UK Covid: Sajid Javid says we are putting ‘booster programme on steroids’

·35 min read
UK Covid: Sajid Javid says we are putting ‘booster programme on steroids’

Sajid Javid said putting the “booster programme on steroids” is the UK’s main form of defence.

It comes as boosters have been extended to 18 to 39-year-olds and people will be able to get them three months after their second dose in a race against another possible Covid wave.

The Health Secretary said no one wants to see the return of lockdown as the UK battles against the Omicron variant.

In response to Richard Drax, he said: “No-one wants to see those kinds of measures, but Mr Drax I’m sure will agree with me that, first let me agree with him that Covid is with us to stay and we need to learn to live with it, and the best way I think we can do that is with the primary form of defence that we’ve got, which is our vaccination programme, and I hope he agrees with me that we’re absolutely right to basically put the booster programme on steroids because that will really help us.”

The emergence of the new variant saw a tightening of restrictions by the Government over the weekend, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced booster jabs will be extended to all over-18s.

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UK records 35 further deaths

18:28 , Barney Davis

The Government said as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 42,583 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

The Government also said a further 35 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 144,810.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 169,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

WHO says no deaths linked to Omicron

18:03 , Barney Davis

The WHO advised its 194 member nations that any surge in infections could have severe consequences, but said no deaths had yet been linked to the new variant.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”

Further research was needed to understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.

Sadiq Khan says wear mask or face fines

18:01 , Barney Davis

Sadiq Khan said “we have been operating with one hand tied behind our back” without the ability to fine those that flout mask wearing rules so “wholeheartedly welcomes” the government’s decision to once again make masks compulsory.

He said: “Evidence shows that face coverings help stop the virus spreading, and ensuring that this is enforced will greatly help with compliance.

“We know that by wearing face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, washing our hands regularly, ensuring indoor spaces are properly ventilated, and maintaining a social distance wherever possible, viruses find it much harder to spread.”

Sweden reports first Omicron case

17:51 , Barney Davis

Sweden’s Public Health Agency said the case was detected in a test taken a little over a week ago from a person who had travelled from South Africa.

The agency said: “It was expected that we would find the variant in Sweden as well, as it has been discovered in several other countries in Europe.

“The information we have about the variant means that we should take it very seriously until we know more about it.”

People celebrating end of lockdown in Stockholm in September (AP)
People celebrating end of lockdown in Stockholm in September (AP)

Joe Biden has said Omicron will reach the US eventually

17:29 , Barney Davis

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how “we’re going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.”

Dr Rosena Khan asked Sajid Javid the first questions

17:03 , Barney Davis

Tragedy! Steps postpone reunion tour

17:00 , Barney Davis

Steps have announced they are postponing their tour after more cases of Covid amongst their crew.

The move comes just days after it was revealed singer Lee Latchford-Evans tested positive for coronavirus.

His positive test result came on the same day that bandmate Faye Tozer had been allowed to return to the stage following her own Covid isolation.

Vote on mask mandate to be held tomorrow

16:54 , Barney Davis

Jacob Rees-Mogg just announced debate and vote on masks mandate will be held tomorrow.

Lockdown sceptic MP Desmond Swayne had called mask rules Mumbo Jumbo.

If eligible you can simply walk-in for a booster shot

16:42 , Barney Davis

Search - Find a walk-in coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination site

Spain has first case of Omicron variant, according to El Pais newspaper

16:35 , Barney Davis

It is believed to have come from a traveller to South Africa.

Staff can’t police mask wearing in shops, warns top supermarket boss

16:33 , Barney Davis

Staff can’t be expected to police mask rule-breaking on the shop floor in retail outlets, a top supermarket boss has warned.

From Tuesday, people will be asked to wear masks in shops and on public transport unless exempt as the UK battles the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Those who refuse to wear a mask will face an initial fine of £200, according to the Telegraph. This could rise to £400 for a second infraction and £800 for a third.

Staff can’t police mask wearing in shops, warns top supermarket boss

‘Where is nasal vaccine like India?’ asks Sir Charles Walker

16:32 , Barney Davis

Sajid Javid says regulators must be given time to approve new methods of delivery for the vaccine.

“It is something we are taking very seriously”, he adds.

SNP calls on Boris to call emergency Cobra meeting on Omicrom

16:28 , Barney Davis

In a question to the Health Secretary, SNP MP Richard Thomson (Gordon) said: “I wonder if he (Sajid Javid) shares my disappointment that when the first ministers of Scotland and Wales today called for a Cobra meeting to be convened, it appeared to be dismissed outright.

“I wonder will the Secretary of State will prevail upon the Prime Minister to call, attend and convene an urgent Cobra meeting involving all four nations so that people will be persuaded that he is on top of this development as we would all expect him to be?”

Mr Javid replied: “In terms of meetings, and UK nations working together, I think that has been one of the successes of the UK response to this pandemic – the way that nations across the UK have worked together especially on vaccines, on testing, on surveillance and anti-virals – and it shows that we are stronger together.”

Matt Hancock steps up to ask a question

16:27 , Barney Davis

Conservative former health secretary Matt Hancock described the Government’s action as “well judged and rapid” as he asked about a variant vaccine.

He said: “While existing vaccinations including boosters are effective against all known major variants before Omicron, can he set out plans for a variant vaccine should it be needed in the worst-case scenario?”

Mr Javid replied: “When it comes to potentially new vaccines that is a programme that the UK has been supporting, largely thanks to his efforts when he was in my position, and that work continues and if it is necessary to procure new vaccines that we believe are safe and effective, and will help with this new variant, we will do so.”

Graham Brady asks what Health Sec thinks of early reports that Omicron is less severe variant

16:21 , Barney Davis

Conservative Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, said he welcomed a debate and vote on the restrictions, but said it would be better to have done so before they come into force.

Sir Graham asked what assessment the Health Secretary has made of early reports from South Africa that “the variant may actually lead to less severe illness than the previous variants”.

He said: “Can I welcome the fact that we have both a debate and a vote tomorrow on these regulations. But wouldn’t it be better if we had the debate and the vote before the restrictions come into force, rather than after?”

Sajid Javid said: “In terms of the debate and the vote tomorrow, I believe the Leader (Commons Leader) will be making a statement on that shortly, I think right after my statement.”

He added: “It is early days in terms of those reports. We are looking into those and talking actually with our South African friends in getting more details.

“I think it is worth pointing out that the age profile, the demographics in South Africa, is generally people are on average younger. We are taking that into account as well.”

Don’t shut down hospitality, Sajid Javid urged

16:18 , Barney Davis

Tory MP Theresa Villiers asks, if the situation deteriorates, to do “everything possible” not to shut down the hospitality and events sector. She adds: “They are just getting back to their feet.”

Sajid Javid says he agrees “absolutely”.

Jeremy Hunt urges more vaccines donated to poorer countries

16:11 , Barney Davis

A former health secretary has said the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is “a symptom of the failure of western countries” to donate vaccines to poorer nations.

Conservative former minister Jeremy Hunt welcomed new restrictions to beat the Covid variant but also asked Health Secretary Sajid Javid: “Does he not agree that the fact that we are facing this danger is also a symptom of the failure of western countries to make sure that vaccines are distributed adequately around the world?

“Whilst I recognise the enormous contribution the UK has made through Covax, through the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine and so on, is it not a moral and practical failure that richer countries have managed to vaccinate 60% of their populations when for poorer countries it is just 3%?”

Mr Javid said: “I do agree with his words. It is important that all rich countries do everything they can to support the vaccines and donation of vaccines to developing countries.

“I have set out earlier what the UK has done and we can be proud of that, but we do need other countries to step up. In the G7 meeting I chaired earlier today with health ministers, we all agreed the importance of this and about redoubling efforts to make sure all commitments are made.”

21 more Covid-related deaths in England

16:08 , Barney Davis

Five minute queue to book booster jabs reported on NHS website

16:07 , Barney Davis

 (Supplied)
(Supplied)

Prof JVT begs for calm

16:02 , Barney Davis

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam urged people not to panic but said they should be aware of the situation around the Omicron variant.

England’s deputy chief medical officer told a Downing Street press conference: “I’m asking people not to panic but I’m not asking them either to completely ignore the weather forecast.

“We look at South Africa, it’s our kind of weather forecast here – in the same way the weather forecasters have warned us about Storm Arwen in the recent few days.

“You can’t ignore what you see around the world and it is more urgent than ever before, because of what’s happened.”

Prof JVT boosters to be run in orderly way

16:01 , Barney Davis

The NHS will deliver the booster campaign in an “orderly” way, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said, to avoid younger people jumping ahead of those who are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“The important message that the NHS wanted me to convey to you today is that they understand the real urgency of this,” England’s chief medical officer said.

“They are up for the task but they say that they will contact you when you need to act and they will open the booking in an orderly way.

“One of the things we really don’t want is people from the very youngest, now eligible, cohorts somehow getting in front of people who are at a much higher risk of a bad outcome if they were to get Covid-19.”

Prof JVT boosters to be run in orderly way

16:01 , Barney Davis

The NHS will deliver the booster campaign in an “orderly” way, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said, to avoid younger people jumping ahead of those who are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“The important message that the NHS wanted me to convey to you today is that they understand the real urgency of this,” England’s chief medical officer said.

“They are up for the task but they say that they will contact you when you need to act and they will open the booking in an orderly way.

“One of the things we really don’t want is people from the very youngest, now eligible, cohorts somehow getting in front of people who are at a much higher risk of a bad outcome if they were to get Covid-19.”

New cases of Omicron variant detected in London bringing UK total to 11

16:00 , Barney Davis

Two further cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in London bringing the total number of people with the strain identified in the UK to 11.

The new London cases - one in Camden and the other in Wandsworth - are not connected to each other and are not linked to the previously confirmed cases - but both do have “links to travel to southern Africa”.

New cases of Omicron variant detected in London making UK total of 11

Labour’s Dr Rosena Khan says Omicron is a ‘wake-up call’ to the UK

15:57 , Barney Davis

Shadow Health Minister Dr Rosena Allin Khan, standing in for Jonathan Ashworth who has Covid-19, says it is our role to keep the virus at bay.

“No-one is safe until all of us are safe,” she says hitting out at Government for failing to give enough vaccines out to the world.

Dr Allin-Khan called for pre-departure testing to prevent people with Covid arriving in the UK.

She added: “We support the decision to introduce masks on public transport and in shops, but we believe this should never have been abandoned in the first place. Keeping masks in place would always have been our Plan A.

“Will the Secretary of State extend the use of masks to hospitality and other settings or does Covid not spread in pubs?”

Labour MP Peter Kyle (Hove) could be heard shouting at a handful of unmasked Tory MPs to “put it on”, with Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) replying: “No.”

She adds Labour would never have ditched masks in shops and accuses the Government of “flip-flopping”.

Asks when Tory backbenchers will start wearing their masks and accuses the PM of setting a bad example after his no-mask hospital visit.

Sajid Javid counters saying she has misread the mood of the House and is auditioning for Labour front bench role in a reshuffle.

Sajid Javid says Covid-19 not going away

15:50 , Barney Davis

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs: “The regulations for self isolation and face coverings have been laid before the House today and will come into force at 4am tomorrow, but I can confirm to the House that there will be a debate and vote on these two measures to give the House the opportunity to have its say and to perform valuable scrutiny.

“The Leader of the House will be setting out more detail shortly and we’ll be reviewing all of these measures that I’ve set out today after three weeks to see whether they are still necessary.”

Prof JVT says next three weeks are uncertain

15:48 , Barney Davis

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference: “We don’t know what’s going to happen next … the next three weeks are going to be weeks of scientific uncertainty.

“But whilst we wait for the mist to clear on what this concerning variant actually means, there is no time to delay, it’s our opportunity to get ahead and vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily while we wait for that science mist to clear.”

Sajid Javid boasts UK has given more booster shots than anywhere else in Europe

15:47 , Barney Davis

Sajid Javid pays tribute to NHS, armed forces and volunteers for their role in handing out life-saving booster vaccines.He said vaccines remain the best form of defence against virus in “whatever form it attacks us”.

He adds there is still not a lot known about Omicron’s ability to withstand vaccine.

Mr Javid has asked the JCVI whether the UK should reduce the gap from second doses to booster shots. It recommended it to be halved from six months to three months.

Booster jabs to tackle Omicron

15:42 , Barney Davis

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 immunisation at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), laid out a five-point plan, announcing that all adults should receive a booster jab to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

He told a press briefing at Downing Street that booster shots, such as a third shot of Pfizer, Moderna or, to a “lesser extent”, AstraZeneca, “creates a very strong immune response”.

Prof Lim added: “The immune response provided with the boost is measured to be higher than that attained after the second dose, so there is a step-wise increase.

“This increase in immune response will broaden the protection, hopefully, against the new variant.”

Two more Omicron cases found in England, as Sajid Javid provides update to Commons

15:40 , Barney Davis

Two further cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been identified in England, with both having links to travel in southern Africa, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Sajid Javid informs the House of Commons there has been 5 Omicron cases found in England

15:39 , Barney Davis

The Health Secretary updates the House that there are also six cases in Scotland.

He said: “We expect cases to rise over the coming days.”

He said the new variant is spreading across Austria, Germany, Portugal and a host of other EU countries.

He adds the variant may have given the virus “new legs”.

Breaking: Booster jabs extended to all over-18s

15:17 , Elly Blake

All 18 to 39-year-olds will be eligible for a booster jab, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has announced.

The booster programme will now be prioritised based on who is most at-risk, Professor Wei Shen Lim said.

The JCVI also said children aged 12 to 15-years-old should be offered a second dose of a Covid vaccine.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam giving technical update

15:05 , Elly Blake

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has started the technical briefing.

He said it was inevitable the world would get a variant of “heightened concern” and called Omicron the “new kid on the block”.

But he emphasized the “very high degree of uncertainty in our knowledge” but said Omicron has “many mutations” and this makes scientists worry about a possible effect on vaccine effectiveness.

Uncertainties include transmissibility, severity of disease and effectiveness of vaccines against the new variant, he said.

“I do not want people to panic at this stage,” Professor Van-Tam added.

JCVI to hold news conference at 3pm

14:47 , Elly Blake

The JCVI is due to hold a news conference at 3pm amid speculation all over-18s could be offered booster jabs in a major expansion of the vaccine rollout.

It is also thought the time between a second and third dose could be delayed from six months to five.

We’ll find out more at 3pm.

South African President: World needs to resist unjustified travel restrictions

13:44 , Elly Blake

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has hit out at a number of countries for imposing travel restrictions on southern African countries following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

He described them as “unjustified” and “unscientific”.

Downing Street data briefing later today

13:34 , Elly Blake

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam will take part in a coronavirus data briefing at 3pm following a further six cases of the Omicron variant being located in Scotland.

He will be joined by the JCVI’s Professor Wei Shen Lim and chief executive of the medicines regulator, Dr June Raine.

Downing Street responds to Scotland and Wales’ requests

13:31 , Elly Blake

In response to demands from the Scottish and Welsh first ministers for a Cobra meeting involving all four nations of the UK, Downing Street said there was not one scheduled.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We would confirm any plans for a Cobra meeting in the normal way. Currently, there isn’t one scheduled.

“We obviously speak to our devolved administration counterparts very regularly and we will continue to co-ordinate our response with them.”

Downing Street also rejected the calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford for the self-isolation period for travellers to be extended until the result of a test on day eight after arriving in the UK.

Extending the requirements would have a “detrimental effect” on the travel industry, No 10 said.

The spokesman said: “We believe that the approach we’ve taken is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant.

“Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel individually industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.”

No surprise Omicron variant already in Northern Ireland...

13:12 , Laura Sharman

Northern Ireland’s health minister said that it is to be expected that the country has already seen cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Robin Swann said: “Although there is limited evidence of the impact of the new variant, there are concerns that it has a large number of mutations which means that there is the potential for the variant to be resistant to vaccines and more transmissible.

“As yet it is unclear if it would be more serious in terms of the clinical impact.

“At this particular moment, there have been no confirmed cases of the Omicron variant identified in Northern Ireland but it is highly likely that this position will change in the coming days.”

The Public Health Agency is carrying out detailed risk assessments of some returning travellers from red list countries and advising on any immediate public health actions needed to limit its spread in Northern Ireland, the minister said.

“In light of the cases identified in England and Scotland it is to be expected that there may already be cases of the variant in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Government’s stance on Covid and school nativity plays

13:07 , Laura Sharman

The government is not asking schools to cancel nativity plays in the coming weeks despite the emergence of the new Omicron variant, the health minister has said.

Edward Argar said festive plays in school are “important to young people who’ve had a rough time” during the Covid pandemic.

His comments came as a poll suggested that more than one in four (27 per cent) of primary school teachers have said their school is only planning to run nativity shows online this year.

A poll by Teacher Tapp, of 1,711 primary school teachers in England found that one in ten said their primary school is not planning to host any nativity play this year.

 (PA)
(PA)

Downing Street: Approach to face masks is ‘proportionate’

12:30 , Elly Blake

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the Government’s approach to mask-wearing in public spaces was “proportionate”.

On why the Government had not decided to make masks mandatory in pubs and restaurants, the spokesman said: “We believe that this is a measured and proportionate approach based on the evidence that we have so far.

“It appears likely but not certain this variant is more transmissible than previous variants, but we don’t have any hard evidence and indeed no one has any hard evidence on its impact on things like hospitalisations and deaths and individuals that are vaccinated.

“So we think that this is the proportionate approach to take in the current circumstances.”

Department for Education updates its guidance on face masks

11:31 , Elly Blake

Face coverings should be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors as part of measures to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, according to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

Higher education institutions may also want to consider using face masks in “workshops, laboratories, offices, libraries, teaching rooms and lecture halls” especially where social distancing is difficult to maintain, the DfE said.

The guidance says: “We recommend that face coverings should be worn by students, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises such as in corridors and communal spaces.”

The updated advice for universities adds: “We recommend that you consider whether to go ahead with planned international educational visits at this time, recognising the risk of disruption to education resulting from the need to isolate and test on arrival back into the UK.”

It says international students travelling from red list countries will be required to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel on arrival to the UK for 10 days.

Unlikely Omicron cases linked to COP26 - Sturgeon

11:20 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was unlikely but not impossible that six cases of the Omicron variant found in the country were linked to the Cop26 conference held earlier this month in Glasgow.

“We have no information right now that any of these cases are related to Cop,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Scotland and Wales call for Cobra committee meeting

11:09 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford have called for urgent talks with the Prime Minister over the new Covid-19 variant.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, they called for tougher restrictions and confirmation of funding to respond to the situation.

The letter says: “The emergence of Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK.

“It is clear that the strain is already here and that it appears highly transmissible.

“We need to work collectively – and effectively – as Four Nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread.

“We are clear that a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the Cobra committee be held as soon as possible.”

Nicola Sturgeon speaking amid six Omicron cases detected in Scotland

10:36 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is giving an update about Omicron variant.

“There is still a huge amount we do not know about the variant,” she told a news briefing on Monday morning.

Further work is needed to understand the impact the variant has on the effectiveness of vaccines, she said, but information at this stage is “limited”.

Ms Sturgeon said the variant would be treated seriously and could present “potentially the most challenging” threat posed by the pandemic so far.

On the six Omicron cases identified in Scotland, she confirmed not all cases were related to travel and this could suggest evidence of community transmission, although it was still too early to say with certainty.

“At this stage we are asking people to significantly set up and increase compliance with all existing precautions” including wearing face masks, regular testing and asking people to work from home where possible.

In line with the rest of the UK, Scotland has added ten countries from southern Africa to its red list. Anyone arriving to Scotland from these countries will have to quarantine in a Government-mandated hotel.

Along with the Welsh First Minster Mark Drakeford, Ms Sturgeon has written a joint letter to the Boris Johnson, calling for a stricter “four nations approach” to travel restrictions.

She also called on anyone who has not already to get vaccinated and those eligible for come forward for their booster jabs.

“Vaccines do remain our best line of defence,” she said.

Australia to delay border reopening by two weeks due to Omicron

10:24 , Elly Blake

Australia has announced it will delay the reopening of its international border by two weeks after reporting its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison convened a meeting of his national security committee and said it received advice from Australia’s chief health officer to delay the reopening after the first cases of the new variant were detected on Sunday.

Morrison said earlier this month Australia would reopen its border to foreign visa holders on December 1.

The country shut its borders in May 2020 and allowed only restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter.

WHO chief: High-risk groups should be vaccinated first

10:12 , Elly Blake

Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said people in high-risk groups should be vaccinated as a priority.

He told a news briefing on Monday morning: “Until we reach high levels of vaccination in every country, suppressing transmission remains essential.”

Mr Ghebreyesus said the lack of a global strategy to tackle Covid-19 had resulted in a “splintered” response and exacerbated inequalities.

He called for a “legally binding agreement” between nations as the best way forward.

Omicron case in Essex linked to primary school

09:37 , Elly Blake

A case of the Omicron variant has been linked to a primary school in Essex.

Essex County Council said in a statement on Monday morning: “Following further contact tracing of the known Omicron Covid-19 case in Brentwood, it has been confirmed that there is a link to Larchwood Primary School based in Pilgrims Hatch.

“UK Health and Security Agency, Department of Health and Social Care, Larchwood Primary School and colleagues from Essex County Council and Brentwood Council have worked together to take necessary precautionary action to prevent the spread.

“This includes making specialist testing available for all pupils and school staff and confirming arrangements for remote learning for one class.”

They contined: “We appreciate that this is an unsettling time for parents, pupils and the school community but we take the time to remind everyone that this is a precautionary measure.”

Vaccines probably effective against Omicron - South African public health expert

09:30 , Elly Blake

Existing Covid vaccines are probably effective at preventing severe disease from the newly identified Omicron variant, a top South African infectious disease expert said on Monday.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim told a news conference it was too early to say whether Omicron led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants.

Person infected with Omicron variant in Essex is ‘well’

09:18 , Elly Blake

A person infected with the Omicron variant in Essex is “well” and isolating with their family, the region’s top public health official has said.

Essex Director of Public Health, Dr Michael Gogarty, told BBC Breakfast: “Most importantly with the confirmed case is that they are well, they are isolating with their family.

“When I say that they are well, I mean they are not seriously ill.

“They have some symptoms but they do not require hospitalisation.”

Japan bans entry of foreign visitors in response to Omicron

09:00 , Elly Blake

Japan has announced that it will suspend entry of all foreign visitors as it joins a number of countries tightening borders amid concern about the Omicron variant.

Although yet to detect any cases of the new variant, Japan reimposed border controles that it had eased earlier this month.

“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said.

Southern African countries to condemn travel bans

08:53 , Elly Blake

South Africa’s health minister has said a World Health Assembly is convening on Monday in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Joe Phaala said that it will present a statement on behalf of southern African countries to condemn travel bans, which he previously branded as “unjustified” and “counter-productive”.

Mr Phaala said he is currently engaging with countries who have introduced travel bans in order to reverse them.

Ten African countries have been added to the UK’s red list. These are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

No travel history in some cases of Omicron variant - Scottish minister

08:45 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said there is no travel history in some cases of the Omicron variant, which suggests there is a degree of community transmission.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “We obviously have some travel history on some of the cases, I don’t have all of that detail available to me at this stage, but on some of the cases we are aware that there is no travel history involved on some of the cases.

“So what that tells us is that there must be a degree of community transmission of this particular strain of the virus in the absence of direct travel connection for some of the cases in the southern African area.

“So that obviously opens up further challenges for us in terms of interrupting the spread of this particular strain of the virus and that will be the focus of the contact tracing operation that is under way already.”

It comes as the Scottish Government announced six cases of the new variant had been identified in the country on Monday morning.

Four of these ae in the Lanarkshire area and two have been identified in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Nicola Sturgeon will be giving an update on the situation at 10.30am.

Sturgeon to provide Omicron update at 10.30am

08:41 , Elly Blake

The First Minister will provide an update on the coronavirus situation in Scotland later this morning following news six cases of the new variant have been detected.

She will discuss what is known about the Omicron mutation so far, “and what we can all do to help contain spread”.

Nicola Sturgeon will be joined by the chief medical officer for Scotland Dr Gregor Smith at the news briefing.

Portugal detects 13 cases of Omicron variant

08:36 , Elly Blake

Portugal has identified 13 cases of the Omicron variant, said the country’s health authority DGS.

These are all related to players and staff members of Lisbon soccer team Belenenses, it added.

It comes as a number of European countries have reported cases of the new variant, which was designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation.

Scotland’s Heath Secretary: Still much to learn about Omicron

08:24 , Elly Blake

Following the announcement that six cases of the Omicron variant had been identifed in Scotland, the country’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This will be a worrying time for the six people now identified as having the new variant.

“All will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases.

“This will help establish the origin of the virus and any further individuals they have come into contact with in recent weeks.

“There is still much to learn about the Omicron variant. Questions remain about its severity, transmissibility and response to treatments or vaccines and scientists are working at pace to provide additional information.

“Until more is known we must be cautious and do everything we can to minimise the risk of spreading infection.”

He continued: “We must now redouble our efforts to follow the basic rules that have served us well throughout the pandemic – wear a face covering on public transport and in all indoor settings for food and retail; open windows, especially if you have people visiting at home; keep washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.

“Work from home where possible, take regular lateral flow tests – especially before mixing with others outside your household.”

He said that all close contacts of suspected Omicron cases will be advised to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Mr Yousaf urged people to get their vaccinations, including a booster, if they are eligible.

Breaking: Six cases of Omicron variant detected in Scotland

08:00 , Elly Blake

Six cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced.

Public Health Scotland and local health protection teams are working together and contact tracing is being undertaken to establish the origin of the virus and any individuals they have come into contact with.

Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This will be a worrying time for the six people now identified as having the new variant. All will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give a news briefing alongside the country’s chief medical officer later on Monday.

Prime Minister has ‘undermined’ face mask messages in recent weeks - Labour

07:49 , Elly Blake

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has said people should be wearing face coverings at indoor hospitality venues, adding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has “undermined” the importance of wearing one by appearing publicly unmasked on several occasions.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “We think we should be encouraging people to wear masks when we’re all mixing indoors, as much as possible.

“So we would recommend that people do wear masks when they’re out and about, specially when they’re moving around venues.

“The Prime Minister unfortunately has undermined those messages in recent weeks, but wearing a mask can be a very protective way of supporting people in stopping the virus being able to spread as quickly.”

Overall global risk of Omicron is ‘very high’ - World Health Organisation

07:26 , Elly Blake

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it assesses the overall global risk of the Omicron variant as “very high”.

“The likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO said during a technical briefing on Monday morning.

It urged its 194 member states to report initial Omicron cases and clusters to help them understand its spread, as well as speed up individual country’s vaccine rollout programmes to high-priority groups.

Face masks in hospitality venues not necessary ‘at this point’ - Government minister

07:21 , Elly Blake

Health Minister Edward Argar has said he making face masks mandatory on public transport and in shops was "a proportionate and measured response" because these are "very confined spaces".

He said he did not believe face coverings needed to be compulsory in hospitality venues "at this point".

But he said that due to the success of the vaccination programme, "we are in a hugely different place" to where we were this time last year.

Asked whether more severe restrictions would be introduced in the next three weeks, Mr Argar said: "It's not something I anticipate".

Government acted ‘proportionately but swiftly’ - Health Minister

07:11 , Elly Blake

Health Minister Edward Argar has said the Omicron variant is "concerning" and the Government has "taken precautionary steps" to limit the spread while it tries to understand how it works and interacts with Covid-19 vaccines.

He told Sky News there were currently three confirmed cases in the UK but he expected that number to rise, although "we don't know by what speed or by what numbers".

Defending the Government's decision to introduce new restrictions over the weekend, Mr Argar said: "I think we moved proportionately but swiftly... I think we struck the right balance here".

He said the JCVI would make an announcement “within the next few hours” about the booster rollout programme and the time between a second and third dose could be reduced from six to five months.

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