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Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 3 min read

Omicron is the latest strain of coronavirus and the most dominant strain worldwide. Initial concerns were heightened, as the strain was appearing to spread faster than previous variants and it had many mutations that hadn’t been seen before.

With time comes more data, and we now know that it seems to cause much milder disease than previous strains. There’s a tidal wave of information, and it can be difficult to tease apart the good from the bad, so let’s review what we know at the time of writing.

How is it different?

Omicron was first discovered by scientists in central and southern Africa in late 2021. Omicron has been shown to be much less severe and cause less hospitalisation and death than its predecessor, Delta.

A study by the COVID ZOE app showed that similar to the Delta strain, Omicron causes symptoms of runny nose, headache, sore throat, sneezing and feeling fatigued. Compared to the first COVID-19 strain, one out of every two people had the classical symptoms of fever, continuous cough and loss of sense of smell or taste.

The Omicron variant causes less severe symptoms in most people than the previous variants. Scientists have credited the effectiveness of vaccinations for this, as those who have been jabbed have fared much better than those who are unvaccinated.

Based on data so far, scientists, health professionals and politicians are emphatically encouraging people to get their initial two jabs, if they haven’t already, and their booster jab, if eligible. They emphasise that this will give people added protection against this new strain.

Should I be worried if it’s not that severe?

While vaccinations do seem to offer protection from severe disease if you get the Omicron variant, there are still some people who will fall ill with it, with the risk of hospitalisation and even death.

It’s less likely if you’re young, fit and healthy, but you may have loved ones or even strangers around you who can fall ill. Some may have particular reasons they have been unable to be vaccinated.

It’s also too early to say how protective it is against post-COVID syndrome, or long COVID – with long term symptoms that can affect health, home life and ability to work.

So it’s important to follow safety measures to keep you and your loved ones safe – depending on government guidance, this might be wearing a mask, washing hands, keeping your distance, and isolating if you’ve had close contact with COVID or tested positive.

How can I get tested?

If you have coronavirus, there is no way to find out which variant you have, any test results will not be made available, and it doesn’t change the need to isolate for a set period.

There are two tests available for COVID-19. For those with symptoms, you should order a free PCR test, either via the government website or by attending a test centre. This can take 1 to 3 days to come back, and is free.

The lateral flow test is done at home and gives a result 20 to 30 minutes later. This used to be free, but is now only available to buy from pharmacies or retailers, unless you're in a vulnerable category.

If positive for either test, you should isolate for at least 5 days, but this is no longer enforced by law for those living in England.

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