The UK is going to see a “really rather large wave of Omicron” and deaths in the next few months, a scientist advising government has said, as he warned coronavirus would keep evolving to escape immunity.
Asked about the trajectory of the Covid pandemic, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told a Royal Society of Medicine briefing that “we’re certainly not out of the woods”, adding that sequencing suggested Omicron had been around since mid-October.
He added: “I think over the next two months, we’re going to see a really rather large wave of Omicron, we’re getting large numbers of cases and that will result in a large number of hospitalisations and, unfortunately, it will result in a large number of deaths, I’m pretty sure of that.
“What happens next? It’s pretty clear the virus hasn’t done with evolution. It’s going to continue to evolve.
“I’ve long thought that what we’ll start to see is that the virus evolves towards being more of an immune escape than necessarily more transmissible.”
He said he thought the virus would continue to evolve to evade existing immunity “once we have high levels of immunity in the population, because that’s the selective pressure acting on the virus”.
He added: “I think that’s what we’ve just seen. Omicron is … able to evade much of our wall of immune resistance, not all of it, but it is able to get around some of it.
“And I think that’s probably the way that the virus will continue to move, shifting to get around our defences, mainly through evading the immune response.”
Prof Edmunds said he would be very surprised if updated vaccines to tackle variants were not needed.