The new variant of coronavirus, omicron, has been rapidly spreading across the UK, with chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries calling it “probably the most significant threat” since the pandemic began.
It seems as if everyone knows someone who is testing positive for Covid - especially those who live in London.
Professor Tim Spector, who helped found the Covid ZOE app, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “In London, where Covid is increasing rapidly, it’s far more likely to be Covid than it is to be a cold.
“We're seeing doubling in the numbers equivalent to what's being seen elsewhere, every two-and-a-half days, and that really means numbers are going up.
“If we look at our regional charts we see London accelerating more than we've seen it since the very first wave and this now means that Omicron is the predominant variant already.
“We'll be at 100 per cent very soon, so that's happened in just a matter of days - that's is why so many people are going down with infections.”
Spector added that the “majority of symptoms” of the omicron variant are like a common cold, including headaches, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and sneezing.
As Christmas approaches and infection levels continue to rise, it’s understandable that many are concerned that their plans will be threatened by the new variant.
On Tuesday 14 December, social media was alight with people announcing plans to self-isolate for 10 days until Christmas Day - the last opportunity for them to do so in order to avoid being infected and allowing them to spend time with their families this festive season.
If you are planning on travelling home for Christmas to be with family, here’s what you need to know about staying safe and (hopefully) avoiding catching coronavirus this winter.
If you develop symptoms for Covid-19, you’re advised to self-isolated immediately and get a PCR test, even if the symptoms are mild.
This is because you might still be able to pass the virus on to others.
According to the government website, the most important symptoms of Covid-19 are recent onset of any of the following:
- A new continuous cough
- A high temperature
- A loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell
Even if you do not develop symptoms, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily free from the virus, which is why testing regularly is so important, particularly in the run-up to mixing with other households over Christmas.
You can usually order lateral flow tests for free online here. But as of Wednesday 15 December, the service still appears to be unavailable. However, you may be able to find some at your local pharmacy.
Let fresh air in if you meet anyone indoors
If you plan on doing any indoor socialising, it’s best to do it somewhere you can have fresh air flowing in, either through a window or door.
Whether it’s by opening the back door for 10 minutes or even uncovering a vent, it could hugely reduce your chances of catching or transmitting the virus.
The government website explains: “When a person infected with Covid-19 coughs, talks or breathes, they release droplets and aerosols which can be breathed in by another person.
“Meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission, but this may not always be possible. If you’re indoors, you should let fresh air in to reduce the risk of catching or spreading Covid-19.”
Wear your face covering
By now, you will be very familiar with the guidance on face coverings. But it’s particularly important to observe the rules while travelling - masks are required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, including taxis.
In indoor settings where a face covering is not legally required, but you should still continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you may come into contact with other people you do not normally meet.
Wash your hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes
Again, you will be familiar with this advice, but that doesn’t make it any less important to remind yourself that washing hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly can reduce your risk of catching Covid-19.
The government website notes that it’s particularly important to wash our hands in the following circumstances:
- After coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose
- Before you eat or handle food
- After coming into contact with surfaces touched by many others, such as handles, handrails and light switches
- After coming into contact with shared areas such as kitchens and bathrooms
- When you return home
Reduce your close contact with other people
Even if you’ve chosen not to self-isolate before Christmas, there might be other precautions you choose to take, like limiting close contact with people outside of your household.
The government website advises limiting contact, or, if you do want to meet people, taking a lateral flow test before doing so and also encouraging those people you are meeting with to do so, which will help to manage periods of risk.
As for what constitutes close contact, this could be anything from going for a coffee with a friend to travelling with them on a train.
You can read more here.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies