Omicron ‘probably the most significant threat’ since start of the pandemic, British health chief says

A sign warning people to stay apart due to Covid-19 is seen on July 29, 2021 in Mevagissey, United Kingdom.

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LONDON — Jenny Harries, CEO of the U.K. Health Security Agency, has given a stark warning of the threat that the new heavily mutated Covid-19 omicron variant poses to the country.

Harries said the new strain is “probably the most significant threat” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m sure for example the numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we’ve seen in cases for previous variants,” she told a committee of British lawmakers on Wednesday.

“The real potential risk here — and I would underline that because we are still learning a lot about the variant — is in relation to its severity, clinical severity, and therefore whether those cases turn into severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths. We’re still at too early stage for that. In fact, the world probably is still at too early stage to be clear,” she added.

Her comments came just before the U.K. reported a record number of new daily Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, with 78,610 in the last 24 hours.

The figure was an increase from 59,610 the day before, and it surpasses the previous high of 68,053 cases reported on Jan. 8.

It underlines the dramatic surge in infections that the country is seeing ahead of the holiday period with the omicron variant expected to quickly become the dominant strain.

Long queues have been seen outside vaccination centers in many U.K. cities and towns with the government putting its booster program on overdrive to try to get a third vaccine shot to as many people as possible.

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While deaths remain low currently and initial reports suggest that the omicron variant might not be any more severe than other Covid strains, health experts have repeatedly warned that the sheer number of infections could lead to mounting fatalities and an overwhelmed health-care system.

Harries also said Wednesday: “We don’t know what’s going to happen. But at the moment the indications are it could be as big or even bigger than the previous wave this time last year. So we’re preparing for that.”