Two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the UK, the health secretary Sajid Javid has announced.
Targeted testing will now be rolled out in the areas where the cases were detected – Nottingham and Chelmsford, Javid said.
“We have been made aware by the UK Health Security Agency of two UK cases of the Omicron variant,” the health secretary Sajid Javid said in a tweet.
“The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa. These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway,” he added.
Downing Street has announced that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a press conference at 5pm, accompanied by the UK’s Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance, and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
Health officials are sequencing all positive cases that are detected in the UK, in what Javid described as a “fast-moving situation”.
He said the government is taking “decisive steps” to protect public health from the new variant, which is understood to be highly transmissible, and was first detected in South Africa on 24 November.
Javid also announced that the UK was adding Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to the travel red list, with effect from 4am on Sunday.
Travellers that have returned from those four countries in the last ten days must now isolate and get PCR tests, the health secretary said.
It comes after South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were added to the UK’s travel red list from midday yesterday, as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new variant.
The first cases of the new Omicron variant, described by the chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency as the “most worrying we’ve seen”, were first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on 24 November.
A WHO panel named the variant Omicron, and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern – the same category that includes the Delta variant.
It has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.