The Omicron Covid variant has a ‘substantial’ ability to evade immunity from a previous infection, the first real-world study on the new variant has suggested.

New research claims it could spark a large new wave of infections – even in populations that boast high levels of antibodies.

It remains to be seen how much protection existing vaccines offer against Omicron, scientists said in the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

They warned: ‘Urgent questions remain regarding whether Omicron is also able to evade vaccine-induced immunity and the potential implications of reduced immunity to infection on protection against severe disease and death.’

It comes after a team of experts studied almost 2.8 million confirmed cases across South Africa, starting from March 2020.

Their findings suggest the risk of reinfection was lower in the Beta and Delta waves than in the first strain of the virus, which is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China.

But the risk of reinfection is 2.4 times higher with Omicron when compared to the first wave, Sky News reports.

Researchers wrote: ‘We find evidence of a substantial and ongoing increase in the risk of reinfection that is temporally consistent with the timing of the emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa, suggesting that its selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals.’

However, the new research comes after the South African doctor who discovered Omicron revealed patients have experienced ‘extremely mild’ symptoms in her country.

Dr Angelique Coetzee has suggested countries may be panicking unnecessarily about the new Covid strain.

Meanwhile, the boss behind the Pfizer vaccine has insisted people jabbed with his product are likely to still be protected from severe illness.

Immunologist Dr Ugur Sahin told The Wall Street Journal: ‘Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot.’

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