Omicron 'unusual' and 'more evasive' compared to previous Covid variants, says scientist

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is "unusual" and "more evasive" compared to previous variants, a Cardiff scientist has told ITV News.

Dr Catherine Moore, consultant clinical scientist at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre, said the number of mutations are "far greater" than experts have seen in the Alpha or Delta variants.

"The concern is that not only is [Omicron] more infectious, it may be more transmissible," she told ITV News.

"Also, it may evade some of the immunity that we've already got from previous infection - and, importantly, from the vaccine. So that's why we're keeping a closer eye on it."

At least one person in the UK has died with the Omicron variant.

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford warned that we are facing "a very serious situation" and urged people to take up their booster offer.

He has set out an aim that all eligible adults in Wales will be offered an appointment for a booster vaccine by the end of December, in line with England.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared an "Omicron emergency" and warned people against thinking the new variant will not make them seriously ill.

The UK Government website also ran out of lateral flow testing kits on Monday morning amid huge demand.

People are being urged to take up their booster jabs. Credit: PA Images

At the Wales Specialist Virology Centre, scientists are able to test for the Omicron mutation - and now that testing is being expanded.

Dr Moore continued: "With the emergence of Omicron, we recognise that we need to roll it out across Wales so that everybody has a very quick determination of whether they're carrying this variant or not. And that allows us then to put in the actions we've been asked to do.

"So people are identified, the contacts are isolated, and we can monitor them for the transmission of Omicron in the general Welsh population."

Of the impact of Omicron, Dr Moore said: "The data that's coming out now is very early; very preliminary.

"But what we have seen is that people who have had two doses of the vaccine - it doesn't seem to stop this virus from infecting them.

"Now, we know that vaccines don't prevent infection in general, but for this virus it just seems to be more evasive. It seems to go round the immunity that we have for those first two doses.

"What we are seeing is really good data to show now that if you boost that two-dose vaccine, it does seem to prevent some of those infections.

"The best-case scenario for us would be that lots of people get their boosters and that we are able to bring the transmission and the rates of infection down to a level which we would be able to manage."

The UK Covid alert level has been raised from Level 3 to Level 4 following a rapid increase in Omicron cases being recorded.