Omicron Symptoms ‘Feel Much More Like Common Cold’: UK Scientist

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
December 23, 2021 Updated: December 23, 2021

The symptoms of Omicron positive cases “feel much more like the common cold,” a British scientist said on Thursday as he warned that half of the people with cold-like symptoms now have COVID-19.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, blasted the UK government for the “misinformation” in its latest stay-at-home guidance about COVID-19 symptoms.

Spector said that data from the ZOE COVID Study “clearly shows that the most important symptoms are no longer a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or loss of taste or smell.”

“For most people, an Omicron positive case will feel much more like the common cold, starting with a sore throat, runny nose, and a headache,” he said, adding: “You only need to ask a friend who has recently tested positive to find this out.”

Spector said the government needs to “change public messaging urgently” as “half of people with cold-like symptoms now have COVID.”

This has been calculated by comparing the number of new cases of a cold-like illness to the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases, said the ZOE research group in its news analysis.

Spector said that the number of new symptomatic cases has “exploded” over the last week, making it the biggest jump in cases he had seen since the ZOE COVID Study started.

The study estimates that on average one in 45 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID-19, increasing to one in 43 in England.

In Wales, it was one in 47, and one in 67 in Scotland, it added.

But Spector said ZOE data is consistent with recent studies which suggest the severity of the Omicron variant is relatively mild.

“Whilst the figures paint a worrying picture, the good news is that our preliminary data, based on around 2,500 probable cases reported on the ZOE app suggests that Omicron is more mild than Delta,” he said.

Researchers from the Imperial College London estimated that Omicron patients were 20 to 25 percent less likely to need hospital care and 40 to 45 percent less likely to be hospitalized for one night or more when compared to patients with the Delta variant.

The researchers also estimated that natural immunity, or protection from a prior infection, reduces the risk of hospitalization by 50 percent and the risk of a hospital stay of one night or more by 61 percent.

Scientists in a separate Scotland-wide study called Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 said Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospital admission compared with Delta.

PA contributed to this report.