OMICRON is already thought to be spreading among people in the UK in the lead up to Christmas.
As scientists gather more data on the super strain, one worrisome sign is that it could be infecting children at a higher rate than before.
The data comes from South Africa, where the Omicron variant is driving a sudden fourth wave.
Their demographics are different to the UK, where there are now at least 134 confirmed cases, and so it is not clear at this stage how the variant could behave from country to country.
But British experts said it was "potentially a big issue we need to face up to".
Children have until now been largely unaffected by the virus, only suffering mild disease in the large majority of cases.
At this stage, it’s not clear how the emergence of Omicron will change this.
But the common symptoms Covid have altered slightly through the pandemic in response to new variants and the vaccines.
The doctor who first sounded the alarm about the Omicron variant has claimed that it causes different symptoms.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said the main symptoms of Omicron that she had seen in young men were:
- Body aches
Dr Coetzee described one “very interesting case” of a six-year-old girl who had “a temperature and a very high pulse rate".
These may be signs to look out for in your child – however this is just one anecdotal case.
Dr Coetzee, who is also on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, said that unlike Delta, so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste.
Ntsakisi Maluleke, a public health specialist in the Gauteng province, told Reuters many patients were reporting "non-specific" flu-like symptoms like a scratchy throat.
🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
Ms Maluleke urged parents not to take flu-like symptoms lightly and to get tested.
But she reassured children had “mild disease”.
There has been some discrepancy about whether the new variant causes mild or severe illness in children in South Africa.
Dr Rudo Mathivha, of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Soweto, suggested children were more sick than before.
She claimed: "We are now seeing them [children] coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in hospital for quite a number of days.”
The NHS lists the three main symptoms of Covid in children and adults as:
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot, for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- a loss or change to sense of smell or taste
Experts on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app have urged parents to look for other common signs in children including:
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
Children at higher risk
Evidence coming from South Africa suggests hospitals are seeing an unexpectedly high number of young Covid patients.
More under fives are being admitted to hospitals in South Africa than ever seen before in the pandemic, health chiefs say.
While it is not clear at this very early stage if children are more susceptible to this strain, experts said it is possible.
But it could also be because children and younger adults have not been offered the Covid vaccine as much as adults, if at all.
Kids 12 years and under are not eligible for a jab in South Africa.
Prof Christina Pagel, a mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, said she did not think the trend was a result of the vaccine programme, because rates were low across all age bands.
She told The Sun: “They haven't vaccinated many people in South Africa [of all ages], and it's not more children compared to adults. It's more children in this wave compared to the previous wave. They are seeing far more children in hospital than before.
"But it is worrying. Something has changed about the virus that is now affecting children under five, and we don't know what it is."
Prof Pagel said it was highly likely that Omicron would become the most dominant strain in the UK, and a new wave won’t become clearer until the New Year.
Downing Street has said there is “no hard evidence” to suggest children are worse affected by the Omicron variant.
It followed reports from Tshwane in South Africa that children under the age of two accounted for about 10 per cent of total hospital admissions with the variant.
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