Omicron has already brought with it new restrictions, and a primary school pupil in Scotland has been confirmed to be the latest to have contracted the variant
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A primary school pupil has tested positive for the Omicron Covid variant, it has been confirmed.
The news comes as a new study boosted hopes vaccines offer a good level of protection against the mutated virus.
The latest confirmed case was detected at Rosebank Primary School in Nairn, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 29.
A further 29 cases have also been confirmed in England, with an update on numbers expected to come later today.
The UK government has already taken steps to combat the spread of the latest strain, with compulsory masks being re-introduced in shops and on public transport, and PCR tests for anyone arriving into the UK.
Worrying graphics have shown just how mutated the newly-emerged Omicron variant is, with illustrations released by the Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) show that it has a worrying 32 mutations on its spike protein.
By comparison Delta – which tore through the population last winter and has since become the world’s dominant strain – has seven.
Experts have said Omicron, which was first identified by scientists in South Africa, is the most mutated Covid variant they have yet encountered.
Yesterday a spokesman for the UK Health Security Agency told The Mirror that targeted testing is being carried out for the variant.
This means that not every positive PCR test is screened for the new strain.
In good news, experts behind a major new study have suggested booster vaccines offer good protection against the Omicron variant.
A team looking at the effects of third doses said the body’s T cell immune response after a booster shot is such that it may provide protection from hospital admission and death.
The study also says mRNA jabs, including Pfizer and Moderna, lead to the most significant rise in immunity levels.
Professor Saul Faust, trial lead and director of the NIHR Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “All of the vaccines in our study do show a statistically significant boost.
“RNA (Pfizer and Moderna) very high, but very effective boosts from Novavax, Janssen and AstraZeneca as well.”
He said the CovBoost study had shown that six different vaccines are safe and effective as booster doses for people who have already had two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech.
The six vaccines tested as a third dose were AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen (made by Johnson and Johnson) and CureVac (which has ceased production).
He added that the vaccines worked well against existing variants, although Omicron was not tested in the study.
But experts think that T cell immunity – which was studied alongside antibodies in the research – could also play a significant role in fending off the new variant.
T cells play a key role and work alongside antibodies in the immune system to target viruses.
Prof Faust said: “Even though we don’t properly understand its relation to long-term immunity, the T cell data is showing us that it does seem to be broader against all the variant strains.
“Which gives us hope that a variant strain of the virus might be able to be handled, certainly for hospitalisation and death if not prevention of infection, by the current vaccines.”