The mutant is thought be more contagiousthan the Delta strain now triggering up to50,000 infections a day here.And scientists are worried ominous Omicroncould blunt the potency of vaccines
Image: SIPA USA / PA Images)
Mandatory masks and compulsory quarantine made a comeback on Saturday night as Boris Johnson desperately tries to save Christmas.
The PM announced a raft of new restrictions at a hastily convened No10 press conference to combat the new Omicron variant about to rip through the UK.
Face masks will become mandatory again in shops and on public transport from Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this morning.
He added that he hopes the tougher rules on face coverings in England would be “temporary” as ministers reimpose some measures amid fears the new strain could evade existing vaccines.
Boosters will be extended to younger age groups and the time between second and third jabs cut under recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation due later this week.
But what is the Omicron variant? Why is it worse and how worried should we be?
For answers to all those questions and more, read on…
What is Omicron?
Omicron is the name given to the Covid variant B.1.1.529. It was named by the World Health Organisation, which assigns variants of concern a Greek letter.
Where did it come from?
It was first identified in Botswana on November 11 and linked to a surge in case numbers in the Gauteng province of South Africa.
Why is it potentially more dangerous?
Omicron has 35 mutations on its spike protein – which allows the virus to unlock our body’s cells. It is more than double the number carried by the dominant Delta variant.
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How worried should we be?
Scientists believe the variant is highly likely to be more transmissible and has features capable of evading the vaccine antibodies. But whether catching it would lead to more severe illness will not be known for weeks.
What is the Government doing to stop the spread?
A return to mask-wearing in shops and on public transport. Airport arrivals must have a PCR test and self-isolate until they are confirmed to be virus-free. Close contacts of Omicron patients must also self-isolate, and there are plans to expand the booster jab programme.
When can I get my booster?
Over-40s, health and social workers, and those with underlying health conditions are already entitled to a third jab. Rolling out the programme to under-40s requires the sign-off from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations.
Can the existing vaccines be tweaked?
Moderna and Novavax were already beginning work to tweak their vaccines, while Pfizer and BioNTech said that – in the event of a variant arriving which evades existing jabs – they expect to be able to “develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval”.
Which countries are now on the red list?
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola join South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia.