While Covid-19 booster shots provide more protection against severe disease from the new Omicron variant, even this starts to wane after 10 weeks, the UK Health Security Agency has announced amid talk of post-Christmas lockdowns.

The agency’s data on Omicron in comparison to the previously dominant Delta variant of the virus shows that people infected by the new strain may be up to 70% less likely to end up in a hospital, UKHSA Chief Executive Jenny Harries said on Thursday.

She called it an “encouraging early signal” but noted that “this is early data and more research is required to confirm these findings.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the findings, but pointed out that “cases of the variant continue to rise at an extraordinary rate – already surpassing the record daily number in the pandemic.”

“Hospital admissions are increasing, and we cannot risk the NHS [National Health Service] being overwhelmed,” Javid said. 

Protecting the NHS was the rationale for the original 2020 lockdown, based on the early doomsday models from Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College in London.

Addressing widespread speculation about new restrictions coming after the holidays, Javid said it was “still too early” to tell and that the government was continuing to “monitor the data hour by hour.” He urged Britons to “please stay cautious this Christmas and get your booster as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

“While two doses of the vaccine aren’t enough, we know boosters offer significant protection against the variant and early evidence suggests this strain may be less severe than Delta,” the minister said.

However, UKHSA data noted that the booster efficacy begins to wane more quickly against Omicron, and is already 15-25% lower after just 10 weeks.

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