Six new cases of Omicron detected in Scotland as UK labs probe 225 ‘possible’ samples


Six cases of the ultra-transmissible Omicron variant were detected in Scotland today, officials warned, as the UK probed up to 225 ‘possible’ cases — and a G7 meeting was called amid rising concern over the mutant strain.

Scottish health authorities said four of the cases were spotted in Lanarkshire, and two more were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. It is unclear if these are linked to travel to southern Africa.

It comes as UK authorities examine some 75 ‘probable’ cases of B.1.1.529, its scientific name, and up to 150 possible cases of the mutant strain.

Ministers rushed out guidance last night for pupils in year seven and above to wear face masks in school communal areas such as playgrounds and corridors. 

But some experts have already called for masks to be used again in classrooms, saying the virus ‘doesn’t know the difference’ between the classroom and the corridor. 

All adults are to be offered a coronavirus booster jab to help stop the Omicron variant.

The vaccines watchdog will today approve third doses for the over-18s, with a Whitehall source saying: ‘We want to put the booster programme on steroids.’

The move came amid reports that UK labs are probing 75 ‘probable’ omicron samples and up to 150 ‘possible’ others. 

Ministers have already announced the introduction tomorrow of fresh virus restrictions, including mandatory facemasks in shops and new rules on self-isolation.

Almost 18 million people have so far had booster jabs, which until now have been restricted to over-40s, frontline medics and those with health issues. But now 12.8 million Britons in the 18 to 39 age group will be invited for a third shot.

The vaccine rollout may be accelerated by shrinking the gap between second and third doses from six months to five.

 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is also considering whether to offer second doses to 12 to 15-year-olds, who currently only get one jab.

As a third case of the Omicron variant was confirmed in Britain: 

  • The head of the UK Health Security Agency admitted it was ‘very likely’ that further cases of the new strain would emerge; 
  • Families were told to plan for Christmas ‘as normal’ as ministers rejected calls to bring back more lockdown restrictions; 
  • Medics in South Africa urged the world not to panic about Omicron despite fears it can spread rapidly and may evade vaccines; 
  • Police will be given the power to issue fines of between £200 and £6,400 to back up the order for face coverings to be used on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers again from tomorrow; 
  • Secondary schools, colleges and universities in England were told that pupils, staff and visitors should wear masks in communal areas; 
  • The UK will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the new variant; 
  • Ministers were urged to slash the cost of PCR tests to stop families being priced out of going abroad this Christmas.
The head of the UK Health Security Agency admitted it was ¿very likely¿ that further cases of the new strain would emerge

The head of the UK Health Security Agency admitted it was ¿very likely¿ that further cases of the new strain would emerge

The head of the UK Health Security Agency admitted it was ‘very likely’ that further cases of the new strain would emerge

Between November 11 and November 26, there were 48 direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. During this period, there were two British Airways flights and one Virgin Atlantic flight per day

Between November 11 and November 26, there were 48 direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. During this period, there were two British Airways flights and one Virgin Atlantic flight per day

Between November 11 and November 26, there were 48 direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. During this period, there were two British Airways flights and one Virgin Atlantic flight per day

All flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Mr Javid

All flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Mr Javid

All flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Mr Javid

Drug cocktail that could be a saviour: New Covid treatment is FOUR TIMES more effective at keeping patients out of intensive care, tests suggest 

A new drug cocktail is four times more effective at keeping Covid patients out of intensive care, initial tests have suggested.

While the steroid dexamethasone was the first drug to be licensed for treating the virus, trials indicate that combining it with heart failure medication spironolactone yields better results.

A study, conducted by former vice-chancellor of Newcastle University Sir Christopher Edwards, analysed hospital patients in Delhi.

He found that, in hospitalised patients taking the ‘Spidex’ cocktail, just 5.4 per cent were admitted to intensive care compared to 19.6 per cent of those taking dexamethasone alone.

Now he is calling for wider trials of the Spidex regime as he believes more lives could be saved.

His findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, revealed 40 Covid patients taking Spidex performed better on every clinical, biochemical and radiological measure than 40 patients on a high dose of dexamethasone.

The treatment works by ‘turning off’ the impact the virus has on the body, rather than targeting the virus itself.

Sir Christopher hopes the combination should also work against the mutated Omicron virus.

NHS bosses are working to rapidly increase the capacity of the vaccination programme from the six million doses that had been scheduled for England alone over the next three weeks.

The deputy chairman of the JCVI said it was right to give over-18s a booster earlier than anticipated amid concerns over the new variant and the impact of winter pressures on the NHS.

Professor Anthony Harnden also backed reducing the interval between the second and booster doses. He told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House: ‘There’s a very good, strong argument for raising the antibody level in the whole of the community.

‘So, accelerating the booster programme, both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose, will be a sensible strategy. Those adults 18-plus will have an offer of a booster earlier than we had previously envisaged.’

Sources quoted by The Sun said last night there are fears in Whitehall that hundreds of Omicron cases are already in the UK.

Ministers and experts are scrambling to work out how contagious and dangerous Omicron is in the light of the fears that up to 225 cases could currently be being processed by UK labs.

Pharmaceutical giants yesterday suggested a new vaccine to fight against Omicron could be ready on a large scale at the start of next year.

The chief medical officer of Moderna has said while it was a ‘dangerous-looking’ variant, he was optimistic about fighting it. Paul Burton added: ‘We have cause to be hopeful, we’ve learnt a lot about this virus in general.

‘We’ve learned so much about how to deal with Covid as well, through simple measures, and obviously through vaccines, but we need to see how this virus now behaves in populations of older people, people with other comorbidities.

‘We really want to get a handle on exactly how severe the disease could be. This is a dangerous-looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to get to fight it, so I’m optimistic.’

Dr Burton said researchers would have a better idea about the effectiveness of current vaccines against Omicron in the next couple of weeks, but if a new vaccine was required it could be produced on a large scale by early 2022.

Dr Jenny Harries, of the UK Health Security Agency, said more Omicron cases were likely but Britain’s advanced sequencing capabilities would ‘enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread’.

Yesterday the UK reported 37,681 virus cases and 51 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed

Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed

Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed

Dutch police arrest couple who fled omicron quarantine hotel and boarded flight out of Holland – as super-mutant continues spread around the globe with cases in Canada and France 

Dutch police have arrested a couple who ‘fled’ an Omicron quarantine hotel and boarded a flight out of Holland – as the super-mutant continues to spread around the globe with cases in Canada and France. 

Dutch border police said Sunday they arrested a couple on a plane at Schiphol Airport after they ran from a hotel where Covid-19 positive passengers from South Africa were being quarantined.

‘The arrests took place as the plane was about to take off,’ the Marechaussee police force said on Twitter, adding that the pair had been handed over to the public health authority.

Meanwhile, France’s Health Ministry said on Sunday it had detected eight possible cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant across the country after the government announced it would tighten restrictions to contain its spread.

And two cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, first detected in Southern Africa last week, have been confirmed in Canada, provincial health officials said on Sunday. 

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe Covid-19 compared to other strains.

‘They are being considered as possibly being contaminated with the Omicron variant having been to southern Africa in the last 14 days,’ the French Health Ministry said in a statement.

It said further tests were being carried out to fully confirm it was Omicron, but the people and those they had been in contact with were now in isolation.

France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. It recorded more than 31,600 positive COVID-19 cases on Sunday having seen a sharp rise in the number of patients in intensive care the previous day. 

Health Minister Olivier Veran had earlier told reporters at a vaccination centre in Paris that the government would do its utmost to contain the spread of the new variant.

He said that any contact that a person at risk of a possible case or a confirmed case of the Omicron variant, even vaccinated, would now have to isolate. Those people should be considered ‘high risk’ and quarantined.

Until now, contact cases of an infected person had to be isolated only when they were not fully vaccinated or when they had weak immune systems.

France has also suspended all flights from southern Africa until at least December 1 and stepped up protocols for people coming from its nearby overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte, the ministry said.  

The Canadian cases were reported in two people who recently travelled to Nigeria, the Ontario government said in a statement. 

On Friday, Canada closed its borders to foreign travellers who have recently been to seven Southern African nations in the preceding two weeks to help stop the spread of the newly identified variant of Covid-19.

‘Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,’ the statement said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.   

THIRD British case of Omicron ‘super-mutant’ is detected in London as contact tracers urgently hunt for church-goers and KFC visitors linked to outbreaks in Essex and Nottingham – but today’s UK Covid cases fall 5.8% to 37,681 and deaths drop from 61 to 51

By BHVISHYA PATEL for MailOnline

Lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs demand a vote on bringing back masks after Sajid Javid said MPs may not debate the move for weeks after it becomes law 

Lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs have demanded a vote on bringing back masks after Sajid Javid said MPs many not debate the move for weeks after it becomes law.

Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptics Tory MPs, last night demanded that a debate and vote should be held tomorrow. 

A number of backbench Tories may stage a rebellion, but it is thought unlikely Labour will oppose the restrictions, virtually guaranteeing they will pass. 

The regulation change on use of face coverings will go before Parliament today and come into effect at 4am tomorrow.

But MPs do not have a vote on the measures before they are brought in because of a proceedings quirk.

Mr Javid said yesterday a vote only needs to be help within 28 days, potentially weeks after the changes are made.

Mr Harper said: ‘Ministers have confirmed that they are going to lay the legislation required on Monday. I think it’s important that MPs get the chance to debate and vote on that legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.’  

 A third case of the newly identified ‘super-mutant’ Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK, officials have .  

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said the individual, who is longer in the country, tested positive for the variant after spending time in Westminster, London. 

UKHSA said the infection was ‘linked to travel to southern Africa’ and sources have claimed they did not go to Parliament during their time in the UK, with the case instead linked to the wider borough. 

An urgent hunt for contacts of the three UK cases continued today as members of a church congregation and staff, customers and delivery workers at a KFC outlet have been told to get a PCR test for the Omicron variant after it was detected in Brentwood.

Essex County Council said the targeted testing affects anyone who visited the KFC in Brentwood High Street on November 19, between 1pm and 5pm. The authority said it also affects people who attended Trinity Church in Pilgrims Hatch on November 21.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said: ‘Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread.  

‘It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.’

It comes after another 37,681 Covid cases and 51 deaths were recorded in the UK today. 

The number of infections posted by Department of Health officials today is down 5.8 per cent from 40,004 recorded last Sunday, while the number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid fell by 16.4 per cent from 61 last week. 

It comes as Sajid Javid today insisted it is ‘going to be a great Christmas’ and the UK was ‘nowhere near’ proper lockdown as he desperately tried to cool panic over the new Omicron Covid variant.

The first two cases of the variant were detected in Nottinghamshire and Essex on Saturday.

Both were linked to travel to southern Africa, the suspected origin of the mutation, and the infected individuals and members of their households were told to self-isolate after the UK Health Security Agency confirmed the sequencing.   

A third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK. Pictured:  A Covid testing centre sign at Heathrow Terminal 5

A third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK. Pictured:  A Covid testing centre sign at Heathrow Terminal 5

A third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK. Pictured:  A Covid testing centre sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 

New Covid restrictions to fight Omicron variant

  • All arrivals to UK after 4am on Tuesday must take a PCR test, rather than a lateral flow, by day two and isolate at home until they get the result;
  • All contacts of someone found to be infected with the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days;
  • Facemasks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport from Tuesday;
  • Seven more countries in southern Africa have been put on the UK’s red list from 4am this morning. Only British residents can come to the UK after visiting red list locations, and even then they must do a spell at a quarantine hotel. 

Today, the Health Secretary said the government was taking ‘proportionate and balanced’ precautions to ‘buy time’.

He also confirmed that masks will be compulsory again in shops and on public transport from Tuesday. 

According to a message on the passenger locator form section of the Government’s website, day two tests for arrivals in the UK will also need to be PCRs rather than lateral flows from 4am on Tuesday. 

But Mr Javid stressed there is no certainty that the ‘super-mutant’ strain will be able to dodge vaccines, or to what extent that could happen.    

Mr Javid said the government would consider updating the recognised symptoms for Covid, after being told on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that reports in southern Africa suggested people did not lose sense of smell or taste and suffered more fatigue.

‘We will of course if we need to,’ he said.

The reassurance effort came after Boris Johnson announced changes to testing and isolation rules, and mandatory masks in shops and on trains in a bid to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible new variant.

At a Downing Street press conference last night the PM put unlocking in reverse as he extended travel bans, enforcing day-two PCR tests for arrivals in Britain, and making facemasks compulsory in shops and on trains.

All arrivals to the country must self-isolate until they get a negative result from a gold-standard test – which can identify those carrying Omicron.

All contacts of people infected with the variant must stay at home for 10 days.

Mr Javid said this morning he hopes extra measures will be ‘temporary’, adding he thinks people will ‘take this more seriously’.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Mr Javid said: ‘Doing it in this proportionate way where it’s for public transport, it’s for retail outlets, I think is the right level of response on masks.

‘It will be via Government regulation and that means, I think, that people will take it seriously.’  

Mr Javid added: ‘It’s important, I think, to act in a proportionate way and also in a temporary way.

Sajid Javid said the government was taking 'proportionate and balanced' precautions to 'buy time', but stressed there is no certainty that the 'super-mutant' strain will be able to dodge jabs

Sajid Javid said the government was taking 'proportionate and balanced' precautions to 'buy time', but stressed there is no certainty that the 'super-mutant' strain will be able to dodge jabs

Sajid Javid said the government was taking ‘proportionate and balanced’ precautions to ‘buy time’, but stressed there is no certainty that the ‘super-mutant’ strain will be able to dodge jabs 

Crowds of shoppers pack on to Northumberland Street in Newcastle this afternoon

Crowds of shoppers pack on to Northumberland Street in Newcastle this afternoon

Crowds of shoppers pack on to Northumberland Street in Newcastle this afternoon

‘I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks. 

‘But I do think in terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal, but at this point in time, given what we know about this variant, and the expert advice that has been received, I think it is right to take some proportionate and balanced action.’ 

At least 61 new Covid cases found in the Netherlands after passengers arrive from South Africa 

At least 61 new cases of Covid have entered the Netherlands from South Africa as fears mount over the spread of the new super mutant variant.

Around 600 passengers arrived on two planes in Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, from Johannesburg — the epicentre for the new strain — hours after travel bans were put in place. 

The passengers in the Netherlands have been placed in quarantine hotels while the authorities investigate whether they have been infected with the variant. Some complained at being left on the plane for hours with no snacks or water. 

People returning to the Netherlands from outside the EU are required to take to show either a negative PCR tests taken 48 hours before their arrival or a negative lateral flow swab done 24 hours before coming back. 

The test results have to include name and contact information of the institute, doctor or laboratory that conducted the test.

Authorities in the country have just announced the early closure of bars, restaurants and some shops due to the record-breaking surge of Covid sweeping through the country. 

‘We now know that 61 of the results were positive and 531 negative,’ the Dutch Health Authority (GGD) said in a statement  

‘Travellers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol.

‘Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named Omicron.’

The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that passengers already en route to the Netherlands would have to undergo testing and quarantine upon arrival.

Passengers on the two KLM flights, from Cape Town and Johannesburg, said they were kept waiting on the tarmac for hours. 

Yesterday four more countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – were added to the no-fly list and all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Mr Javid amid growing international panic about the Omicron variant.

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain’s move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants. 

The Prime Minister said: ‘We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.

‘Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together. 

‘We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status. We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.’   

Mr Johnson said border travel measures can ‘only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together’, so all contacts with a suspected case of the new variant will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. 

He added the measures will be reviewed ‘in three weeks’, adding: ‘At that point we should have much greater information about the continuing effectiveness of our vaccines.’ 

The Prime Minister also told a Downing Street press conference: ‘We need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

‘We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.

‘If you’re boosted, your response is likely to be stronger so it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.

‘From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign, we’re already planning to do six million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks and now we’re looking to go further. 

‘The Health Secretary has asked the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.’

Britain’s first two Omicron infection came as a spate of cases were found across Europe, with at least 61 new cases of Covid entering the Netherlands from South Africa this morning. Authorities are currently sequencing the tests for the new variant.

Europe’s first case of the variant was spotted in Belgium and Germany and the Czech Republic both confirmed suspected cases a day later.  

In an announcement yesterday afternoon, Mr Javid said: ‘Today I can announce one thing that we are doing immediately is carrying out targeted testing and sequencing of positive cases in the two areas that are affected.

‘We know there’s this new variant out there. We don’t know enough about it yet but from what we do know, the protections that we have – especially the vaccines – are hugely important.

‘We will do whatever is necessary to protect the progress we have made as a country. 

NHS Test & Trace workers out in Brentwood High Street this Sunday morning

NHS Test & Trace workers out in Brentwood High Street this Sunday morning

NHS Test & Trace workers out in Brentwood High Street this Sunday morning 

‘We’ve come a long way since the summer and we keep all of this under review and if we need to take further action, we will.’ 

Omicron Covid variant DOES spread rapidly and can be transmitted between fully-vaccinated people, says UK government amid fears it makes jabs 40% less effective 

The Omicron Covid-19 variant does spread rapidly and can be transmitted between full-vaccinated people, the UK government said at a press conference tonight.

It comes amid fears the new super-mutant strain makes jabs 40 per cent less effective after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the variant ‘might in part reduce the effectiveness of vaccines over time’.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said it is not yet clear how effective the vaccine will be as protection against it – but said those who are vaccinated or receive the booster jab will be less likely to become seriously ill.

He said it is ‘inevitable’ the Omicron variant will spread across the world over the next few days but added the majority of cases in the UK remain to be of the Delta variant.

He warned there is currently significant rates of transmission among young people but noted that rates among people aged over 60 and vulnerable groups are improving, meaning hospitalisations and deaths continue to decrease.  

Mr Javid said anyone who has travelled in the last 10 days to the 10 countries now on the red list, they must self-isolate and take PCR tests.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.’ 

Experts warned Britain could face restrictions being reintroduced in the country this Christmas but the Prime Minister hopes travel bans could prevent the need for another lockdown.  

Professor  Whitty previously said he fears Britons will not accept another national lockdown to fight off the variant over the winter because of ‘behavioural fatigue’ caused by two years of restrictions.  

And Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of the Oxford scientists behind the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the variant.  

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

‘At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.

‘It’s extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.’ 

Prof Pollard said a new vaccine to combat Omicron could begin ‘very rapidly’ if required.

‘The processes of how one goes about developing a new vaccine are increasingly well-oiled, so if it’s needed that is something that could be moved very rapidly.’ 

South African experts yesterday also attempted to calm the wave of panic over the variant, describing it as a ‘storm in a tea cup’. 

Meanwhile, British vaccine task force member Sir John Edmunds said travel bans will not keep the new variant away from British shores but could delay a potential surge in cases beyond the festive period to protect the NHS from further pressure.

Experts however have insisted there is ‘no plausible scenario’ in which Omicron will take the UK back to ‘square one’, and called for ‘calm heads’ despite the halting of flights from southern Africa.  

Forcing children who are contacts of omicron cases to isolate risks causing ‘chaos’ in schools with thousands of healthy pupils missing lessons – despite new rules on compulsory masks for Year 7 and above 

Forcing children who are contacts of omicron cases to isolate risks causing ‘chaos’ in schools with thousands of healthy pupils missing lessons, MPs have warned.

Secondary school students have been told to wear masks in communal areas by the Department of Education. 

But Steve Baker MP, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group, told the Telegraph the measures ‘will cause chaos including collateral harms like damage to children’s education’.

He added: ‘The Government needs to explain when all of this will be brought to an end.’

The measure, which applies from Monday, covers all education establishments including universities, as well as childcare settings such as early years care.

The guidance does not mean masks should be worn in classrooms but it is advised that they are worn in communal areas like corridors.

The new advice comes a day after Boris Johnson announced new face coverings rules on public transport and in shops

The new advice comes a day after Boris Johnson announced new face coverings rules on public transport and in shops

The new advice comes a day after Boris Johnson announced new face coverings rules on public transport and in shops

Molly Kingsley, co-founder of parent campaign group UsForThem, said: ‘If they don’t exempt children it will cause chaos in the classrooms. Asking healthy children to quarantine is not a harm-free measure, it is harmful to children who are not at serious risk from the illness.’ 

The DfE sent an email update to schools and childcare providers which said: ‘Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.

‘Pupils or students (in Year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.’

The update comes after the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said an individual, who is longer in the country, tested positive for the Omicron variant after travelling to Westminster in London and the infection was ‘linked to travel to southern Africa’.

The Omicron variant is thought to be more transmissible than the currently-dominant Delta variant.

It was first identified in South Africa but has been found in Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands in the days since the World Health Organisation designated it a ‘variant of concern’. 

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘The news of a new variant – the so-called Omicron variant – will have understandably caused concern for people across our country, including our teachers, wider education and childcare staff, parents, pupils and students.

‘We are already taking targeted and proportionate action as a precaution while we find out more information about the new variant.

‘As we do so, we will continue to prioritise children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, making sure education and childcare settings are as safe as possible and children continue to benefit from classroom teaching.

‘We are working with education and childcare settings to enhance safety measures where needed, including introducing isolation for 10 days for close contacts of suspected Omicron cases.

‘I’d like to thank everyone working to support our children and young people for their patience and hard work.’

The guidance is temporary and will be reviewed in three weeks, the Department for Education said.

Students in Year 7 or above should also continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt, the DfE said, and staff and students should continue to be encouraged to test themselves twice a week using lateral flow tests.

The Prime Minister used a televised press conference yesterday to introduce restrictions for the first time in months to delay the spread of the Omicron variant

The Prime Minister used a televised press conference yesterday to introduce restrictions for the first time in months to delay the spread of the Omicron variant

The Prime Minister used a televised press conference yesterday to introduce restrictions for the first time in months to delay the spread of the Omicron variant 

The department also said schools, out of school settings and colleges will ‘want to consider’ whether to go ahead with any planned international trips at the current time, given the potential risk to education from the need to isolate and test when returning to the UK.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it supports the measures ‘as a sensible response to the risks posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19’.

But he added: ‘This worrying situation, however, emphasises the need for better support from the Government for the education sector.’

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘We welcome the DfE guidance that masks must be worn by adults and children in Year 7 and above in communal areas. We think the DfE should go further and encourage mask-wearing in secondary classrooms and also plan investment to improve ventilation and air filtration.

‘These steps can all help reduce the spread of Covid and thereby reduce disruption to education. Omicron makes the threat of disruption of education all the clearer: any close contacts of an Omicron case, staff or pupils, will have to self-isolate for 10 days, whether vaccinated or not.’

Pupils were advised in the email to follow the new guidance if they use public transport to get to school

Pupils were advised in the email to follow the new guidance if they use public transport to get to school

Pupils were advised in the email to follow the new guidance if they use public transport to get to school

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, welcomed the guidance but added: ‘If schools are to maintain safety during the remainder of this term, the Government will need to accept that its messaging needs to be stronger and that the rules governing isolation of close contacts in particular need to be clear and robust.’

He said the Government needs to consider bolstering its advice to require close contacts to self-isolate if they have Covid-19 symptoms, adding: ‘In the event that there is a delay in a pupil getting a PCR test, or refusing to do so, there is a real risk that close contacts of the new Omicron variant will continue to attend schools for longer than is appropriate, potentially putting others at risk of contracting the new variant and of further transmission of the virus in schools and in the wider community.’

Dr Roach said ‘significant numbers of pupils’ do not undertake the recommended twice-weekly lateral flow tests and the Government ‘must identify a more effective strategy for Covid testing to ensure that all schools can continue to remain open safely’, while providing them with the resources to implement essential safety measures. 

It comes after another 37,681 Covid cases and 51 deaths were recorded in the UK today.

The number of infections posted by Department of Health officials today is down 5.8 per cent from 40,004 recorded last Sunday, while the number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid fell by 16.4 per cent from 61 last week.

Case numbers have been steadily around 30,000-50,000 new cases a day in the UK since the summer with a relatively low number of daily deaths compared to previous waves of the pandemic. 

‘We’re nowhere near full lockdown’: Sajid Javid scrambles to cool alarm over ‘super-mutant’ Omicron Covid strain saying it’s ‘going to be a GREAT Christmas’ – as new PCR rules for travellers and compulsory masks for shops and trains start on TUESDAY 

BY JAMES TAPSFIELD FOR MAILONLINE 

Sajid Javid today insisted it is ‘going to be a great Christmas’ and the UK is ‘nowhere near’ proper lockdown as he desperately tried to cool panic despite a third case of the new Omicron Covid variant being identified in the country.

An individual carrying the ‘super-mutant’ strain visited London, but has since left Britain again, the government has announced.

The news came hours after the Health Secretary said the government was taking ‘proportionate and balanced’ precautions to ‘buy time’, confirming that masks will be compulsory again in shops and on public transport from Tuesday. 

According to a message on the passenger locator form section of the Government’s website, day two tests for arrivals in the UK will also need to be PCRs rather than lateral flows from 4am on Tuesday. 

But Mr Javid stressed there is no certainty that the ‘super-mutant’ strain will be able to dodge vaccines, or to what extent that could happen.

And asked whether there could be a return of even tougher curbs such as social distancing, he said there the government is ‘nowhere near’ that.

Urging people to keep planning for the festive season as they have been, Mr Javid told Sky News: ‘It’s going to be a great Christmas.’ 

Mr Javid said the government will consider updating the recognised symptoms for Covid, after being told on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that reports in southern Africa suggested people did not lose sense of smell or taste and suffered more fatigue.

‘We will of course if we need to,’ he said. 

The reassurance effort came after Boris Johnson announced changes to testing and isolation rules, and mandatory masks in shops and on trains in a bid to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible new variant.   

At a hastily-arranged Downing Street press conference last night the PM painted a grim picture of the potential threat from the new ‘super-mutant’ strain – admitting he cannot guarantee Christmas will go ahead as hoped.  

Mr Johnson put unlocking in reverse as he extended travel bans, enforcing day-two PCR tests for arrivals in Britain, and making facemasks compulsory in shops and on trains. 

All arrivals to the country must self-isolate until they get a negative result from a gold-standard test – which can identify those carrying Omicron. 

All contacts of people infected with the variant must stay at home for 10 days.       

Mr Javid said this morning he hopes extra measures will be ‘temporary’, adding he thinks people will ‘take this more seriously’.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Sajid Javid said: ‘Doing it in this proportionate way where it’s for public transport, it’s for retail outlets, I think is the right level of response on masks.

‘It will be via Government regulation and that means, I think, that people will take it seriously.’

Pressed on whether people will following the rules on masks, Mr Javid said following the news of a new variant: ‘I do think people will take this more seriously.’

Mr Javid added: ‘It’s important, I think, to act in a proportionate way and also in a temporary way.

In other dramatic developments today:

  • Professor Neil Ferguson has said he supports the government’s response and Omicron is likely to spread relatively slowly, but ministers should keep all options on the table to control the disease;
  • Cardiff Rugby has said the team is unable to leave South Africa after two positive cases of Covid-19, one of which is ‘suspected to be the new variant Omicron’;
  • South African medics have reported that the symptoms of the new variant appear to be ‘mild to moderate’, and patients are more likely to be fatigued than lose sense of smell.  

Sturgeon says people should ‘assume’ Omicron will come to Scotland as she warns of more travel curbs    

Nicola Sturgeon today insisted people should ‘assume’ there will be Omicron cases in Scotland as she warned more travel curbs could be needed in the coming days.

The SNP leader said there had been no infections with the ‘super-mutant’ identified north of the border so far.

But she stressed that was not likely to continue, and the authorities ‘may need to go further on restricting travel’.

Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show whether she would look at closing the border with England, Ms Sturgeon said that was difficult – but pointed out that in the past the Scottish government had advised against travelling between the UK nations. 

That could happen again in a ‘last resort’, she said. 

On the possibility of more restrictions, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I think we need to be open minded to doing anything that is needed to keep the population safe right now.’ 

‘I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks. But I do think in terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal, but at this point in time, given what we know about this variant, and the expert advice that has been received, I think it is right to take some proportionate and balanced action.’

On the festive season he said: ‘I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is it would be irresponsible to make guarantees.

‘As for Christmas, I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.’

Mr Javid played down the prospects of reintroducing working from home or social distancing measures to combat coronavirus.

‘We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,’ he said.

‘So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.’

Mr Javid said he is expecting to get advice on broadening the booster programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ‘imminently’.

He said getting a vaccine is now even more important.

‘We know that vaccines work. Yes, this new variant may make it less effective or not,’ he said. 

‘But the vaccines work, they are our first form of defence and that is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI to give me very quick advice on broadening boosting our booster programme.

‘I expect to get that advice imminently. This is all about acting swiftly in a proportionate and balanced way to protect the progress that we have made.’ 

Government modelling expert Neil Ferguson – known as ‘Professor Lockdown’ – said he expects to see ‘substantially larger numbers’ of the Omicron variant in the coming days in the UK.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme: ‘We together with the Netherlands … we’re the two European countries with the largest number of passenger flights to and from South Africa, so it’s likely we’ll detect quite a lot more cases in the coming days.’

He said he backs the new measures announced by the Government as ‘proportionate’ to slow the spread of the new variant during the ‘waiting game’ over the next two weeks as scientists analyse its properties.

Prof Ferguson added: ‘Even if we had 100 or more cases seeded into the country and even if it is growing quite quickly, it will take really until January for it to reach levels which are anywhere near the levels we’re getting from Delta at the moment.

‘That’s not to say we can be complacent, if we do see very rapid growth of Omicron – and that’s a big if at the moment, and we have no guarantee we will – but if we do then, undoubtedly, I think the Government would be wise to keep all options on the table in terms of how to respond to that.’

Two cases of the strain have been detected in Nottingham and Brentwood in Essex. Both are linked to travel to southern Africa, the suspected origin of the mutation.

The infected individuals and all members of their households have been told to self-isolate after the UK Health Security Agency confirmed the sequencing.

It marks the first time since last winter that restrictions have been tightened in England – although Scotland and Wales have previously responded to spiking infection rates.

The premier said the measures will be reviewed in three weeks, and in the meantime the booster jab campaign will be ramped up. 

‘Unusual’ symptoms of mutant Covid strain: South African doctor who first raised alarm about Omicron warns its early signs are ‘MILD’ and patients do NOT lose their sense of smell 

The South African doctor who first raised the alarm on new Covid variant Omicron has revealed that patients are presenting with ‘unusual’ symptoms.  

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who runs a private practice in the South African administrative capital of Pretoria, said she first noticed earlier this month that Covid patients were presenting with a host of odd symptoms. 

The doctor, who has practised for over 30 years and chairs the South African Medical Association, said that none of the Omicron patients suffered from a loss of taste of smell typically associated with Covid, but instead presented with unusual markers like intense fatigue and a high pulse rate. 

‘Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,’ Dr Coetzee told The Telegraph. 

She was compelled to inform South Africa’s vaccine advisory board on November 18 when she treated a family of four, all of whom were suffering with intense fatigue after testing positive for Covid-19. 

First discovered in South Africa earlier this month, Omicron has since been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong and Australia, while Austrian health authorities are today conducting an investigation into a suspected case.  

The Welsh Government and the Scottish government are mirroring the restrictions on international travel, and warning they could go even further. 

The changes do not quite go as far as the formal ‘Plan B’ outlined by the government in the summer, as Mr Johnson stopped short of bringing back orders to work from home where possible and introducing vaccine passports. 

But the PM refused to rule out a Christmas lockdown when pressed by reporters, warning that Omicron ‘diverges quite significantly’ from other Covid variants and that it will ‘reduce the protections of our vaccines over time’. 

He was only willing to provide a lukewarm commitment that the festive season will be ‘better’ than last year.

Sir Patrick also warned that the UK may need to ‘face up’ to the possibility of further restrictions if the Omicron variant is very transmissible. 

And Prof Whitty said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will now need to decide whether to extend the booster vaccine down to adults age 18, and whether a second dose should be offered to children aged 12-15 who decided with their families to get the first dose of the vaccine.

Amid a frantic hunt for more clarity on the nature of the threat, the South African doctor who first raised the alarm on Omicron has revealed that patients are presenting with ‘unusual’ symptoms.  

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who runs a private practice in the South African administrative capital of Pretoria, said she first noticed earlier this month that Covid patients were presenting with a host of odd symptoms. 

The doctor, who has practised for over 30 years and chairs the South African Medical Association, said that none of the Omicron patients suffered from a loss of taste of smell typically associated with Covid, but instead presented with unusual markers like intense fatigue and a high pulse rate. 

‘Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,’ Dr Coetzee told The Telegraph. 

She was compelled to inform South Africa’s vaccine advisory board on November 18 when she treated a family of four, all of whom were suffering with intense fatigue after testing positive for Covid-19. 

Milder symptoms among South African patients might not mean Britons have the same experience, as demographics and other factors have previously seemed to have a major influence on the course of the pandemic in individual countries.     

Another 39,567 Covid cases were recorded in the UK yesterday – down 3.36 per cent from 40,941 posted last Saturday – while the number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid fell by 12.7 per cent from 150 last week to 131. 

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain’s move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants. 

Britain’s first two Omicron infections came as a spate of cases were found across Europe, with at least 61 new cases of Covid entering the Netherlands from South Africa this morning. Authorities are currently sequencing the tests for the new variant.

Europe’s first case of the variant was spotted in Belgium yesterday – despite the unvaccinated woman who caught it having travelled to Turkey and Egypt. Germany and the Czech Republic both confirmed suspected cases today. 

Germany’s initial sequencing suggests a traveller from South Africa was carrying the virus with several mutations shared by Omicron. Officials are awaiting full sequencing later today. Australian authorities – who also banned travel to nine countries in the region – fear the variant may have already entered the country. 

The US chief medical officer Dr Anthony Fauci said he would ‘not be surprised’ if the Omicron Covid variant was already in America. His comments came as President Joe Biden was slammed for still allowing flights from South Africa to land in the US before the start of a travel ban on Monday.  

Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson was last night only willing to provide a lukewarm commitment that the festive season will be 'better' than last year's as he put Covid unlocking in reverse by announcing new restrictions

Boris Johnson was last night only willing to provide a lukewarm commitment that the festive season will be 'better' than last year's as he put Covid unlocking in reverse by announcing new restrictions

Boris Johnson was last night only willing to provide a lukewarm commitment that the festive season will be ‘better’ than last year’s as he put Covid unlocking in reverse by announcing new restrictions 

NOTTINGHAM: One case of Omicron has been found in Nottingham, where infections have been creeping up steadily in recent weeks in line with the national picture

NOTTINGHAM: One case of Omicron has been found in Nottingham, where infections have been creeping up steadily in recent weeks in line with the national picture

NOTTINGHAM: One case of Omicron has been found in Nottingham, where infections have been creeping up steadily in recent weeks in line with the national picture

BRENTWOOD: The other case was found in Brentwood, Essex, which has seen a broadly similar trend, recording 67 new cases on Wednesday

BRENTWOOD: The other case was found in Brentwood, Essex, which has seen a broadly similar trend, recording 67 new cases on Wednesday

BRENTWOOD: The other case was found in Brentwood, Essex, which has seen a broadly similar trend, recording 67 new cases on Wednesday

South Africa recorded 2,828 new Covid cases yesterday, more than double the 1,374 recorded last Thursday, but infection levels have yet to skyrocket and no hospitalisations with the new variant have occurred so far. Graph shows: The seven-day average  for cases in the country

South Africa recorded 2,828 new Covid cases yesterday, more than double the 1,374 recorded last Thursday, but infection levels have yet to skyrocket and no hospitalisations with the new variant have occurred so far. Graph shows: The seven-day average  for cases in the country

South Africa recorded 2,828 new Covid cases yesterday, more than double the 1,374 recorded last Thursday, but infection levels have yet to skyrocket and no hospitalisations with the new variant have occurred so far. Graph shows: The seven-day average  for cases in the country

PM ‘absolutely confident’ that Christmas will be ‘considerably better’ than last year… but refuses to rule out lockdown 

Boris Johnson has said he is ‘pretty to absolutely confident’ that this Christmas is ‘going to be better’ than last year’s during a Covid press conference on Saturday.

The PM’s comment came as he refused to rule out another lockdown over the festive period while fielding questions from journalists following the discovery of the new super-mutant Omicron variant in Britain.

The strain – designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation on Friday – has been detected in Nottingham and Brentwood in Essex, in two people who had recently returned from southern Africa.

There are fears the ‘monster’ variant could plunge the country into another lockdown over concerns it could dodge the vaccine and be more effective at re-infecting people.

At a Downing Street press conference last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘We continue to be in a strong position largely thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout, another booster rollout and I think I’m going to stick with the formula I’ve used before, which is I’m pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas.’

He later backed up his comment, saying: ‘I think it will be considerably better than last year.’

Wary that many on the Conservative backbenches will be angered by the reimposition of restrictions, Mr Johnson said: ‘I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again, but right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximise our defences so that we protect the gains we’ve worked for so hard.’ 

Four more countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – were added to the red list from 4am this morning, meaning only British residents can come to this country, and they have to stay in a quarantine hotel. 

South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were put on the banned roster yesterday amid growing international panic about the ‘variant of concern’, which scientists fear is more transmissible and can dodge vaccines.  

The Prime Minister said: ‘We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.

‘Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together. We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status. We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.’ 

Mr Johnson said border travel measures can ‘only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together’, so all contacts with a suspected case of the new variant will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

He added the measures will be reviewed ‘in three weeks’, adding: ‘At that point we should have much greater information about the continuing effectiveness of our vaccines.’

The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference: ‘We need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

‘We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection. 

‘If you’re boosted, your response is likely to be stronger so it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible. 

‘From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign, we’re already planning to do six million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks and now we’re looking to go further. The Health Secretary has asked the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.’

The Prime Minister admitted the latest restrictions on travel ‘sound tough’, but added: ‘That’s the way it’s got to be.’

In response to a question about whether the Government could have moved faster to close borders to protect the country from the new Omicron variant, Mr Johnson said: ‘I really don’t know how we could’ve acted faster.

‘We got the news out about it on Thursday and we put quite a lot of southern African countries on the red list yesterday, and some more today.’

But the introduction of compulsory PCR tests for Covid-19 for everyone arriving in the UK has been described as a ‘huge blow’ for the travel industry. 

Abta, a trade association for tour operators and travel agents in the UK, said the added cost of testing for all arrivals to the UK will have an impact on customer demand for holidays, adding pressure to an industry which has been among the ‘hardest hit’ during the pandemic. 

‘While Abta understands that this is a rapidly evolving situation and public health must come first, the decision to require all arrivals to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned is a huge blow for travel businesses, many of whom were only just starting to get back on their feet after 20 months of severe restrictions,’ an Abta spokesman said.

‘These changes will add cost to people’s holidays, which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme.

‘The Government must also now consider offering tailored support for travel businesses, which have been amongst the hardest hit during the pandemic.’

Which? travel editor Rory Boland said travellers will understand the need for restrictions, but the private testing industry which they will have to rely on ‘isn’t fit for purpose’.

‘Testing firms have struggled to provide tests on time over the past year, so it is hard to have confidence they will be able to cope with this spike in demand at short notice,’ he said.

‘Now that the Government has taken the decision to make PCR tests mandatory, it must take steps to properly regulate the marketplace and implement the CMA’s (Competition and Markets Authority) recommendations so that consumers can have confidence they are booking with a provider they can rely on.’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said the Government’s decision to impose tighter restrictions on face masks is ‘welcome’.

He tweeted that the announcement on compulsory face coverings was ‘welcome’. 

‘Evidence shows they help stop the virus spreading, and this is a measure I’ve repeatedly urged the Government to take.’

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham wrote on Twitter: ‘This is right but shows why they shouldn’t have been relaxed.

‘It will now be harder, and take longer, to get levels of compliance up to where we need them to be.’

Sir Patrick said vaccine makers are already looking at how they can make them more effective against emerging variants, and that a jab designed to specifically target the Omicron variant could be created in ‘about 100 days’.

He told the Downing Street press conference: ‘I think it’s important to recognise there are three ways in which this can be done and the companies are thinking about this. The first is the boosters will give high enough antibody coverage that actually that’s going to be enough to cover this. That’s the first situation and needs to be tested. But that looks like something that anyway is going to give protection, whether there’s more needed on top of that we’ll have to see.

US chief medical officer Anthony Fauci says ‘he wouldn’t be surprised’ if Omicron COVID variant is already in America 

US chief medical officer Anthony Fauci has said ‘he wouldn’t be surprised if Omicron is already in America’.

Fauci told the Today Show on Saturday morning: ‘I would not be surprised if it is.

‘We have not detected it yet but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases…it almost invariably is ultimately going to go all over.’

‘You have to be careful and assume that that’s the case,’ he added, noting that Omicron could possibly ‘evade’ vaccinations. 

Fauci’s concerns about ‘transmissibility’ come as Biden has imposed a ban on travelers from from eight African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – which won’t go into effect until Monday.

US citizens and green card holders from other regions of Africa will still be allowed to travel to the US.  

President Biden has been slammed for still allowing flights from South Africa to land in the US until Monday.

‘The second is that vaccine manufacturers have been producing broader vaccines anyway to get broader coverage across potential new variants. So those are in the pipeline.

‘Then a couple of companies have already said they could tweak their existing vaccines and get a new vaccine out specifically against this in about 100 days.

‘Those are the sort of three scenarios, clearly the one which is the one to really go for now is boost, because it is the case that as you keep boosting the vaccine, you get slightly broader coverage because the immune system knows it needs to get broader.

‘Because the antibody levels are so high, it actually causes enough coverage of other variants to be effective.’

He added it is expected the variant will spread.

Sir Patrick added: ‘I think we’ll get more information on transmissibility, we’ll get more information on the ability of the vaccines to protect against the virus, but that’s going to take a little bit of time. At the moment, the models are more ‘if it spreads very fast, of course it’s going to spread very fast and go into a lot of places, and if it spreads less fast it’s going to do so less’.

‘But if it’s very transmissible and does cause big escape, then clearly that’s a major issue we have to face up to. But that isn’t what we know at the moment, we need to get that information.’

In an announcement this afternoon, Mr Javid said: ‘Today I can announce one thing that we are doing immediately is carrying out targeted testing and sequencing of positive cases in the two areas that are affected.

‘We know there’s this new variant out there. We don’t know enough about it yet but from what we do know, the protections that we have – especially the vaccines – are hugely important.

‘We will do whatever is necessary to protect the progress we have made as a country. 

‘We’ve come a long way since the summer and we keep all of this under review and if we need to take further action, we will.’ 

Mr Javid said anyone who has travelled in the last 10 days to the 10 countries now on the red list, they must self-isolate and take PCR tests.

Professor Whitty said: ‘We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.’  

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian 'Delta' variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian 'Delta' variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian ‘Delta’ variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

A KLM Dutch Airliner from Johannesburg in South Africa sits at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam after passengers were taken off and quarantined as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant

A KLM Dutch Airliner from Johannesburg in South Africa sits at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam after passengers were taken off and quarantined as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant

A KLM Dutch Airliner from Johannesburg in South Africa sits at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam after passengers were taken off and quarantined as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant

Red Cross health workers transport passengers infected with coronavirus returning from South Africa for a quarantine in a hotel in Schiphol, the Netherlands, today

Red Cross health workers transport passengers infected with coronavirus returning from South Africa for a quarantine in a hotel in Schiphol, the Netherlands, today

Red Cross health workers transport passengers infected with coronavirus returning from South Africa for a quarantine in a hotel in Schiphol, the Netherlands, today

Was new Covid variant named Omicron to avoid angering Beijing? WHO chose to skip TWO letters of Greek alphabet to avoid ‘Xi’ which has written similarity to Chinese president Xi Jinping

The relationship between China and the World Health Organisation has come under renewed scrutiny after the UN body appeared to skip over the Greek letter ‘Xi’ and call the new Covid variant ‘Omicron’ instead.

Last night the WHO sparked criticism from China hawks after it named the mutation ‘Omicron’ instead of ‘Nu’ or ‘Xi’.

The UN body has been using Greek letters such as ‘Alpha’, ‘Beta’ and ‘Delta’ to describe the variants, saying on its website it would ‘be easier and more practical to be discussed by non-scientific audiences’.

However, its decision to name the variant from southern Africa ‘Omicron’ has sparked speculation that the WHO deliberately skipped over ‘Xi’ to avoid angering the President of China, Xi Jinping.

President Xi is alleged to have significant influence over WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian minister whose country has been a major recipient of Chinese investment

President Xi is alleged to have significant influence over WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian minister whose country has been a major recipient of Chinese investment

President Xi is alleged to have significant influence over WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian minister whose country has been a major recipient of Chinese investment

President Xi is alleged to have significant influence over WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian minister whose country has been a major recipient of Chinese investment.

Tedros has been accused of using his role to make further appointments that were preferable to Beijing, including making Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador.

The Chinese government has been accused of using an ‘aggressive’ influence campaign on the WHO’s response to the initial Covid outbreak which led to it missing its chance to stop the pandemic. It is also alleged that the UN body’s independence was eroded prior to the global spread of the virus in early 2020.

Donald Trump Jr wrote on Twitter: ‘As far as I’m concerned the original will always be the Xi variant.’



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