The Omicron variant is a new type of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is the virus that causes COVID-19. At the moment, most of the COVID-19 cases in the UK are the Omicron variant.
What are the differences between the Omicron variant and other variants?
We know there are some differences between the Omicron variant and other variants such as Delta and Alpha. We are still waiting for more information about exactly how different this variant is. But at the moment it seems to:
- cause some different symptoms
cause fewer hospital admissions
- be easier to pass on to other people
What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?
Current data shows that only around half of people with Omicron experience the most well-known COVID-19 symptoms. These include a fever, a cough and a loss of smell or taste. This means that many people do not have any of these symptoms.
We still need more information about what other symptoms Omicron might cause. But so far it seems that some people have:
- a runny nose
- mild or severe fatigue (feeling very tired)
- a sore throat
Some people won’t have any symptoms at all.
Is the Omicron variant less severe?
You might have heard that the Omicron variant is a less serious form of COVID-19. This is because the evidence so far shows you’re less likely to be admitted to hospital if you have this variant, compared to other variants.
But you can still become very unwell with Omicron, and there are increasing numbers of people in hospital with it. It’s also not yet known if you’ll develop long-COVID after getting the Omicron variant. So, it’s important to keep yourself and other people as safe as you can.
Is the Omicron variant more easily passed on?
Yes. It seems that the Omicron variant is more transmissible compared to the Delta variant. This means that it’s more easily passed from person-to-person. It’s also more likely to reinfect people who have had COVID-19 before, compared to other variants.
The good news is there are a number of things we can all do that help to reduce the spread of Omicron. Wear a face covering if you’re using public transport, or if you’re in an indoor public place such as a shop or cinema. Remember that meeting people outdoors is the safest option. But if you do meet indoors, let in plenty of fresh air.
Do PCR tests detect the Omicron variant?
Yes. PCR tests can detect the Omicron variant just as well as the other variants. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important that you self-isolate straight away and get a PCR test. The test can either be sent to your home or you can book a test appointment.
Do lateral flow tests detect the Omicron variant?
Yes. Lateral flow tests can detect the Omicron variant just as well as the other variants. Use lateral flow tests to check whether you’re infected before you:
- mix with people in crowded indoor places such as restaurants or theatres
- visit people at higher risk of becoming very unwell from COVID-19 such as older people or people with a long-term health condition
If you get a positive lateral flow result, report it and self-isolate immediately.
If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 but your lateral flow test is negative, you should still self-isolate straight away and get a PCR test.
Do COVID-19 vaccines protect you from the Omicron variant?
Yes. Data shows that vaccines are protective against the Omicron variant and are helping to stop people from becoming seriously ill. But you can still catch Omicron if you’ve had the vaccine. You’re also much more likely to become unwell if you haven’t had both of your vaccine doses and your booster yet.
If you haven’t yet had your vaccine or your booster it’s not too late. You can book an appointment at a vaccination centre or pharmacy. You can also go to a walk-in vaccination site without an appointment.