Boris Johnson has expressed “absolute confidence” that folks would take pleasure in a greater Christmas this yr than final, regardless of re-imposing a spread of restrictions – together with obligatory mask-wearing – to fight the new extremely transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The prime minister tried to calm fears concerning the prospects of one other imminent lockdown on Saturday, hours after the first two cases of the new variant have been reported in the UK, in Nottingham and Essex.
At a joint press convention flanked by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, and England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, Johnson stated that folks in England could be required to put on face masks once more on public transport and in retailers. Downing Avenue later confirmed that masks would develop into obligatory in retailers and on public transport from “subsequent week” however “all hospitality settings shall be exempt”. Masks are already obligatory in these settings in Wales and Scotland.
Johnson additionally stated that anybody coming into this nation from overseas would have to take a PCR check by the top of the second day after arriving, and to self-isolate till they’d secured a damaging end result.
The prime minister stated folks weren’t going to be prevented from travelling to or coming back from abroad. He admitted that the restrictions on journey “sound robust”, however insisted your complete bundle was “focused and applicable”, including “that’s the best way it’s received to be”.
Requested if the federal government may have moved quicker to shut borders to shield the nation from the new variant, he stated motion had been taken as quickly as information of it had filtered by means of from southern Africa: “I actually don’t know the way we may’ve acted quicker. We received the information out about it on Thursday and we put various southern African international locations on the crimson record yesterday, and a few extra right now.”
4 additional international locations – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – have been added to a UK record going through flight bans that now consists of 10 nations.
When requested how frightened folks must be, and whether or not they would have to change their Christmas plans, Johnson stated there was nonetheless a lot that was not recognized concerning the new variant. However he was positive the UK was in a far stronger place than final yr due to the profitable vaccine and booster programmes.
On the prospects for Christmas, he stated he would stick to a fastidiously chosen type of phrases: “I’m fairly assured or completely assured that this Christmas goes to be higher than final Christmas. I believe I’ll persist with that,” he stated.
Over the festive interval final yr, plans to permit three households to combine for 5 days have been cancelled on the final minute. Ultimately, three households have been allowed to combine on Christmas Day itself in many of the nation, whereas in London and the south-east, the place cases have been larger,households weren’t allowed to combine indoors in any respect.
Vallance advised the press convention that whereas there have been some indications that the Omicron variant may find a way to resist Covid vaccines, it was additionally doable that present vaccines and boosters “could also be adequate to forestall folks occurring to have extreme diseases and in some cases dying.”
Johnson stated the federal government would work to pace up the virus booster programme over the subsequent few weeks and that the central message to everybody was to get vaccinated as quickly as doable, after which have the booster when eligible.
The new necessities to put on masks in retailers and on public transport – as properly as a new regime of testing for everybody arriving in the UK from overseas – shall be reviewed in three weeks.
The first two Omicron cases in this nation are believed to be related, and linked to journey in southern Africa. The people and their households have been ordered to self-isolate, and focused testing was being carried out in areas the place they’re thought to have been whereas infectious. The well being secretary, Sajid Javid, stated the new variant was “an actual reminder that this pandemic is much from over”.
Javid stated anybody who had travelled in the previous 10 days to the ten international locations now on the crimson record, which additionally consists of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini (previously Swaziland), Zimbabwe and Namibia, should self-isolate and take PCR assessments.
The UK is the second European nation to have reported the presence of Omicron after Belgium stated it had recognized a single case on Friday. On Saturday night time, cases have been additionally confirmed in Germany and Italy. There was additionally concern in the Netherlands after 61 folks examined constructive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Additional assessments have been underneath method to decide if any of them had the Omicron variant.
Quite a few pharmaceutical companies have stated they’re working to adapt their vaccines in mild of the emergence of Omicron after the WHO warned that preliminary proof advised the variant has an elevated danger of reinfection and will unfold extra quickly than different strains. On Saturday Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed optimism that current vaccines could be efficient at defending in opposition to severe illness brought on by the new Omicron variant. He additionally stated it was “extraordinarily unlikely” that it might trigger a “reboot” of the pandemic.
Pollard, who additionally chairs the federal government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, stated a new vaccine could possibly be developed “very quickly” if required as a result of scientists now have a “well-oiled” course of.
He advised BBC Radio 4’s Right now programme that it might be weeks earlier than the seriousness could possibly be judged extra exactly: “At the very least from a speculative standpoint, we’ve got some optimism that the vaccine ought to nonetheless work in opposition to a new variant for severe illness however actually we want to wait a number of weeks to have that confirmed.”
The arrival of the new variant comes as ministers are getting ready a sequence of bulletins this week to clear the backlog of operations in the NHS brought on by Covid and to put together it for the winter.
Ministers will an announce an “elective restoration plan” to sort out the large backlog of NHS care in England as the centrepiece of a “well being week” of bulletins which they hope will see them regain management of the narrative across the more and more fragile state of the well being service and social care.
It’s anticipated that sufferers shall be advised they are going to be given fewer follow-up appointments after operations, and can as an alternative be inspired to use apps, phone and hospital trusts’ web sites to search a session with a specialist in the event that they really feel they want it. The plan is a part of a significant shift in the direction of what officers are calling “patient-activated healthcare” that may free area to sort out the backlog.
Underneath the plans, sufferers may be provided the prospect to have their surgical procedure exterior their dwelling space, in one other a part of the nation. Nonetheless, demand is probably going to be restricted by the provision of surgical capability and sufferers’ willingness to journey.