it’s more infectious, causes more serious illness and is better at evading vaccines than previous variants.

But none of this is certain. It will take time for the true threat from Omicron to be assessed as cases are detected and monitored across the world.How do I know if I have the new variant?Kerry Ganly, Heage, EnglandPhilippa RoxbyBBC Health Correspondent

If you have Covid symptoms and carry out a PCR test, which is analysed in a lab, you will be contacted by your local contact tracing system if you’re suspected to be positive with Omicron.All swabs of suspected Omicron cases are then sent to specialist labs for genomic sequencing which confirms if it’s Omicron or not. headtopics.com

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But by that time, if you’re positive you will be self-isolating and, under new guidance this week, your household and close contacts will also have to self-isolate, even if they are fully vaccinated.Will the current lateral flow tests detect the Omicron variant?

Ken Lappin, Eastwood, EnglandPhilippa RoxbyBBC Health CorrespondentAs far as we know, the rapid or lateral flow tests which you can do at home will be able to detect the Omicron variant - just as they are able to detect other variants of coronavirus.However, they can’t tell you which variant you’re infected with – only if you’re positive or negative.

Only a PCR test would be able to do this, because it's checked in a lab.Why are we not vaccinating children above the age of five? I keep hearing of young children who have caught the virus.Merete Gardiner, OxfordPhilippa RoxbyBBC Health Correspondent

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Young children can be infected with the virus, but they are very unlikely to become seriously ill. Most cases are mild and children recover quickly, particularly young children.The UK has now advised that children aged over 12 should be offered two doses – but the UK regulator has yet to license any Covid vaccine for younger children. headtopics.com

Even if that happens, as it has in the US, Canada and a number of other countries, the jury is out on whether it’s worthwhile.Vaccine advisers would have to be convinced that the benefits of vaccinating young children would outweigh any risks (however small) from the vaccines.

But that calculation could all change with fears around Omicron - time will tell.My wife is clinically vulnerable and had a booster nearly three months ago. With boosters now recommended three months after a second main dose of the vaccine, will or should she get a second booster three months after her last one?

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Dave, Hampshire, EnglandPhilippa RoxbyBBC Health CorrespondentThere is currently no advice on whether a second booster will be needed or recommended for clinically vulnerable groups.If your wife had a third primary dose, however, to increase her original protection against Covid then she could still be entitled to a booster (which would be her fourth dose).

Having had a booster, her immune system should be as well-prepared as it can be to fight off the virus this winter.What is the rationale in making masks compulsory on public transport and shops but not in the hospitality sector?Jacqui, Stanwicknew rules about mask wearing in England headtopics.com

apply to shops and public transport, but not to other indoor venues such as gyms, theatres, cinemas, or hospitality settings.Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC they were not being extended to hospitality venues for practical reasons:"Where people are eating, drinking [they] may go to a bar to order a drink, but will often then sip the drink on their way back to their table."

Until 19 July, customers in England were required to wear masks when not seated - for example, when being shown to a table or going to the toilet.This requirement remains the case in pubs and restaurants in Scotland and Northern Ireland.Face coverings aren’t required in pubs and restaurants in Wales either, although they must be worn in all other indoor spaces.

Is there positive evidence that wearing ordinary masks, not N95 ones, actually makes a useful difference?Andrew FoggEvidence suggestsCovid transmission mainly happens indoors where people are close together.Covering the nose and mouth reduces the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and while speaking. Routinely wearing one can help reduce virus spread from contagious people who have no symptoms.

The main purpose is to protect others, although there is someevidence they also offer protection to wearers.To be effective, masks should have a nose wire, contain at least two or three layers of material and fit snugly over the mouth, nose and chin.Standard surgical masks also work well. It is possible to buy FFP2 and FFP3/N95 masks used by healthcare workers

which can offer higher protection. However, these must be fitted correctly to work.If face coverings are compulsory in shops and public transport, shouldn't it be also compulsory in offices, or should the government also make it compulsory to work from home?

Read more: BBC News (UK) »

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