Omicron latest news – Covid masks until 2022 with rules to be EXTENDED to avoid ruining Christmas with stricter measures

THE number of Covid-19 cases could surge to 15,000 a day after Christmas if the Omicron variant becomes dominant, health experts have warned.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said that the new variant could drive up cases during increased social activity over the Christmas period.

In a letter to Government, Nphet said that higher levels of socialisation combined with the impact of Omicron could pose a “very real but as yet unquantifiable risk” to the management of Covid-19 over the coming weeks.

Health officials warned Government that this presents “serious challenges” in the weeks ahead, adding that it is “impossible” to quantify the level of risk and its impact.

Read our Omicron live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Joseph Gamp

    Boris Johnson denies scientist's criticism of travel restrictions

    Boris Johnson has denied scientists' allegations that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron is like "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted".

    Visiting police in Merseyside, the Prime Minister told reporters: "No, I think what we're doing is responding to the pandemic.

    "We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

    "We're now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.

    "I don't think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we're giving about Omicron in this country. We're still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Dame Sarah Gilbert says another outbreak could be 'more lethal' than first pandemic

    Another pandemic will threaten human lives and could be "more contagious" and "more lethal", one of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine inventors has warned.

    Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, said the scientific advances made in research against fighting deadly viruses "must not be lost".

    Dame Sarah said: "This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both."

    She went on to say: "We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.

    "The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Significant outbreak of Covid-19 linked to music festival

    A health board has identified a "significant outbreak" of Covid-19 linked to a music event.

    NHS Highland said that a small number of the cases linked to the event at the Royal British Legion in Nairn on November 27 have now been identified as the Omicron coronavirus variant.

    It said that enhanced contact tracing has been carried out in keeping with guidance for the management of a new variant.

    Close contacts will be asked to isolate for 10 days irrespective of their vaccination status and PCR test result.

    There are three Omicron cases in the NHS Highland area out of 48 across Scotland, according to latest Scottish Government figures published on Sunday.

    NHS Highland said: "The Omicron variant is a new Covid variant which we are still learning about. Until more is known about it we need to be cautious and do everything we can to prevent spread. As such, the current isolation advice does not apply and close contacts will be asked to isolate for ten days irrespective of their vaccination status and PCR test result.

    "Their households will also be asked to take additional action in order to try to reduce transmission within our communities. We are working very closely with the staff at the Royal British Legion who have been supporting the outbreak investigation."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Expert says there's 'probably more than 1,000' Omicron cases in the UK

    Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was current concern that Omicron "is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant" and there were probably more than 1,000 cases in the UK at the moment.

    He told BBC Breakfast it was not clear how evidence from South Africa would translate to the UK as we have a highly vaccinated population.

    He added: "How it's likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.

    "The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that's the question that we're struggling to answer at the moment."

  • John Hall

    Restrictions at Christmas will be 'hammer blow', hospitality industry warns

    Hospitality organisations have warned that the reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions for the Christmas period is a "hammer blow" to the sector.

    A range of restrictions will be in place from December 7 to January 9, including the closure of nightclubs and strict social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants.

    The rules will see the hospitality sector largely revert to the situation before October 22, with a maximum of six adults per table and no multiple table bookings.

    It comes amid concern about increased socialising at Christmas and the threat posed by the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

    Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe TD has announced targeted support for the hospitality sector modelled on the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) which operated in the earlier phases of the pandemic.

  • John Hall

    Sajid Javid has 'productive' meeting with WHO director general

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid has met with the World Health Organisation's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, describing it as "productive".

    He tweeted: "Productive meeting with @DrTedros and his team to share our findings so far on Omicron.

    "We continue to work with @WHO on our global treaty to prepare for and respond to future pandemics, and on building a global surveillance network."

  • John Hall

    GPs welcome cuts to paperwork to focus on covid booster jabs

    Doctors' leaders have welcomed moves to ease the workload of GPs, enabling them to focus on the Covid booster jab rollout, but warned the service remains under "significant" pressure.

    Following the decision to ramp up the vaccination programme, NHS England has told GPs other targets may be suspended and routine health checks for the over-75s and for new patients can be deferred.

    The move comes after the Government announced it was extending booster jabs to all adults and cutting the time between the second and third doses from six to three months amid fears about the spread of the new Omicron variant.

    Ministers have promised a "national mission" to ensure everyone who is eligible can get a booking by the end of January, but have acknowledged it represents a "huge ask" for the NHS.

    Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA's England GP committee, said reducing the amount of "unnecessary" appointments would create some additional capacity, but that individual practices would have to decide how much they could switch to delivering Covid jabs.

  • John Hall

    Labour says ministers should have moved quicker on restrictions

    For Labour, which has been calling for the re-introduction of pre-departure tests since the variant was identified, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the move but said ministers should have moved sooner.

    "We badly need them to learn the lessons on the importance of acting quickly on Covid border measures rather than each time having to be put under huge pressure to finally act."

    Nigeria joins 10 other African nations – Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – on the red list.

  • John Hall

    Nigeria now added to red travel list

    All travellers arriving in England will be required to take a Covid-19 pre-departure test from 4am on Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said.

    Mr Javid said that Nigeria is being added to the Government's travel red list amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.

    "Over recent days we have learned of a significant number of growing cases linked to travel with Nigeria," he told broadcasters.

    "There are 27 cases in England already and that's growing. "

  • John Hall

    Further action taken to slow spread of Omicron, says health secretary

    In a tweet, the Health Secretary said: "In light of the most recent data we are taking further action to slow the incursion of the Omicron variant."

    From 4am on Tuesday, only UK and Irish citizens and residents travelling to the UK from Nigeria will be allowed to enter, Mr Javid said, and they must isolate in a "managed quarantine facility".

    He also urged the public to get vaccinate

  • John Hall

    Pre-departure tests a 'devastating blow' for travel

    The introduction of pre-departure Covid tests for travellers entering England has been branded a "devastating blow" for travel by the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association.

    Karen Dee said that the policy, beginning on December 7, will act as a "major deterrent" to travel.

    "This is a devastating blow for aviation and tourism," she said.

    "Pre-departure tests act as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

    "Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the Omicron variant. The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown."

  • John Hall

    New requirements make it impossible for travel industry to plan ahead

    The Government's rapid change in entry requirements has made it "impossible" for the travel industry to plan ahead, the CEO of Airlines UK has said.

    Commenting on the decision to require that travellers to England take pre-departure Covid-19 tests, Tim Alderslade said the decision was "premature".

    "It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data," he said.

    "We don't have the clinical evidence. The red list extension made complete sense – that's what it's there for – but we know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants.

    "It's already here. They've now changed their travel advice twice within a week and it's just impossible for anyone to plan. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme."

  • John Hall

    Grant Shapps defends new travel testing rules

    Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: "As the scientists work to understand new Omicron variant we need to apply additional caution until picture is clearer.

    "We appreciate this will be difficult for the travel sector as we prioritise public health & protect the progress of our world-leading vax & booster programme."

    Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: "Finally the Health Secretary accepts Labour's call for pre-departure tests, but why up to 48 hours before flight?"

    He also called for further action including increasing the number of booster jabs given to 500,000 per day.

  • John Hall

    Booster programme to launch on or by December 13

    It comes after NHS England said that its ramped up booster jab programme would be in place by December 13 amid reports that people are struggling to get a booking.

    In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government announced it was extending the offer of a booster to all adults, with the time between the second and third jabs to be cut from six months to three.

    However, the booking service for the jabs has yet to be updated.

  • John Hall

    Vaccination programme is 'a national mission'

    In a statement, Mr Javid called the vaccination programme a "national mission".

    "Christmas is around the corner and it's absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets their booster jab to top-up their immunity before spending time with loved ones," he said.

    "While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

    "This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can."

  • John Hall

    Sajid Javid calls on public to get booster before Xmas

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid has called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones this Christmas.

    Mr Javid said it was "absolutely crucial" that the public "top-up" their immunity before the holidays.

    A total of 19.8 million people had received their third jab by December 4, while more than 51 million have had their first dose and almost 46.5 million their second.

    The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that 20 million will have had the booster by December 5.

  • John Hall

    Grant Shapps defends new travel testing rules

    Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: "As the scientists work to understand new Omicron variant we need to apply additional caution until picture is clearer.

    "We appreciate this will be difficult for the travel sector as we prioritise public health & protect the progress of our world-leading vax & booster programme."

    Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: "Finally the Health Secretary accepts Labour's call for pre-departure tests, but why up to 48 hours before flight?"

    He also called for further action including increasing the number of booster jabs given to 500,000 per day.

  • John Hall

    Booster programme to launch on or by December 13

    It comes after NHS England said that its ramped up booster jab programme would be in place by December 13 amid reports that people are struggling to get a booking.

    In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government announced it was extending the offer of a booster to all adults, with the time between the second and third jabs to be cut from six months to three.

    However, the booking service for the jabs has yet to be updated.

  • John Hall

    Vaccination programme is 'a national mission'

    In a statement, Mr Javid called the vaccination programme a "national mission".

    "Christmas is around the corner and it's absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets their booster jab to top-up their immunity before spending time with loved ones," he said.

    "While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

    "This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can."

  • John Hall

    Sajid Javid calls on public to get booster before Xmas

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid has called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones this Christmas.

    Mr Javid said it was "absolutely crucial" that the public "top-up" their immunity before the holidays.

    A total of 19.8 million people had received their third jab by December 4, while more than 51 million have had their first dose and almost 46.5 million their second.

    The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that 20 million will have had the booster by December 5.

  • John Hall

    UK Omicron cases now at 160

    The UK Health Security Agency said a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK, with 25 of these in England.

    It means the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK now stands at 160, the agency said.

  • John Hall

    Dutch former queen Beatrix tests positive for Covid-19

    Dutch former queen Beatrix, 83, has tested positive for COVID-19, the royal information service RVD said in a statement Saturday.

    Princess Beatrix, as she has been known since her abdication in 2013, got tested after coming down with "mild cold symptoms", the statement said.

    "The princess is at home in isolation and adheres to the rules of life for people who have tested positive," it added.

    The Netherlands has been experiencing a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country's healthcare system.

  • John Hall

    How has this changed since the summer?

    All travellers coming to the UK must fill in a passenger locator form – even if they are just passing through – which they need to fill in 48 hours or less before their journey.

    Fully vaccinated passengers travelling to the UK from many countries do not have to take a Covid test before travelling.

    Back in August there was a risk-based traffic light system in place which determined the testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals into the UK.

    Anyone arriving from green list countries were exempt from quarantine, while those who were fully vaccinated were exempt upon arriving from amber countries.

    Those who had not had both doses of the vaccine had to self-isolate for 10 days, and take two post-arrival PCR tests.

    Arrivals from red list countries had to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.

  • John Hall

    What are the current rules?

    Last week, the introduction of compulsory PCR tests for Covid-19 for everyone arriving in the UK was announced.

    Ten countries were added to the red list and it was announced that all vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK must take a day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result

    The list consisted of Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  • John Hall

    Why have the new rules on testing been introduced?

    The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant, increasing the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel.

    The HSA said that as of Saturday a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK – 25 of them in England.

    It takes the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK to 160.

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