Covid UK: Boris bows to Omicron as restrictions return

New Covid restrictions to fight Omicron variant

At a Downing Street press conference this evening, the chief Minister announced a raft of new restrictions.

Two situations of the Omicron variant have been detected in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex. 

Flanked by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson said: 

  • All arrivals to UK must take a PCR test on day two after landing and isolate at home until they get the consequence;
  • All contacts of someone infected with the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days;
  • Facemasks and coverings in shops and on public transport will be compulsory;
  • Seven countries in southern Africa have been put pon the UK’s red list. Those who arrived in the UK from those countries must go into hotel quarantine. 

The chief Minister also refused to rule out a lockdown at Christmas when pressed by reporters.

Sir Patrick also hinted at the need for more 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 measure should be offered to children aged 12-15 who decided with their families to get the first measure of the vaccine.

Covid restrictions in England including travel bans, testing and compulsory facemasks will be necessary to fight the new Omicron variant, the chief Minister has dramatically announced. 

At a Downing Street press conference this evening, Boris Johnson said that all arrivals to the country must self-isolate until they get a negative test, and all contacts of people infected with the mutation must stay at home for 10 days. 

Flanked by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief Minister also announced that facemasks on public transport and shops will be compulsory. Mr Johnson told the press conference that there will be no changes to the rules for the hospitality sector.

Within minutes of the disguise mandate, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter that confront coverings will be necessary on public transport and ‘in some other indoor settings’.  

Mr Johnson also refused to rule out a lockdown at Christmas when pressed by reporters, warning that Omicron ‘diverges quite considerably from other configurations of the virus’ and that it will ‘reduce the protections of our vaccines over time’.

Sir Patrick also warned that the UK may need to ‘confront up’ to the possibility of further action 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 measure should be offered to children aged 12-15 who decided with their families to get the first measure of the vaccine.

Four more countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – will be additional to the no-fly list on Sunday. All flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned yesterday amid growing international panic about the ‘variant of concern’, which scientists believe is more transmissible and has an increased risk of reinfection. 

Earlier today, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that two situations of the strain were detected in Nottingham and Brentwood in Essex. Both are connected 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.

The chief 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 consequence.

‘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 instead of 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 in spite of of your vaccination position. We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on confront coverings in shops and on public transport.’ 

Speaking to reporters today, Mr Javid hinted at a return to further restrictions, saying the Government has ‘always been very clear that we won’t hesitate to take further action if that is what is required’.

The Welsh Government also announced it will introduce the same restrictions on international travel, and insisted it had warned Westminster of the dangers of removing the curbs.  

Another 39,567 Covid situations were recorded in the UK today – 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 infection came as a spate of situations were found across Europe, with at the minimum 61 new situations 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 situations today. Germany’s initial sequencing indicates a traveller from South Africa was carrying the virus with several mutations shared by Omicron. Officials are awaiting complete sequencing later today. And Australian authorities – who also banned travel to nine countries in the vicinity – fear the variant may have already entered the country.

On another day of coronavirus chaos: 

  • Department of Health bosses posted Another 39,567 Covid situations and 131 deaths in the UK today;
  • Vaccine makers are in a race to tweak their vaccines as the infectious new variant spreads across the planet; 
  • Sage scientists insisted that the new variant was not a ‘disaster’ and some people were exaggerating threat; 
  • The first European case in Belgium was revealed to be an unvaccinated young woman tested positive;
  • EU states followed Britain in tightening up their borders and rules around travel from southern Africa;
  • It emerged nearly 50 direct flights from South Africa have arrived in the UK since the variant was detected;
  • Speculation grew that the WHO skipped over the Greek letter ‘Xi’ in naming variant to avoid angering China. 

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

situations of Omicron have already been picked up in the UK, South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. It is not however known whether the variant arrived in the Netherlands yesterday but Dutch authorities are sequencing passengers’ tests. There are also suspected individual situations being sequenced in Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia

Britain has sequenced two situations of the Omicron variant in Nottingham and Chelmsford, Sajid Javid said today

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. If each plane carried 300 passengers, that could average there have been 14,400 arrivals from South Africa since Omicron was first detected

Another 39,567 Covid situations and 131 deaths were recorded in the UK today. Department of Health officials posted nearly 40,000 daily infections – down 3.36 per cent from 40,941 last Saturday – while the number of people who have died 28 days after testing positive for Covid has also fallen by 12.7 per cent from 150 last week

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

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 situations on Wednesday

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

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

Facemasks MUST be worn in shops and public transport – but NOT pubs and restaurants: Boris announces rules will be ‘tightened’ in next few days 

The chief Minister announced today that facemasks will be compulsory on public transport and in shops as part of his crackdown to fight the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Within minutes of the mandate, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter that confront coverings will be necessary on public transport and ‘in some other indoor settings’. He also reiterated Mr Johnson’s crackdown on travel.

The complete detail of the ‘tightened’ rules will be announced in the next few days he said.

However he did not mention the hospitality trade which would be devastated by new rules in the run-up to the Christmas period.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: ‘Third, and most importantly, we need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

‘We don’t however exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at the minimum 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 raise 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 in addition as reducing the gap between your second measure and your booster.’

The chief Minister admitted the latest restrictions on travel ‘sound tough’, but additional: ‘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.’

Following the announcement on confront coverings, 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 produced 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 truly 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.

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

Boris Johnson says he is ‘absolutely confident’ that Christmas will be ‘considerably better’ than last year but refuses to rule out lockdowns after first situations of Omicron are detected in UK 

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 chief minister’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 drop the country into another lockdown over concerns it could dodge the vaccine and be more effective at re-infecting people.

Appearing inside Downing Street, 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.’

‘Then a associate 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 raise, 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 truly causes enough coverage of other variants to be effective.’

He additional it is expected the variant will spread.

Sir Patrick additional: ‘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 confront 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 closest is carrying out targeted testing and sequencing of positive situations in the two areas that are affected.

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

‘We will do at all event 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.

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.’ 

It comes as Mr Johnson prepares to implement fresh travel bans on a large number of countries, after Britain halted flights to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe yesterday.

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

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 complete-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 chief 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 however 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 ‘unavoidable’ the Omicron variant will spread across the world over the next few days but additional the majority of situations in the UK keep to be of the Delta variant.

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

 

Prof Whitty before 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. 

South Africa recorded 2,828 new Covid situations yesterday, more than double the 1,374 recorded last Thursday, but infection levels have however to skyrocket in the country and no hospitalisations with the new variant have occurred so far.

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

The US has joined the growing list of countries to close their borders, with Joe Biden saying the pandemic will not end until global vaccinations are in place. New York governor Kathy Hochul yesterday declared a state of emergency as Covid transmission reached rates not seen since April 2020 

Officials in Germany today confirmed the first suspected case of Omicron in the country came from someone returning from South Africa.

‘The Omicron variant has with strong likelihood already arrived in Germany,’ Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western state of Hesse, tweeted, referring to the strain first detected in southern Africa. 

Klose said that tests late Friday on the traveller who had returned to Germany from South Africa revealed ‘several mutations typical of Omicron’.

‘As there is this strong suspicion, the person has been secluded at home. The complete sequencing is nevertheless to be completed.’

Klose’s ministry said that the person had arrived in Germany, the EU’s most populous country, at Frankfurt international airport, the country’s busiest. 

Meanwhile, Sir Andrew today moved to calm fears in Britain, claiming most of the strain’s mutations are in similar regions seen in other variants so far. 

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 by Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

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

‘It’s extremely doubtful 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.

Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after situations of the new Covid-19 variant were confirmed in the UK

This chart shows the proportion of situations 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 common. It indicates that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

Passengers from KLM flight KL598 from Cape Town, South Africa wait to be screened at Amsterdam Airport, the Netherlands, yesterday

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

What do we know about the Omicron variant? 

Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant, named by the World Health Organisation as Omicron, as it has around 30 different mutations – double the amount present in the Delta variant. The mutations contain features seen in all of the other variants but also traits that have not been seen before. 

UK scientists first became aware of the new strain on November 23 after samples were uploaded on to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana. 

On Friday, it was confirmed that situations had been identified in Israel and Belgium but currently there are no known situations in the UK.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain on Friday that sequencing is being carried out around the UK to determine if any situations have already been imported. 

Work is also under way to see whether the new variant may be causing new infection in people who have already had coronavirus or a vaccine, or whether waning immunity may be playing a role.  

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, has said the new variant will ‘almost certainly’ make vaccines less effective, though they would nevertheless offer protection.

Pfizer/BioNTech, which has produced a vaccine against Covid-19, is already studying the new variant’s ability to evade vaccines. 

‘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 possible surge in situations 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. 

Mr Javid told MPs that, while there was ‘huge international concern’, vaccines had put Britain in a strong position.

Scientists said existing jabs could be tweaked to tackle the variant. And a World Health Organisation representative said that resorting to ‘Plan B’ measures so quickly, such as working from home or vaccine passports, would be an over-reaction.

But news of the variant saw the FTSE 100 – the UK’s leading proportion index – suffer its sharpest drop since January, closing down at 3.7 per cent, spelling alarm for travel companies banking on winter bookings.

A senior aviation source told the Times there were ‘serious jitters’ in all corners of the industry, adding: ‘There is now a enormous question mark over Christmas. It is clear the red list will expand and that will have a enormous knock on.’ 

Government supplies said ministers ‘want to restrict travel to avoid restrictions at home at all costs’, already if it method risking a serious blow to the travel industry.

Originally known as the ‘Botswana’ variant, the strain was last night named ‘Omicron’ by the WHO and officially designated a ‘variant of concern’.

Its discovery earlier this week was so meaningful because it has around 30 mutations, including some connected to an increased risk of transmission. One expert described it as the ‘worst’ variant so far.

In a rush to limit the spread, the EU suspended all flights to southern Africa after the first case was confirmed in Europe. Britain had already put six nations on the travel ‘red list’ – and was poised to add two more last night.

A government adviser suggested that the public should be ‘ready for the possibility’ of a return to Covid restrictions. But a senior government source told the Mail: ‘People should not panic.’ 

at the minimum 61 new Covid situations found in the Netherlands after passengers arrive from South Africa 

at the minimum 61 new situations 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 probe 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 by 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 consequence 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. 

How did 10% of passengers to Holland from South Africa arrive with Covid when they all had NEGATIVE tests? Alarm as suspected situations of Omicron are reported in Germany, Australia and Czech Republic alongside confirmed UK and Belgium situations

Alarms were today raised after one in ten passengers coming into the Netherlands from South Africa this morning tested positive for Covid and a wave of suspected situations of the new super-mutant variant were spotted in Europe.

Around 600 passengers arrived on two planes in Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, from Johannesburg – the epicentre for the new strain that experts fear is 40 per cent more vaccine evasive than Delta – hours after travel bans were put in place.

Some 61 of those on the planes tested positive for the virus on PCR tests after they were stopped at the airport, despite having to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 24 hours before boarding the flight.

It raises the prospect that tests are not being performed correctly for travellers in South Africa, fraudulent tests are being provided or lateral flow tests may be less able to detect the Omicorn variant.

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.

situations of Omicron have already been picked up in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. It is not however known whether the variant arrived in the Netherlands yesterday but Dutch authorities are sequencing passengers’ tests. There are also suspected individual situations being sequenced in Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia

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, not souther Africa where the strain emerged.

The UK confirmed it had sequenced two situations today – in Nottingham and Brentford, Essex – which were both connected to travel in southern Africa.

And Germany and the Czech Republic both confirmed suspected situations today. Germany’s initial sequencing indicates a traveler from South Africa was carrying the virus with several mutations shared by Omicron. Officials are awaiting complete sequencing later today.

And Australian authorities – who also banned travel to nine countries in the vicinity – fear the variant may have already entered the country.

South Africa recorded 2,828 new Covid situations yesterday, more than double the 1,374 recorded last Thursday, but infection levels have however to skyrocket in the country and no hospitalisations with the new variant have occurred so far.

And Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of the Oxford scientists behind the AstraZeneca vaccine, today expressed careful optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the variant. The strain makes vaccines at the minimum 40 per cent less effective against transmission, according to the UK Health and Security Agency.

The US has joined the growing list of countries to close their borders, with President Joe Biden saying the pandemic will not end until global vaccinations are in place. New York governor Kathy Hochul yesterday declared a state of emergency as Covid transmission reached rates not seen since April 2020.

Omicron is ‘NOT a disaster’, says SAGE expert who accuses other scientists of ‘hugely overstating the situation’ because vaccines will protect against harsh disease 

The new Covid variant is ‘not a disaster’ and some people may be ‘hugely overstating the situation’, according to a Sage adviser.

Last night the World Health Organisation branded the so-called ‘Omicron’ mutation a ‘variant of concern’ as countries including Britain and the US moved to shut their borders to six countries from southern Africa, the area of suspected origin.

The variant’s sudden turn up this week sparked panic in Whitehall circles, with Downing Street’s scientists warning that it could be vaccine-resistant and Health Secretary Sajid Javid threatening to reimpose lockdown if necessary.

In a rush to limit the spread, the EU suspended all flights to southern Africa after the first case was confirmed in Europe. Britain had already put six nations on the travel ‘red list’ – and was poised to add two more last night.

But microbiologist Professor Calum Semple today urged calm, insisting that vaccines are ‘nevertheless likely to protect you from harsh disease’.

The Sage adviser told BBC Breakfast that he supported new travel restrictions on South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, but additional: ‘This is not a disaster, and the headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.

‘Immunity from the vaccination is nevertheless likely to protect you from harsh disease. 

‘You might get a snuffle or a headache or a filthy cold but your chance of coming into hospital or intensive care or sadly dying are greatly reduced by the vaccine and nevertheless will be going into the future.’

Professor Semple said that while it may not be possible to stop the variant coming to the UK, it is nevertheless important to delay its arrival.

‘If you can slow the virus coming into your country it gives you more time for your booster campaign to get ahead of it,’ he went on. ‘It also gives the scientists longer to understand more about the virus in case there is anything we really should be worrying about.’

Asked what other measures he thought were advisable, Prof Semple said he was in favour of compulsory facemasks in shops and on public transport, and handwashing.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said ‘it is extremely doubtful that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen’. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he also insisted that vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the Omicron variant. 

‘That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants, the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved by Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta,’ he told the programme.

‘at the minimum from a speculative point of view, we have some optimism that the vaccine should nevertheless work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed. It’s extremely doubtful that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.’

This week, Mr Javid told MPs in the Commons that the Government ‘won’t hesitate to act’ if further restrictions are necessary.

‘One of the lessons of this pandemic has been that we must move quickly, and at the earliest possible moment,’ the Health Secretary said. ‘We’re heading into winter and our booster programme is nevertheless current, so we must act with caution.’

Pressed on whether the Government could implement its Plan B for winter, Mr Javid said the current rules ‘keep the policies that I think we need at this time’.

Revealed: Up to FIFTY direct flights from South Africa arrived in UK after Omicron was first detected- as Dutch find 10% of arrivals from Johannesburg have Covid

Nearly 50 direct flights from South Africa have arrived in the UK since the new Covid variant was first detected, MailOnline can show.

The ‘monster’ Omicron strain was first detected by health officials in Botswana on November 11 before spreading across the vicinity and then leapfrogging to Europe and the Far East.

All flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday amid growing international panic about the strain, which scientists believe is more transmissible and has an increased risk of reinfection.

But 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, an examination by MailOnline has found. If each plane carried 300 passengers, that could average there have been 14,400 arrivals from South Africa since Omicron was first detected.

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. If each plane carried 300 passengers, that could average there have been 14,400 arrivals from South Africa since Omicron was first detected

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 functional 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 meaningful 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 meaningful 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 sudden increase which led to it missing its chance to stop the pandemic. It is also alleged that the UN body’s independence was deteriorated 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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