COVID-19: Most cases now ‘like severe cold’ – and Omicron appears to produce ‘fairly mild’ illness, expert says

Most people testing positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test have a “milder condition that looks just like a severe cold”, a leading expert has said.

Professor Tim Spector, chief scientist on the ZOE app – a major study that tracks COVID symptoms, said the majority of infected people no longer have the “classical triad” of persistent cough, fever, and loss of smell and taste.

He said his team had yet to gather “accurate data” on Omicron symptoms, but that initial findings suggest they are not much different from Delta – which already showed milder and more cold-like symptoms than previous variants.

Omicron has been spreading rapidly across the UK, with a record number of cases recorded yesterday.

Which COVID-19 symptoms should you look out for?

A recent study by the ZOE team found symptoms are no longer restricted to only those outlined by the government.

People should now look out for:

  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Loss of smell
  • Fever

Prof Spector told Sky News: “Broadly what we’re seeing now is the majority of people testing PCR positive actually have cold-like symptoms and they do not have the classical triad of ill COVID symptoms of fever, loss of smell and taste and persistent cough.

“So it’s slowly emerged into a more symptomatic milder condition that looks just like a severe cold to many people.”

He said people should not wait for “a loss of taste, a temperature and a cough” before questioning whether they may have the virus.

“More than 50% of people are presenting, and never getting those other symptoms, and yet they are testing PCR positive,” said Prof Spector.

He said his team had only examined about 1,000 Omicron cases so far, but that it appeared to produce a “fairly mild” illness.

Prof Spector said they were seeing “fairly mild illness and nearly everyone has got better after about five days”.

However, he cautioned that “many of the people who are getting infections in London right now are on the younger side and we haven’t got a lot of sick people who may be the ones who end up going to hospital”.

The epidemiologist also warned that NHS Test and Trace efforts may not be effective with Omicron.

He said: “I don’t think that Test and Trace is going to work in this scenario because it only takes about two days from meeting someone to getting an infection – and that often isn’t enough time to do something about it.

“You’ve already already spread it by the time you’ve been contacted by Test and Trace in my opinion.

“So people should do their own health check; see if they have any cold-like symptoms, meeting people, make sure you get a lateral flow test before meeting people and make sure everyone else is doing the same.”

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