Professor David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, said the new strain of Covid posed a “high risk” but believes the government is determined “not to disrupt Christmas”.
“What happens after Christmas is another matter,” he told Sky News.
“Travel restrictions are only going to slow things down a bit, they are not going to stop them.
“In the new year we will probably see a lot of challenges and that could mean tougher measures. “
Professor Spiegelhalter, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the emergence of Omicron is “appalling timing” as the next few weeks are “one of the most risky times … with lots of socializing inside ”.
He suggested that working from home would be an effective way to reduce the spread as it limits people’s social contact.
The expert said the new data seemed to indicate that Omicron did not pose as much of a serious health risk, but warned that it was still too early to make precise predictions.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal if you get it,” he said. “I think that’s about all we can say at the moment. “
So far, the government has continued to say that Christmas will take place this year, after millions of people were forced to stay at home last year due to the increase in coronavirus cases.
Earlier today, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the program: “We are entering this Christmas in a much better shape.
“We can enjoy Christmas in a way that we weren’t able to last year.
“It’s a testament to vaccines. We did the right thing, we took a balanced approach.
A South African health researcher said early data suggests the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but has less than a one percent chance of reinfection and usually results in “milder” disease.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, said: “We know three things that we didn’t know last week, the first thing is that the virus is spreading extremely quickly in South Africa, the increase in cases is much greater than it has been in the last three waves, so it appears that Omicron is able to spread very easily and practically all the cases we are seeing in South Africa right now are Omicron.
“The second thing we have data on is re-infections, so as you know after having Covid you have about a 1% chance, if not less than 1% chance, of being re-infected and even catching disease again, of course, by this virus.
“The third small piece of data we already have concerns clinical cases and the severity of the disease.
“The only data suggests that the disease may occur more in younger people and mainly in younger people who are not vaccinated and overall, so far, the disease has appeared to be milder, but still a times I want to say that we have to be careful – these are very early days. “