UK braces for expected arrival of new Covid variant

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The UK prepares for the arrival of a potentially more dangerous and transmissible new COVID-19 variant, as Europe reports its first case.

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In Whitehall, the COVID-19 taskforce is scrambling to examine whether restrictions can be enforced if the variant displaces the delta and takes hold in the UK, while scientific advisers to the government have warned that now New measures are needed.

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said the version named Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO) was of “huge international concern” and could pose a “substantial public health risk”, but restrictions were not urgently needed. To be implemented beyond adding some countries to the Travel Red List.


Europe and the US lead the UK in banning travel from southern African countries, as the first case was reported in Belgium. Meanwhile, fears of the variant’s impact sent shockwaves through the stock market, wiping out £72bn from the Ftse 100.

Professor John Edmonds, an epidemiologist and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said “extremely worrying” data from South Africa, where the variant appears to be spreading rapidly, suggests that Omicron can overcome the body’s immunity. may be able to obtain. Defense.

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In anticipation of the variant’s arrival, he said the government needed to consider border restrictions with affected countries, prepare for large-scale testing and local restrictions, and accelerate the rollout of boosters and vaccines across the UK. They also discussed the possibility of giving children a second dose of the vaccine.

“All these things need to be put on the table,” he told the BBC. “At some point, we’re going to get this version out here in the UK. What are we going to do about it when we get cases here?”

Scientists are unsure about how permeable the new variant is and to what extent it will survive the immune response triggered by vaccination and natural infection. Laboratory work is underway in the UK and beyond to address these unknowns. So far, there is no evidence that the Omicron type causes more severe disease.

The government’s COVID-19 taskforce, which coordinates Whitehall’s response to the pandemic, has been put on a “war footing” according to an insider, and is encouraged to consider the worst as it is to collate data. It works with other groups, including travelers from across countries. With known cases of the type.

The variant has so far been detected in Botswana, South Africa, Hong Kong and Israel and Belgium, where it was identified in a man who had recently returned from Egypt. Along with the UK, the European Union and the US have restricted travel from eight countries in southern Africa.

Professor Sharon Peacock, head of Britain’s Genomic Surveillance Network, said the speed at which omicrons were detected and the subsequent implementation of travel restrictions had given the UK some time to go, but warned that the version would be “in the UK sometime”. is likely to be transmitted in point”.

It is unknown whether the variant is more dominant than Delta, which is globally dominant. If this proves to be the case, Omicron “will arrive in the UK sooner or later”, said Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Epidemic Modelling.

Whitehall insiders told Granthshala That some employees were likely to be redeployed to strengthen the COVID-19 workforce, which has been reduced in recent months.

One source said the employees were asked to assume “war footing” informally, and they would have to devise a fresh “Plan C” option to be presented to senior decision makers in the government.

Officials are revisiting earlier modeling that examined how 19 sections of the UK economy could recover once restrictions are lifted. The plan is based on how businesses and consumers reacted to the January 6 lockdown.

However, officials are trying to figure out how compliant the UK population will be if a new wave of restrictions is needed to protect public health. This echoed the concerns of England’s chief medical officer, who said his “biggest concern” was whether the public would accept the new measures in the face of new measures.

Speaking during a panel discussion organized by the Local Government Association, Professor Chris Whitty said: “If we need to do something more muscular at some point, whether for a new version of the current one or at a later stage, can we Can we still take people?”

Officials working with the UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA) have also been tasked with tracking the movements of travelers in and out of the country, which has not been seen since the emergence of the Delta version. This includes creating a timeline of large-scale events in the UK to identify where there might be a major opportunity for a new version to air, if it is found to be in circulation.

These could include last weekend’s rugby match between England and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium in London. Health officials warned on Thursday evening before the new travel ban was put in place that 500 to 700 people were entering the UK from South Africa every day.

Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, said no cases had yet been detected in the UK, but acknowledged it was likely the variant had gone under the radar.


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