Norfolk scientists leading hunt to track Omicron Covid variant in UK

Quadrum Institute Norwich Research Park Norwich Hospital Hannah Pinchen Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Scientists at the Quadrum Institute in Norwich. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

Scientists in Norfolk who will hunt to see if the new Omicron  variant of Covid-19 is present in the UK have said its emergence is "concerning".

The Quadram Institute, based at Norwich Research Park, has been at the forefront of sequencing samples of the virus since the pandemic began.

The emergence of the B.1.1.529 variant in parts of Africa, assigned the Greek letter Omicron, means the Quadram scientists will analyse UK cases to see if people in this country have been infected by the variant.

It comes about a year after the scientists worked on identifying the Alpha variant which triggered the surge in cases before last Christmas - and led to the January lockdown.

Quadram Institute scientists informally called that variant the Wymondham variant, as they had spotted it in a cluster of cases in the Norfolk town - but it became more widely known as the Kent variant, where it was first identified.

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at Norwich's Quadram Institute.

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at Norwich's Quadram Institute. - Credit: Quadram Institute

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at the Quadram Institute, has written about the Omicron virus in a new blog.

He said: "Now we have another new variant to hunt but you can be reassured that the UK has one of the very best scientific systems in the world for doing this.

"The vast majority of the mutations observed in SARS-CoV-2 have no apparent effect on the virus and only a very small minority are likely to be important and change the virus in a significant way - for example, a change in the ability to infect people, cause more severe disease, or make vaccines ineffective.

"But the Omicron variant is concerning because it has a very large number of mutations in the spike protein of the virus, and they could potentially make this new variant more transmissible or reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.

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"At the Quadram Institute, we will continue to hunt for new SARS-CoV-2 variants and to give the UK early warning of any emerging threats but, importantly, we can all help protect our communities by getting our vaccinations, limiting contact with other people, and wearing face masks in crowded places."

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, has urged people to keep getting their vaccinations and booster jabs.

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