Virus horror as Oxford jab hero warns of outbreak that ‘could be more lethal’ than Covid

Omicron variant: Doctor warns of risk of reinfection

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It comes as fears grow over the new Omicron variant after 246 cases were detected in the UK. Experts have already warned it was “appalling timing” as the next few weeks are “one of the highest risk periods with a lot of indoor socialising”. And Prof Gilbert says it is becoming increasingly obvious that “this pandemic is not done with us” and the next one could be worse.

She delivered the warning at the 44th Richard Dimbleby lecture, due to be broadcast on the BBC on Monday.

Prof Gilbert said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods.

“The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

The professor of vaccinology was part of the team behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

She added: “We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.

“Just as we invest in armed forces and intelligence and diplomacy to defend against wars, we must invest in people, research, manufacturing and institutions to defend against pandemics.”

She said the new variant contained mutations already known to increase the transmissibility of the virus and that antibodies induced by vaccination or previous infections might be less effective.

But she also said reduced protection against infection “does not necessarily mean reduced protection against severe disease and death”.

She added: “Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant.”

Her warning came after the introduction of pre-departure tests for people arriving in the UK and Nigeria going on the travel red list.

From 04:00 GMT on Tuesday travellers aged 12 and over will be required to show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow test taken no earlier than 48 hours before departure.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measures were temporary.

But some experts are baffled by the move.

Professor Mark Woolhouse said the new rules had come “too late” to make a “material difference” to a potential wave of the Omicron variant in the UK.

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Prof Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that while imported cases of the Omicron variant were “important”, community transmission of the variant would be the driver of a next wave.

He added the numbers of UK Omicron cases were currently “quite small” and he strongly suspected the absolute number was “more in the hundreds than the thousands”.

But he warned Omicron was “spreading pretty rapidly” in the UK, and if current trends here and in South Africa continued in the coming weeks and months, it could even replace the Delta variant around the world.

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