Ministers told they may not be able to wait for data before enforcing more restrictions
As it stands, there remain no confirmed instances of the new Covid variant in Northern Ireland.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said a number of the cases detected have no links to travel, suggesting Britain now has “a small amount of community transmission”.
“Teams nationally and locally are working at pace to identify and trace all close contacts of every omicron case,” Dr Harries said in a statement last night. “It is critical that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”
Boris Johnson is being urged to bring back “work from home” guidance in order to curb omicron’s spread. The full official notes from the latest Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting – published on Friday – show that the experts believe remote working is a “highly relevant” way to reduce transmission of the new variant.
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No deaths reported from omicron yet, WHO announces
There have been no deaths reported from the omicron variant, despite cases being detected in at least 38 countries, the World Health Organisation has confirmed.
The United States and Australia are among the latest countries confirming new cases of the omicron variant. It comes as South Africa’s total infections pushed past three million as the new variant continues to spread.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first spotted omicron, said patients seen so far had “extremely mild symptoms” – but WHO warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it leads to more severe illness and how effective current vaccines are against it.
Thomas Kingsley reports:
The new omicron variant has been identified in nearly 40 countries, the WHO has confirmed
Delta and omicron variants like ‘two pandemics at same time,’ says prof
A leading Scottish health official has described omicron’s emergence as being like a second pandemic while scientists figure out if measures used to contain delta will have the same effect.
Professor Jason Leitch, the national clinical director for Scotland, said plainly that if someone is to leave their house today “you’re more likely to come into contact with the principal pandemic: delta”.
It is for this reason, he told BBC Breakfast, everyone must “behave in the way we’ve been talking about for weeks”, listing vaccines and regular testing as examples of what he meant.
However, Prof Leitch said what is not yet known is whether restrictions for delta can manage omicron. “We just don’t know if that’s the case yet,” he said.
Explaining how Scotland was attempting to contain the new variant, he said officials were practising “outbreak management” while its full impact was investigated.
“The ideal is to keep the R number [which focuses on the rate of transmissibility] below 1, to contain the number of cases, which is why Scotland wants to be so stringent with these restrictions until we know what’s going on,” he said.
It comes after Nicola Sturgeon, the country’s first minister, signalled this week she did not believe Boris Johnson’s measures went far enough.
Asked about cases being detected at a Steps concert in Glasgow, which took place on 22 November, Prof Leitch said this likely means the first official UK cases recorded on 27 November were not the first. “But it’s so hard to be precise due to the incubation period,” he added.
Government to drop Covid testing scheme for vulnerable people
A major testing programme used to quickly detect Covid-19 in the NHS, prisons, schools and social care may be dropped next year.
Multiple senior sources have told The Independent the government is now seeking to wind down the national programme for loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests, from March 2022.
Lamp tests are much quicker than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, can be turned around within an hour, and are mainly used to test people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19.
The test can also be done directly on saliva so there is no need for swabbing, unlike PCR tests, and are thought to be more accurate than lateral flows, report our health correspondent Rebecca Thomas and economics editor Anna Isaac.
Exclusive: Experts raise concerns over plans to wind down scheme used to detect virus in NHS, social care, prisons and schools
SNP urges Johnson to ‘do right thing’ and help poorer nations with Covid jabs
Boris Johnson is being challenged to “do the right thing” and help ensure the world’s poorest nations can produce Covid vaccines.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded the PM to “stop blocking” the vaccine intellectual property waiver – even if only on a temporary basis – so that developing nations can manufacture vaccines themselves.
He raised the issue in a letter to the Conservative leader, stressing that there needs to be a “truly effective global vaccine strategy” if coronavirus is to be defeated.
It comes after it was reported at the end of last month that 54.2 per cent of the global population had had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine – but in low-income countries this falls to just 5.8 per cent.
“We will not defeat this virus if developing nations are left to rely on vaccine donations alone – especially considering the UK has only donated six million out of a pledged 100 million to the Covax initiative,” Mr Blackford insisted in a latter, which Oxfam has commended.
“This is a matter of global leadership, and with over 100 states, including the USA supporting the proposal, it is clear the UK is becoming increasingly isolated in blocking the waiver to support access to vaccines around the world.”
He added: “Indeed, it is the least the UK government can do after it brutally slashed aid and hindered humanitarian projects around the world.
Additional reporting by PA
Watch: Businessman slams government’s ‘nonsense’ over handling of omicron
Bring back working from home to tackle omicron, PM warned
Boris Johnson’s government should consider bringing back “work from home” guidance in a bid to tackle the spread of the Covid omicron variant, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has recommended.
It comes as Prof Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), recommended the same thing, writes Adam Forrest.
“The more people can work from home now the better, until we are more definite about what’s going to happen,” Prof Finn told The Guardian.
The University of Bristol expert added: “We need to buy time. If in three weeks it’s died out, then fine, we can all relax, but right now is the time when you could prevent there being a big wave.”
‘The more people can work from home now the better’
Further 75 omicron cases found in England, bringing UK total to 150
A further 75 cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19 have been detected in England, the government has said.
The new infections join the previous 29 confirmed cases of the of the variant known by scientists as B.1.1.529, bringing the total number in England to 104. In total, the UK has found 150 cases of the variant.
People infected with the omicron variant in England have now been located in the east Midlands, the east of England, London, the northeast, the northwest, the southeast, the southwest and the west Midlands.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said targeted testing was being carried in locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.
Emily Atkinson has the full report:
The total number of omicron cases in England has reached 104
Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coronavirus coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the spread of omicron, including statistics and analysis from leading scientists.