In a move that should be about as surprising as a fight erupting on a reality TV show, the U.K. government has increased their coronavirus (Covid-19) alert level from Level Three to Level Four. Today, the U.K.’s four Chief Medical Officers and the National Health Services (NHS) England National Medical Director issued a joint statement recommending that this leveling up occur. And the alert levels are like golf scores, penguins in your pants, and rhinoceroses in your bed. The higher the number, the worse the situation.
What’s the reason for this three becomes four situation? Well, the joint statement indicated that the “transmission of Covid-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services.” It explained that “early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.” Furthermore, the joint statement emphasized that “when vaccine protection is reduced in the way that is happening with Omicron it is essential to top up that protection with a booster.”
Speaking of boosters, here’s what U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about the roll-out, as seen in the following video from Sky News:
In the adapted words of Ferris Bueller, a new more transmissible variant can move pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. As I reported last month for Forbes, the U.K. responded to the discovery of the Omicron variant in southern Africa by halting flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Apparently, though, such travel restrictions proved to be about as hole-ly as fishnet tuxedo. They didn’t keep the Omicron variant out of the U.K. Less than a month later, this new-variant-on-the-block is already spreading in the U.K. and may soon become the “alpha dog” variant there, potentially before the end of 2021.
Now, it’s not yet clear whether the Omicron variant will be more or less likely to cause severe Covid-19 than previous versions of the virus. Even if the Omicron variant proves to be less virulent than the Delta variant, it’s not as if the Omicron variant is going to be soft and cuddly. The joint statement did say that “data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.” So the Omicron variant has already been landing people in the hospital.
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Moreover, it is concerning that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Astra-Zeneca/Oxford vaccines may offer “reduced” protection against the Omicron variant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). That’s like being told that your pants are offering reduced protection of your privates. Hence, Johnson’s call for people to get boosters.
So what exactly does Level Four in the U.K. mean? Level Four is the second highest level on the coronavirus (Covid-19) alert scale and represented by the color orange. In this case, orange is the new “high or rising level of transmission.” Level Four calls for implementing and continuing social distancing measures.