Boris Johnson has announced measures designed to contain the spread of the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus, as the UK’s chief medical officer has warned there is a reasonable chance of “escaping the vaccine”.
Anyone entering the UK will have to have a PCR test within two days of arriving and will need to self-isolate until they test negative, after the UK reports its first cases of the news variant.
Any contact of a suspected case of Omicron should be isolated for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Face masks will be made mandatory in shops and on public transport, but not in pubs and restaurants. All measurements will be reviewed in three weeks.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Professor Chris Whitty said there was “a reasonable chance that at least there would be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant,” the first admission of this type from a UK health official. This means that the variant may be able to evade vaccine protection, but Whitty insisted it was likely that vaccines would always help prevent serious illness and death.
The British Prime Minister said: âOur scientists are learning more by the hour, and it appears that Omicron is spreading very quickly and can spread between people who have been doubly vaccinated.
âThere is also a very widespread mutation, which means that it deviates quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus and, therefore, could – at least in part – reduce the protection of our vaccines over time. “
The Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization was tasked with considering whether booster vaccines should be extended to those under 40 and whether the gap between the second and third dose should be reduced by six months.
As scientists continue to assess the new variant, the government has yet to roll out its Covid-19 Plan B, which includes home guidance work and Covid-19 passports for mass events.
When asked whether the government should have activated its full package of measures under Plan B, a Sage adviser told the FT: ‘If what we think we know now [about Omicron] turns out to be pretty much true, and hopefully it isn’t, then Plan B won’t be strict enough to stop this.
Johnson told reporters he was “confident” this Christmas “will be considerably better than last Christmas.”
The new measures were introduced as the variant continued to spread across Europe and scientists rushed to assess the new level of risk.
The UK Department of Health said one case had been identified in Chelmsford and a second in Nottingham. They were linked and connected to travel to southern Africa, officials said.
Earlier on Saturday, the World Health Organization called for a sober approach to the variant to ensure countries reporting cases are not penalized.
WHO on Friday designated Omicron as a “variant of concern”, skipping the intermediate designation of “interest”.
Sajid Javid, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Affairs, said there would be increased testing capacity in affected areas and new travel restrictions, which will apply from Sunday at four. other African countries.
“We will not hesitate to take further action if necessary,” Javid said.
Test results to assess Omicron’s response to vaccines and the immune system aren’t expected for two to three weeks, scientists and officials said.
Global travel has been increasingly restricted since Thursday, with the US, EU, Switzerland and the UK placing restrictions on travel to southern Africa and several other countries where the variant has been detected.
South African scientists are sending samples of the virus to biosafety agencies around the world, including the UK’s Health Security Agency and the government laboratory in Porton Down.
Meanwhile, there has been new evidence that the new variant is sowing in Europe as the first cases were identified in Germany and the Czech Republic, a day after a case was identified in Belgium.
Dutch authorities were investigating whether 61 people who tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday had contracted the Omicron variant.
They were placed in hotel isolation for seven days, according to Dutch health authorities. “The positive test results will be examined as soon as possible to determine whether this is the worrying new variant,” the Dutch health authority said.
Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, has warned that the Omicron variant may already be in the United States, although there have been no confirmed cases in the country so far. He Recount broadcaster NBC earlier Saturday that the new variant was of concern because it “has a large number of mutations” which potentially makes the virus more contagious and more transmissible.
Omicron appears to be behind a significant increase in cases in South Africa. Its increased transmissibility has not yet been confirmed, although the WHO has said it appears to have a growth advantage.
Some of its mutations have already been linked to immune breakout. Any variant significantly more transmissible than Delta, already more contagious than the ancestral coronavirus, or capable of breaking through vaccine protection could seriously hamper the global recovery after the pandemic.
Additional reports by Oliver Barnes and Mehreen Khan