Thousands of cases of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus have now been detected in the UK, with infections doubling every two to three days.
In this article, we explain what the COVID-19 Omicron variant is, the symptoms you should look out for, and how you can protect yourself from COVID.
What is the COVID-19 Omicron variant?
Last month, a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 infection named Omicron was identified and countries around the world are taking action to identify cases and outbreaks and control the spread while we learn more.
All viruses naturally change and evolve, and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, is no exception. Sometimes, changes and mutations result in new variants that may be sufficiently different biologically to impact the severity of infection, susceptibility to infection, or transmissibility of the virus.
We cannot be certain how severe the new Omicron variant is yet as research is ongoing. Although the evidence on transmission suggests that Omicron is doubling in the UK every two to three days. We all must do what we can to protect each other now to stay safe and prevent the spread.
What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?
Common symptoms for COVID-19 infections, including those caused by the Omicron variant include:
- Fever or body chills
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue, or muscle or body aches
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Any of these symptoms — in any order — may appear within two to 14 days after being exposed to COVID-19. The severity of each symptom will differ by person.
What are the new COVID-19 measures in the UK?
Urgent national appeal to get a booster jab
The booster programme has now been accelerated so that all eligible adults will be offered a booster jab by the new year. It is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need. But the good news is that scientists are confident that with a third dose, it can all bring our level of protection back up.
Currently, all adults aged 18 and over can book a COVID-19 booster online.
The NHS is working on plans to offer:
- a booster dose to people aged 16 years old and over with a severely weakened immune system
- a 2nd dose to all children aged 12 to 15 years old who are not already eligible
Please note that these are not yet available to book using the NHS booking system.
Moving to Plan B
You must wear a face-covering in most indoor public places, at large venues and events, and on public transport.
From 13 December, you should work from home if you can.
From 15 December you’ll need to show your NHS COVID Pass at nightclubs, some venues and large events to show you’re fully vaccinated, have had a negative test result in the last 48 hours, or you have an exemption.
New rules on self-isolation
If you’re a contact of someone who may have been infected with the Omicron variant, you must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of your age, vaccination status or any negative test results.
Anyone aged 12 and over must take a PCR or lateral flow test 2 days before travelling to England, and show a negative result.
You must also take a PCR test within 2 days of arriving and self-isolate until you get a negative test result, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Check what you need to do to travel to England from another country.
Countries in Africa have been added to the red list. You can only enter England from these countries if you are a UK or Irish resident. You must quarantine in a managed hotel on arrival and take 2 COVID-19 tests.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet which is why we urge everyone to follow public health advice by protecting themselves and others against all forms of COVID-19 infection.
Protect yourself by:
- getting fully vaccinated
- getting a COVID-19 booster jab 3 months after 2nd dose
- wearing a mask in enclosed spaces and maintaining social distancing
- ensuring rooms are ventilated by opening windows and doors
- continuing to regularly test yourself using a lateral flow test particularly before socialising in groups or visiting vulnerable people
- getting a PCR test if you have symptoms and self-isolate for 10 days if you test positive.
For more up to date information visit for guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
Why you are being offered a COVID-19 booster to combat Omicron?
Like some other vaccines, levels of protection may begin to wane over time.
The booster will help to reduce the risk of hospital admission due to COVID-19 this winter.
Protection against severe disease from the first 2 doses looks to decline over time. Boosting your immunity should help extend your protection into next year and may give broader protection against new variants, like Omicron.
Who is currently eligible for the booster vaccine?
Booster doses will be available on the NHS for people most at risk from COVID-19 who have had a 2nd dose of a vaccine at least 3 months ago.
- people aged 30 and over
- people who live and work in care homes
- frontline health and social care workers
- people aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts them at high risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19
- people aged 16 and over who are the main carer for someone at high risk from COVID-19
- people aged 16 and over who live with someone more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
People who are pregnant and in 1 of the eligible groups can also get a booster dose.
Everyone over the age of 18 in England will be able to book their booster through the national NHS booking system from Wednesday.
How do I book a COVID-19 vaccine or booster?
At the moment, everyone aged 30 and over can book online while anyone over 18 can visit a walk-in centre and get a booster jab.
When it's time to book your vaccine or booster, you'll be directed to the NHS booking system to choose where you'd like to have your vaccination.
Pharmacy2U have several clinics across the country that you can choose from and we'll be setting up more in the coming weeks. You can find a list of our clinics here.
You must book an appointment through the NHS booking system to use this service.