The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified two suspected cases of the Omicron variant in people associated with Pembroke College, according to an email from Pembroke to their students.
The UKHSA is now carrying out additional testing amongst College staff and students to find out if the variant has spread more widely. PCR tests will be issued on site on the 3rd and 4th of December for all Pembroke students and staff. The tests are issued on a voluntary basis, but Pembroke has told students “we would strongly encourage you to participate.”
The College stressed that “at this point the risk of further cases is low” and that the additional testing is a precautionary measure.
The UKHSA “recommends that students living on site stay in College until you have your result.”
Pembroke went ahead with its planned JCR Christmas Dinner on Wednesday, but students were required to provide proof of a negative LFD covid test on entry. Students have also been told to test before using the JCR bar.
There is currently no evidence that the Omicron variant causes more severe illness than previous variants. However, the variant has a large number of mutations which affect the structure of its spike protein, which is used by the immune system to identify and target the virus. Scientists are concerned that these mutations will make the Omicron variant more able to evade the body’s immune system, even after vaccination.
People who have been identified as a close contact of someone with the Omicron variant are required to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.
Pembroke told Cherwell: “Pembroke continues to support all students who are isolating due to covid-19, as we have done throughout the pandemic. We are working closely with the HSA and implementing their guidance with regard to procedures where omicron is identified. Protecting all students and staff remains our priority at this time and we continue to provide appropriate guidance to all members of our community.”
A spokesperson from Oxford University told Cherwell: “We can confirm that two members of Oxford University have tested positive for COVID-19, and the omicron variant is suspected. The individuals are now isolating in line with government guidance and their close contacts have been notified and are also isolating. The University is working closely with the public health authorities and following their advice.
“The University has already implemented a number of changes to its health guidance in response to the omicron variant, based on advice from its clinical academics. There are no further changes to the University’s health guidance at this stage, or any additional actions that students or staff need to take. We are continuing to encourage the whole community to follow all University and Government health advice to reduce the risks of COVID-19.”