UK to take new action against Omicron strain on Tuesday
Britain’s health minister said, on Sunday, that face masks will become mandatory in stores and on public transport from Tuesday, as part of new measures designed to contain the spread of the new Omicron virus.
Sajid Javid said the government was “nowhere near” to imposing stricter rules on homework and social distancing after the UK discovered its first cases of the kind.
A third confirmed case has been identified in the UK, and dozens are being treated as suspected cases, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times.
The latter case had no immediate travel history, people said, adding that it was identified through genetic sequencing.
A number of cases are being investigated in London and one possible case in Bedfordshire, according to people familiar with the process.
Javid said Sunday morning he was not aware of more cases being identified in the UK.
In a development that may indicate the strain was already in the UK before it was officially identified, public health leaders have been told that among the cases being investigated is a traveler who returned to the UK from South Africa on 16 November.
If a person is confirmed to have Omicron, this could indicate that the mutation may have been circulating in the country for much longer than previously thought.
Under the measures announced over the weekend, everyone entering the UK will be required to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and must self-isolate until they receive a negative result. The government’s website says the new measures will be introduced from 4am on Tuesday.
Any contact with any suspected case of Omicron should also be isolated for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.
As scientists continue to assess the new variable, the government has yet to publish its Covid-19 plan, which includes guidelines for working from home and Covid passports for mass events.
“We now know that this type of action carries a very high price, both economically and socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as the impact on mental health,” Javid told Sky News. Trevor Phillips on Sunday to watch.
“If one were to make decisions like that, it would have to be done very carefully. We are not there yet. We are nowhere near that.”
Javid emphasized that masks will be mandatory, but not in bars and restaurants. All measures will be reviewed within three weeks.
The new measures were introduced in the UK as the alternative continued to spread in Europe and scientists raced to assess the new level of risk.
Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical advisor, warned that the alternative might be able to evade vaccine protection, but insisted it was likely that vaccines would still help prevent severe illness and death.
Javid said he was expecting an imminent update on expanding the availability of booster vaccines to those under their 40s from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, a body of academics and clinicians that advises on vaccine policy.
Professor Stephen Boyce, national medical director for the NHS, said 96 million doses of the Covid vaccine have now been administered in England, but the emergence of a new alternative, Omicron, “shows that this pandemic is far from over”.
“With Christmas approaching, being stabbed is our best chance to keep the country moving forward in our collective battle against Covid,” he said.
The results of tests to measure Omicron’s response to vaccines and immune systems were not expected for two to three weeks, scientists and officials said.
People familiar with the third case said checks were underway to determine if it was linked to travelers from the 10 countries currently on the red list.
One person said about 40 travelers showed, in initial assays, the presence of an omicron. Tests are done to confirm this result through genetic sequencing. Passengers are required to re-survey and isolate.