The new Omicron variant of Covid-19 is likely to be confirmed in Northern Ireland within days, but there are reasons not to panic as the difficult winter months set in.
The latest strain of the virus was first detected in South Africa and it is feared it could be more contagious and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
But most scientists agree we are better placed to fight the virus than this time a year ago.
As of 12pm on Friday, 1,275,441 people in Northern Ireland received both doses of the vaccine, with 419,415 of those taking the booster jab.
The results of a booster jab trial found it “massively” strengthens the body’s defences against Covid-19, raising hopes of strong protection against Omicron.
A third dose not only increases antibody levels thirtyfold, but roughly tripled levels of T-cells.
Experts believe the T-cell part of the immune system could be the critical weapon against Omicron.
The trial found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines performed best as boosters of the six vaccines that were tested.
We have been here before
The emergence of the Delta variant has given the world critical experience in dealing with yet another twist in the pandemic.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials said border closures may buy time to deal with Omicron, but current safety measures and experience in dealing with Delta should remain the foundation for the fight ahead.
“It is clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know that people are worried about Omicron,” said the WHO’s Dr Takeshi Kasai.
“But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social and economic impacts.”
Nothing confirmed on Omicron
It has been just over a week since scientists in Botswana and South Africa raised the Omicron variant.
Yet it could take weeks before scientists know the threat it poses.
There is little to no understanding of the damage it may or may not do.
It has been easy to jump to worst case scenarios throughout the pandemic but even if Omicron can dodge neutralising bodies in the vaccine, it does not mean those who have taken the jab will be unprotected.
Shabir Madhi, who has led Covid vaccine trials in South Africa, said early reports suggest Omicron infections have been mild.
Europe on a strong footing
Forty-two cases of Omicron have been detected so far in the UK, while case numbers in other European countries are either in single or double figures.
This could be a tentative sign the new variant may fail to take hold outside southern Africa.
It is too soon to say this for definite but the signs are positive so far.
As well as the Pfizer jab, South Africa has used the Janssen vaccine - not in use in the UK - and suspended the AstraZeneca jab.
Experts believe the longer interval between jabs in the UK could prove beneficial.
No hospitalisations or deaths from variant
There have been no reports of hospitalisations or deaths as a result of anyone contracting the Omicron variant.
With countries around the world scrambling to contain the variant, no deaths have been reported to the UN health agency.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva: “I have not seen reports of Omicron-related deaths yet.
“We're collecting all the evidence and we will find much more evidence as we go along.
“The more countries... keep testing people, and looking specifically into the Omicron variant, we will also find more cases, more information, and, hopefully not, but also possibly deaths.”