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The Trinity Immunologist said the discovery overnight on Friday has given him hope ‘that it’s like a cold’

Professor Luke O’Neill says the discovery of the cold virus in the Omicron variant is a sign of hope that it is just a common cold.

The Trinity Immunologist said the discovery overnight on Friday has given him hope “that it’s like a cold – which would be tremendous.”

He told RTE’s Brendan O’Connor of the discovery, which he said was highly unusual, as cases in South Africa have risen to 35,000 with no measurable impact on hospitals.

“Science is going very fast on this one, incredibly. In a week we know a huge amount it,” Prof O’Neil said.

“Last night, there was a bit of breaking news, it looks like it (Omicron) has got a piece of the common cold in it.

Professor Luke O’Neill

“So it has picked up a piece of another virus, a cold virus called 229E and that could make it more like a cold which would be tremendous,” he said.

While it is likely Omicron is more infectious, there would be no need to worry, Prof O’Neil said, as it may lead only to a “mild illness”.

Omicron is thought to have originated in South Africa, where 80% of people have already had Covid and 25% are vaccinated.

“If this turns out to be a cold, then there’s no need to worry about re-infection, it’s just another cause of a common cold,” Prof O’Neill said.

“It has hijacked a piece of the common cold which makes it unusual but if it becomes more like a common cold then we are going to have a mild illness.

“It may be more infectious, it may dominate and eventually Omicron could be the one that is all over the world but if it’s not causing more severe disease then we’re in a much better place,” Prof O’Neil said, adding “we don’t know for sure yet.”

Reacting to Friday’s announcements of further restrictions to the hospitality industry, the Trinity Professor said ‘his heart sank’ but he feels they are necessary.

“I hate to say it but I think we do need them.

“They make sense because the virus spreads from you to me. If we limit social contact there will be less spreading and the reason is Omicron. A week ago we didn’t have Omicron so it just shows how quick things change,” he said.

“What’s strange is we are introducing restrictions when the epidemiology looks good at the moment, things are stabilising. There is the lowest cases in hospital since November 6. But it is because of Omicron, because of the unknowns there,” he said.

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