Coronavirus: UK cases surpass ten million during pandemic
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The Government is set to announce a string of tighter policy measures later today to slow the spread of the new Covid variant formally designated “Omicron”. It follows the news that two cases of the variant have been detected in the UK – one in Chelmsford and the other in Nottingham. The new variant was first reported in South Africa. How worried should we be?
Speaking on the BBC Breakfast show, professor Clare Bryant of the University of Cambridge singled out two reasons why the new variant is a grave cause for concern.
“The real concern about this strain is that it is carrying a lot of mutations.There are a lot of mutations in the spike protein,” she warned.
The virus latches on to the spike protein to gain entry into the cells.
Prof Bryant continued: “Many more [mutations] than we have seen before and of course all our vaccines are made against that spike protein.”
This raises the prospect of the new variant outsmarting the current crop of vaccines.
“We also think the strain is highly transmissible so both these problems are the reason the Government is being particularly cautious,” added prof Bryant.
UK cases of new variant – what we know so far
After overnight genome sequencing, yesterday the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that two cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with the new variant have been identified in the UK.
The individuals that have tested positive, and all members of their households, are being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing is underway.
One case has been located in Chelmsford and the other in Nottingham. The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to Southern Africa.
UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to have been infectious.
In response to the developing situation, the UK is taking decisive action to protect public health.
Confirmed cases and contacts are being followed up and requested to isolate and get tested as necessary.
The Prime Minister also confirmed new temporary and precautionary measures following the emergence of the Omicron variant in the UK.
Targeted measures will be introduced from next week as a precaution to slow down the spread of the variant while we gather more information.
- All international arrivals must take a Day two PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
- Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport from next week. All hospitality settings will be exempt.
Six million booster jabs will be available in England alone over the next three weeks, and the Health Secretary yesterday asked the JCVI to consider rapidly extending boosters, as well as reducing the gap between the second dose and booster.
Early indications suggest this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it.
A rapid rise in infections in South Africa has been attributed to the spread of this new variant of COVID-19.
International efforts are now underway to gather as much data and information as possible about this new variant, with more detailed information expected over the next three weeks.
It is due to South Africa’s extensive surveillance system and transparency that the UK has been able to have early warning of this new variant and begin collecting data.
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