There is now community transmission of the Omicron variant of Covid across “multiple regions of England”, health secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.
Javid said today that there are 335 recorded cases of the variant in the UK, which “includes cases with no links to international travel”, but that there is not enough scientific evidence to know whether the new strain is more dangerous than previous iterations.
“Beyond our shores confirmed Omicron cases have now been reported in 52 countries, with 11 countries that include Romania, Mexico and Chile all reporting their first cases this weekend,” he told MPs.
“Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than for the Delta variant.
“But we don’t have a complete picture of whether Omicron causes more severe disease or indeed how it interacts with the vaccines. We can’t say for certain at this point whether Omicron has the potential to knock us off our road to recovery.”
Boris Johnson today insisted no new restrictions were needed to combat the variant, despite calls from some top scientists.
Johnson said he was confident “this Christmas [will] be considerably better than last Christmas”.
One member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned yesterday that people should limit social contact over the next few weeks.
Professor Tim Spector, a scientist behind the Zoe Covid tracker app, today said people with a “sniffle” should avoid their workplace.
He told Times Radio that “we should really be encouraging people not to come in to the office, not to go to that Christmas party if they’re feeling unwell”.
“Take a test and then, when the symptoms subside, then they can come out — it doesn’t have to be ten days but just those first few days are probably the most crucial,” he said.
“We want to tell people that if you don’t feel well that day, don’t go out, don’t go to work, work from home, because the start of that sniffle, the start of that sore throat, that headache, could be a mild dose of Covid that is just breaking through your vaccine.
“So I think everyone needs to be much more aware of a whole range of symptoms and not wait for the loss of smell or taste which may never come, not wait for fever, not wait for that persistent cough.”
Former Prime Minister urged Javid to resist pressure to impose any new Covid restrictions that could cripple the economy.
“The early indications of Omicron are that it is more transmissible, but potentially leads to less serious illness than other variants,” she told MPs.
“I understand that would be the normal progress of a virus – variants will continue to appear year after year.
“When is the government going to accept that learning to live with Covid, which we all have to do, means we will almost certainly have an annual vaccine and that we cannot respond to new variants by stopping and starting sectors of our economy, which lead to businesses going under and jobs being lost?”