Omicron could more than double Covid reinfection risk – but don't panic yet

New data from South Africa suggests that the omicron variant could more than double the risk of being reinfected with coronavirus – Kirsty Wigglesworth /AP

Alarming new data from South Africa suggests that the omicron variant could more than double the risk of being reinfected with coronavirus, leading predictably to calls for tough restrictions to be brought in to stop the spread in Britain.

Researchers from Witwatersand and Stellenbosch universities discovered that reinfections increased substantially between November 1 and 27, just at the time when omicron was gaining a foothold.

Compared to the original Wuhan strain, there was a 2.39 times greater risk of catching the virus again, suggesting it is dodging immunity. So far, so scary.

Yet this data might not be the smoking gun that it first seems. For a start, the authors made the surprising discovery that in South Africa there was a drop in reinfections of about 30 per cent after delta became dominant.

The findings are entirely at odds with data published this week from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which found people in England had a 36 per cent reduced chance of a reinfection under alpha, with secondary cases rising as delta took hold.

It is a good indication that variants are not playing out the same way in different countries.

This is likely to be caused by a number of factors, including population age, vaccination uptake and different immunity profiles caused by which variants have been dominant.

South Africa has a far younger population than Britain, with an average age of 27, compared to 40 in the UK. In the new study, reinfections were concentrated in adults between the ages of 20 and 55 years.

This may be an important factor because ONS data shows that reinfections are more likely to occur in people who have a mild bout of illness the first time around.

Those who tested positive with lowest viral load were three times more likely to suffer a reinfection, while those with symptomatic Covid were 33 per cent less likely to suffer a reinfection.

So it may be that people who suffered low-level infections in the first wave are now at risk because of a lack of immunity, yet are not picking up severe infections because of their age profile.

This is tricky to establish from the study because the South African authors were not able to to determine the severity of infection in the dataset they were using. However, early anecdotal data from doctors suggest most omicron cases are mild, which is what would be expected in younger, fitter populations.

Undoubtedly the omicron variant looks nasty with its dozens of mutations, many of which are associated with immune escape and extra transmissibility.

And infection numbers are causing concern in South Africa. Cases in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province, have increased by 375 per cent week on week, while hospital admissions have risen 4.2 per cent and deaths by 28.6 per cent.

Yet it is worth remembering that South Africa has very poor vaccine coverage. Just one quarter of the population has had two doses, compared to nearly 70 per cent in Britain.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said earlier this week that 87 per cent of hospitilised cases in South Africa were unvaccinated.

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, of the University of Southampton, said: “The situation should, to some extent, be different with vaccine-generated immunity.

“The immune response from vaccination is much stronger when compared with infection-acquired immunity. Whilst there is likely to be some impact, it is likely vaccines will still provide some level of protection.”

High vaccination uptake in Britain, coupled with high infection rates also may mean the virus has fewer places to go.

Recent research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggests England now has the least susceptible population in Europe, with just 62 per 100,000 at risk of hospitalisation compared to 840 per 100,000 in Romania.

It may explain why Britain is escaping the eye-watering European surge which has led to new lockdowns and mandatory vaccination on the continent, and why we might escape a similar fate to South Africa.

Francois Balloux, Professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director at UCL said: “South Africa has a low vaccination rate but a large proportion of the population has been infected during previous Covid-19 waves. The population of South Africa also tends to be fairly young with a median age of 27.6 years.

“As such, the results from this study are not directly portable to other settings such as Europe or North America and more data will be needed before we can make any more robust prediction about the potential threat posed by a global spread of the omicron variant in different parts of the world.”

UK's immunity different to South Africa's

Intriguing new research from Imperial College is also showing that people become “imprinted” with a specific immune profile after encountering coronavirus, its variants and the vaccines, and this dictates how well they will fight off new variants.

In a paper published this week, scientists found that those who contracted the original Wuhan strain had fewer antibodies capable of fighting off the Delta strain, but those who became infected later with Alpha had developed antibodies better attuned to the new variant.

It suggests that in countries like South Africa which have encountered different variants and have far lower vaccine uptakes than Britain, the immunity of the population will not be the same.

Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, said he had been initially terrified after seeing the amount of worrying mutations that the omicron variant carried.

But at a briefing on Friday, Prof Altmann said he had been “calmed” by real world data, showing the majority of hospitalised patients are unvaccinated and his own new research which he said suggests British population immunity is likely to be different to that of South Africa.

He said: “I was one of the people who was quite fast to say I was terrified by the mutations. And I'm still kind of terrified by them. But I'm also kind of calmed by the real life on the ground data as it looks like even in South Africa, with low vaccination uptake, vaccines are holding up to some extent against it.

“What it means for this county, is I think we can calm down, the jury's out. We've got a high level of vaccination and a backdrop of delta.”

Rosemary Boyton, Professor of Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, at Imperial said: “Most of us in the UK will have been imprinted by either the original infection or through two or three doses of vaccination or the Alpha or Delta variant.

“If we travel around the globe to Africa, or South Africa or to Brazil, you'll see populations who have been exposed to different waves of infection, so they'll again be imprinted differently.

“What we're seeing in this study is that it completely and absolutely shakes your subsequent immune response to subsequent variants of concern.”

What it all means in short, is that it is impossible to take data from South Africa and expect it to play out in Britain. We currently have very low levels of omicron in Britain with even Sage scientists admitting in their latest minutes that cases have not been increasing substantially in recent weeks.

Let’s keep calm and carry on until there really is something to panic about.

News Related


All the places you STILL have to wear a face mask from Thursday, as draconian rules scrapped

FACE masks will still be needed in some settings – despite the rule being scrapped as Boris Johnson ditches Plan B. Commuters using all public transport in London will still ... Read more »

Iron Pipeline shutdown: NYPD makes three Midtown gun busts within hours

The three gun busts came within just hours from one another, and one day after Mayor Eric Adams vowed to crack down on illegal guns. PETER GERBER Cops busted three ... Read more »

DU college sets up cow centre: ‘Not just research, will give milk, curd to students'

© Provided by The Indian Express IT’S KNOWN as one of Delhi University’s premier institutions, ranked 14 for colleges under the Government’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). But this year, ... Read more »

Bigg Boss 15: Karan Kundrra tells Tejasswi Prakash that he doesn't like her spending time with Nishant Bhatt

© Provided by Pinkvilla The finale week of Bigg Boss 15 has begun, and the competition has become quite fierce. The candidates are seen putting up their best efforts in ... Read more »

Pereira slammed for ‘shocking' interview amid Everton talks

© PA Images Vitor Pereira during a press conference Former Crystal Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose has slammed Vitor Pereira for his “shocking” interview about his bid to become Everton manager. ... Read more »

Disgraceful photo shows how selfish revellers left a pristine beach littered with inflatables and rubbish after celebrating Australia Day

People horrified at photos taken hours apart at Gordon's Bay on Australia Day The photos show celebrations in full swing compared to aftermath left behind'Disgusting' revellers left behind inflatables, towels, plastic bottles, and eskiesCommenters pointed to irony of celebrating beautiful country by 'trashing it'  Read more »

Bank of Canada puts credibility on line with hold on rates: economist

© Provided by Financial Post Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem. One of Bay Street’s most prominent economists said the Bank of Canada’s decision to go against market expectations of ... Read more »

COVID success may doom Boris Johnson and other commentary

Boris Johnson Hollie Adams/Pool via AP Foreign desk: COVID Success May Doom Boris “England is now the freest and most open place in Europe. It imposes no vaccine passports, no ... Read more »

Father of UPenn swimmer on transgender athlete Lia Thomas' team says the women have 'sobering realization' they will never win against her and will 'never have a shot at the Olympics'

This comes days after an anonymous member of the team also spoke out against Thomas, who has continued to dominate events in the Ivy League This past weekend during a meet with Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts , Thomas won the Women's 100m and Women's 200m FreestyleThe father, who has also chosen to remain anonymous to avoid 'physical harm,' said he believes there is no stopping Thomas from reaching the highest level 'She is most likely going to be representing you and I and all other Americans at the Olympics,' he saidHe believes that other families don't speak out because there's 'nothing they can do about it' but he wants to, on behalf of the swimmers and their aspirations  Read more »

TV star Andrew O'Keefe is arrested over allegations he 'CHOKED and PUNCHED a woman' after an argument in a Sydney apartment and will face court later today

Ex-Channel Seven host Andrew O’Keefe has been arrested over allegations he choked, punched and kicked a potential business partner Ex-Channel Seven host Andrew O’Keefe has been arrested over allegations he ... Read more »

South Africa's R16bn Covid-19 free-for-all spending spree visually represented for all to see

The data presented in the visualisations seem to suggest that, for months, there was a free-for-all where many national and provincial government departments, as well as several big metros and ... Read more »

Kate Middleton Marks Important Milestone For Mental Health Support Service Shout

Kate Middleton celebrated an important milestone in mental health services on Wednesday. The Duchess of Cambridge visited the text line Shout, which was set up through Prince William, Kate, Prince ... Read more »

France, European allies urge Mali junta to let Danish counter-terrorism forces stay

© Paul Lorgerie, Reuters France and 14 other countries urged Mali late on Wednesday to allow Danish forces to remain in the African country, saying their presence was critical in ... Read more »

Zii Jia kena usaha lebih kuat

© Provided by Sinar Harian JAGUH badminton perseorangan lelaki negara, Lee Zii Jia perlu memiliki kekuatan disiplin diri yang tinggi apabila pemain berusia 23 tahun tersebut mula mengharungi cabaran sebagai ... Read more »

LCS Team of the Week: 2022 Lock In week 2

© Provided by Dot Esports Throughout the 2022 Lock In tournament, many LCS teams have been running makeshift rosters due to issues with visas and COVID restrictions around the world. ... Read more »

Hitman 3 Silent Assassin guide for Sapienza

© Provided by GamePur Sapienza is the most iconic location from Hitman 2016. It’s a densely packed town filled with exciting ways for players to kill their targets. This guide ... Read more »

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End – Chapter 13 Treasure Locations

© Provided by GamePur Chapter 13 of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes us into the island, and our hero Nathan Drake finds himself shipwrecked. While life is dire for ... Read more »

Lunar New Year mini-event is live in Pokémon UNITE

© Provided by Dot Esports Last night’s Pokémon UNITE seemed small at first, but it looks like TiMi Studio snuck in yet another mini-event to celebrate the Lunar New Year ... Read more »

Padma Bhushan: Jairam swipe at Ghulam Nabi Azad widens rift in Congress

© Provided by The Indian Express THE BJP government’s decision to confer Padma Bhushan on veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has once again brought to the fore the divide ... Read more »

Here's who Biden might tap to replace Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court

President Biden pledged to pick a black woman as his first nominee to the US Supreme Court — and White House discussions are reportedly focused on three, including one he ... Read more »

Tesla exceeded revenue estimates in Q4 2021 by more than $1 billion

Gather ’round, ye Tesla faithful, because it’s Tesla earnings statement time once again. This time we’re looking at the fourth quarter of 2021 and, unsurprisingly, things are as dull this ... Read more »

Trending South News Today: Nagarjuna REVEALS Samantha Ruth Prabhu initiated divorce with Naga Chaitanya, David Warner replaces Allu Arjun in Pushpa and more

© Provided by Nagarjuna, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Naga Chaitayana, Allu Arjun, David Warner, Ravi Teja and others are among the top newsmakers of today from South. If you have ... Read more »

Asian American suing San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin over alleged mishandling of racial attack

Anh Lê was attacked two years ago by a father and son who were later apprehended and offered a plea deal without Lê’s knowledge. NBC Bay Area An Asian American ... Read more »

Arunachal youth will be returned soon, PLA has indicated: Rijiju

© Provided by The Times of India NEW DELHI: After a hotline exchange with the Indian Army, China’s People’s Liberation Army has indicated that they would soon hand over the ... Read more »

RRTS to replace over one lakh private vehicles, cut CO2 emissions

© Provided by The Indian Express Work on the 82-km Rapid Rail Transit Corridor (RRTS) connecting Delhi to Meerut is in full swing, with the 17-km priority section from Ghaziabad ... Read more »

‘MDLNY' star Tyler Whitman snags $2.7M spread in Sag Harbor

Sag winner: The real estate reality star (inset) bought a charming home in the Hamptons village. Tamara Beckwith/NY Post; Corcoran “Million Dollar Listing New York” star Tyler Whitman isn’t always ... Read more »

Hospital patient without COVID shot denied heart transplant

BOSTON — A Boston hospital is defending itself after a man’s family claimed he was denied a new heart for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying most transplant programs ... Read more »

Seoul: North Korea test-fires projectile in 6th launch this month

SEOUL, South Korea — Seoul: North Korea test-fires projectile in 6th launch this month. Read more »

Your 3pm snack sorted: Dietitian shares her mouthwatering (and guilt-free) recipe for a KITKAT slice

 Rebecca Gawthorne has stunned fans with her latest, mouthwatering treatThe 33-year-old mother and dietitian often posts healthy 'treat' recipesThese recipes look to imitate the taste of traditional treats to bust cravings Read more »

Fitbits DO make you move more! Review finds people who wear wearable fitness gadgets take an extra 1,200 steps a day and do nearly an hour more of exercise per week

Researchers found physical activity monitors did make wearers more activeThey examined 121 scientific trials of the devices which involved 16,000 people Activity increase equaled an extra 1,200 daily steps and 50min weekly exercise Read more »

Tottenham are in talks to sign Fiorentina midfielder Sofyan Amrabat on loan with £13m option to buy... but north London side are waiting for PSG to agree terms on outcast Tanguy Ndombele's loan first

Sofyan Amrabat is currently away with Morocco at the Africa Cup of Nations He has started in just one of his 11 Serie A games for Fiorentina this season Tottenham want PSG to agree terms with Tanguy Ndombele before moving The 25-year-old midfielder was born in Holland but to Moroccan parents  Read more »

Daniel Craig finally talks about his James Bond ending in No Time To Die

© Provided by Total Film Daniel Craig in No Time to Die The No Time To Die ending was pretty seismic for the franchise. We saw, for the very first ... Read more »

iOS 15.3 update patches serious iPhone security flaws and fixes bugs

© Provided by CNET Apple has rushed out a pair of updates for iPhones and iPads that fix several security flaws, including a Safari bug that lets websites you visit ... Read more »

Cyclist (60s) seriously injured after being hit by motorist in Kildare

© Sam Boal Diversions have been put in place to facilitate a technical examination of the scene. A CYCLIST IN his early 60s was airlifted to hospital after being hit ... Read more »

The 20 Best Straight-Leg Jeans to Refresh Your Wardrobe With

A lot has been said about jeans recently, particularly with Gen Z holding strong on their strike against skinny jeans (and side parts). As for me, my closet is bursting ... Read more »

Spotify sides with Joe Rogan, removes Neil Young's music: ‘a costly move'

Spotify has sided with Joe Rogan following an ultimatum from Neil Young. Both: Getty Images Spotify has sided with its podcast superstar over Neil Young. The legendary folk singer gave ... Read more »

Ashling Murphy murder accused further remanded in custody pending directions from the DPP

© PA A MAN CHARGED with the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, Co Offaly, has been remanded in continuing custody for another two weeks pending formal directions from the ... Read more »

Ipid registers criminal case against National Commissioner Sitole for dodging questions on Kinnear assassination

A criminal case docket against Khehla Sitole was lodged on 9 December 2021 under section 33 of the Ipid Act at Pretoria Central Police Station for failing to cooperate with ... Read more »

Let Olivia Culpo Show You the Power of a Great Highlighter

© Provided by Marie Claire US Olivia Culpo celebrity sighting Is there anything Olivia Culpo can’t do? The 2012 Miss Universe winner is known for her killer workout routines, chic ... Read more »

Back to Cuba: SANDF returns irregularly procured Covid drug worth R228m

The drug was not approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) when the SANDF imported them without the required authorisation into SA via the Waterkloof Air Force ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic