Officials have confirmed an individual linked to South Africa is the third person to test positive for the new variant of Covid-19 in the UK
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The UK has recorded a third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant, health officials have confirmed.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Sunday that the individual was linked with travel to southern Africa.
The individual was in Westminster in central London while in the UK but has since left the country, a statement said.
“Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread,” UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries said.
“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.”
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Health officials revealed on Saturday that the first two cases of the Omicron variant had been found in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex.
This prompted Boris Johnson to hastily arrange a press conference, where he announced a tightening of measures in a bid to tackle the strain – which has been described in some quarters as the “worst ever”.
However, scientists and politicians have stressed that little is known about Omicron at this stage, and it may take weeks for a fuller picture to emerge.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the rule changes on Sunday morning, when he announced mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport on Tuesday.
But, despite fears over another lockdown, Mr Javid told families to plan for Christmas “as normal”.
He said it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance, despite the raft of precautions being introduced.
Passengers arriving in the UK have been told that from Tuesday morning they will have to take a PCR test for Covid-19, with the expectation they will have to self-isolate until they test negative.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, amid concerns that existing jabs will be less effective against the strain, which is believed to spread rapidly.
Mr Javid said the “face-mask rules are planned to come in on Tuesday” to bring the nation back closer into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He said it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees” during the ever-changing pandemic, but told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
With the Government stopping short of introducing its Plan B to tackle Covid-19 this winter, Mr Javid downplayed there being a need to reintroduce social distancing rules or work-from-home guidance.
“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky.
“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”
Mr Javid said he expects to receive new advice “imminently”, within the next couple of days, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) after it was tasked with reviewing whether boosters should be extended to all over-18s.
The group will also consider whether second doses should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds, and whether the waiting time before a booster jab could be reduced.
“I’ve also asked the NHS to prepare for much greater capacity in our vaccination programme,” Mr Javid told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.
Professor Anthony Harnden, the JCVI’s deputy chairman, told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House that extending the age range for boosters and reducing the delay before receiving them was “a sensible strategy” and told under-40s to expect third jabs to be offered to them “earlier than we had previously envisaged”.
Mr Javid said the testing regime for international arrivals will be introduced “as soon as possible”, despite online passenger locator forms stating PCR tests will be required rather than lateral flow tests from 4am on Tuesday.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they intend to mirror the border restrictions.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.