Six cases of the Omicron Covid variant have been found in Scotland, authorities have confirmed this morning, taking the UK total to nine after three cases were identified in England. Four cases are in the Lanarkshire area and two have been identified in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
The first two cases in the UK – in Nottingham and Essex – were announced on Saturday, while a third Omicron case was detected in the UK on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster in London before leaving the country.
More than 75 “probable” cases of the mutant variant have been flagged with more than 150 possible others, according to government sources.
SAGE members and health ministers have stressed that there at the moment scientists know little about the Omicron variant, since it first emerged in South Africa on November 9.
The new variant has 50 mutations, of which 32 are in the spike protein which connects to our cells.
In comparison, the Delta variant which tore through the nation last Christmas, had two mutations in the spike protein.
The world does not yet know how Omicron will behave, and whether it will be more or less severe than other waves of Covid strains.
But the Government reacted quickly on Saturday evening by introducing new measures which come into effect this week. The new rules are:
- All international arrivals must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
- Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport from next week. All hospitality settings will be exempt.
Six million booster jabs will be available in England alone over the next three weeks, and the Health Secretary has pushed to rapidly extending boosters, as well as reducing the gap between the second dose and booster.
Which restrictions do you support? Should more be introduced in the face of Omicron? Let us know in the comments section.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Sunday: “Given the number of mutations in this variant, there’s reason to think that it may be – and I stress the word may – that this variant may turn out to make our vaccines less effective.”
He added: “Even if it turns out to make vaccines less effective, it might be a small impact, it may not, but the point is that the vaccines are still going to give you more protection than otherwise, and that is why the booster programme is so important.”
According to Sky News, scientists predict they will be able to tweak the vaccine within 100 days, if needed, to protect against the Omicron variant.
Senior journalist Trevor Phillips asked Mr Javid: “What are we going to see by Christmas time? Can you reassure us, can you guarantee, that we are going to be able to see our families, our loved ones? Are we still going to be able to travel at Christmas time?”
The Health Secretary said: “I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is that it would be irresponsible to make guarantees.
“But what I can tell you is that the actions we have taken, these proportionate and balanced actions, will buy us time, it will give us those precious weeks, certainly that our scientists need, to assess this variant.
“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 stressed that the Government considers the effects to mental health that Covid restrictions have, and said isolation measures are not taken lightly.
Hospitalisations for Covid remain steady so far this winter, and the country seems to have avoided the soaring death rates it experienced this time last year.
Should Christmas go ahead as planned? Have your say in the comments section below.
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