Boris Johnson has warned anybody in contact with new Covid variant Omnicron will face a 10 day isolation period, as he ramped up testing for travellers to UK and reintroduced mask-wearing
People who come into contact with Omicron variant cases must isolate for 10 days – regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.
The move was announced today by Boris Johnson as the government scrambles to stop the mutant strain spreading further.
Those who are identified as being at risk will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, the government said.
The Prime Minister said: “This is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and maximises our defences.”
A tweet from the PM’s office said: “COVID UPDATE: All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
“They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.”
Earlier today officials confirmed the first to Omicron cases in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham, forcing the PM to act.
In a press conference from Downing Street, he also announced that all arrivals to the UK will face mandatory PCR tests.
The Prime Minister added border measures can “only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together”, so all contacts with a suspected case of the new variant will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport,” Mr Johnson said.
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While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, Mr Johnson said there are “good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection”.
He said “we’re going to boost the booster campaign” by asking the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to consider giving boosters to “as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap” between second doses and the booster.
Professor Chris Whitty said it is “inevitable” the Omicron variant will spread across the world over the next few days.
England’s chief medical officer said while it is clear Omicron is highly transmissible, it is not yet 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.
Sir Patrick Vallance 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 created 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 actually 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 potential new variants. So those are in the pipeline.
“Then a couple 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 boost, 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 actually causes enough coverage of other variants to be effective.”
He added it is expected the variant will spread.