Findings revealed by health officials amid sharp rise in detection of new variant across the UK
More than half of those infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant in England were double jabbed, health officials have said, as the number of cases detected in the UK continues to rise sharply.
There were 75 further cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant identified in England, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday night. It brings the total number of confirmed cases in England to 104 with 134 in the UK as a whole. There were warnings of a “small amount” of community transmission as not all the new cases were linked to travel.
Cases have now been identified in the east Midlands, east of England, London, north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west and West Midlands.
On Friday, 16 cases were found in Scotland in the previous 24 hours, five times the increase recorded the previous day, with some linked to a Steps concert in Glasgow 11 days ago. Wales also announced its first case on Friday.
The sharp rise in cases came as a new risk assessment from the UKHSA said the new variant is “transmitting rapidly and successfully”. A separate analysis by the agency of the first 22 Omicron cases in England also found that more than half of those infected had been double jabbed.
Twelve of the 22 cases occurred more than 14 days after the individual had received at least two doses of vaccine. Two cases were more than 28 days after a first dose of vaccine. Six were unvaccinated, while two had no available data.
None of the cases is known to have been hospitalised or died, but the UKHSA said that “most of the cases have a specimen date that is very recent and that there is a lag between onset of infection and hospitalisation and death.”
The UKHSA has also issued its highest “red” alert against the virus for its theoretical ability, based on its mutations, to evade both vaccine and naturally acquired immunity. It also warns it could reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments. However, the UKHSA’s confidence level for the warnings is “low” as officials still lack key definitive data on the new variant.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said: “Thanks to very high levels of vaccine coverage we already have a robust wall of defence against Covid-19 as new variants emerge.
“We are working as fast as possible to gather more evidence about any impact the new variant may have on severity of disease or vaccine effectiveness. Until we have this evidence, we must exercise the highest level of caution in drawing conclusions about any significant risks to people’s health.”
She added: “We have started to see cases where there are no links to travel, suggesting that we have a small amount of community transmission.”
Earlier the University of Oxford said two people were suspected to have the Omicron variant. It said: “The individuals are now isolating in line with government guidance and their close contacts have been notified and are also isolating. The university has already implemented a number of changes to its health guidance in response to the Omicron variant, based on advice from its clinical academics.”
The first case in Wales of the Omicron variant was in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area and linked to international travel, the Welsh government said.
Public Health Wales said there was no evidence of wider community transmission. The organisation’s national director for health protection and screening services, Dr Meng Khaw, said: “The number of mutations in the Omicron variant is concerning, but new variants are anticipated. We keep variants under constant review, and we work with UK partners to identify, detect and monitor new and known variants.
“The single best thing you can do to protect yourself, your community and the NHS against new variants of coronavirus is to take up the offer of a vaccine.”
In Scotland, Omicron cases jumped by 16 in the past 24 hours to 29, a significant rise on the three cases identified the previous day.
The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, warned cases may rise “significantly” in the coming days as the variant is circulating in the community.
Previously, nine Omicron cases were linked to a single private event, but Sturgeon said there were now several different sources of infections of the new variant, including a Steps concert at the Hydro in Glasgow on Monday 22 November. Six cases are linked to this event, but the risk to attenders is said to be low.
Sturgeon said: “The number of Omicron cases now being reported in Scotland is rising, and cases are no longer all linked to a single event, but to several different sources including a Steps concert at the Hydro on 22 November.
“This confirms our view that there is now community transmission of this variant within Scotland. Given the nature of transmission, we would expect to see cases rise, perhaps significantly, in the days ahead.
“However, health protection teams are continuing work through contact tracing, isolation and testing to slow the spread as far as possible while we learn more about the new variant’s impact. Ministers are also keeping the situation under daily review.”