UK Covid deaths hit 150,000 milestone as expert says Omicron may offer ‘ray of light’

Dr Mike Tildesley says new variant could be indicator towards future direction of virus

The emergence of the new Omicron variant could be the “first ray of light” towards living with Covid as an endemic disease, according to a UK government scientific adviser.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) and a University of Warwick professor, said Omicron could be an indicator that in the future there may be a less severe variant that is similar to the common cold. But as Covid cases continued to rise in the UK and with hospitalisations at their highest in almost a year, he said: "We're not quite there yet."

“The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version,” he told News UK’s Times Radio on Saturday.

“We’re not quite there yet, but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term. It is, of course, much more transmissible than [the] Delta [variant] was, which is concerning, but much less severe.”

He added: “Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationships of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable. Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be.”

His comments came as the UK government announced that a further 146,390 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Saturday.

The UK government also said a further 313 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total death toll for such patients since the start of the pandemic to 150,057. Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Hospital admissions

Mr Tildesley said rises in hospital admissions in England’s northeast, northwest and midlands were “concerning”.

“On the slightly more positive side, so it doesn’t sound all doom and gloom, what we are seeing from hospital admissions is that stays in hospital do appear to be on average shorter, which is good news; symptoms appear to be a little bit milder, so this is what we are seeing consistently with the Omicron variant,” he added.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised against giving a second booster, or a fourth dose, of Covid-19 vaccine to care home residents and people aged 80-plus, after figures showed the first booster remained 90 per cent effective at preventing hospital admission for over-65s three months after being administered.

Instead, experts want to prioritise the rollout of the first booster dose and encourage those who are still unvaccinated to have first and second Covid vaccine doses.

To date, more than 51 million people in the UK have had a first dose and more than 47 million have had a second dose. More than 35 million have had a booster or third dose. – Guardian/PA