Europe

UK detects 2 cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola added to UK red list, says senior health official, premier announces 'targeted measures'

Busra Nur Cakmak   | 27.11.2021
UK detects 2 cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

ANKARA/LONDON

The UK on Saturday announced that two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, recently detected in South Africa, were detected in the country.

"We have been made aware by @UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa," Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for health and social care, said on Twitter.

The two individuals are now self-isolating with their households, said Javid.

"We are also adding Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola to the travel red list, effective from 4 a.m. Sunday," said the official, adding that those who have returned from these countries in the past 10 days must isolate and get PCR tests.

"And if you are eligible for your booster jab, now is the time to get it," he urged people.

This week, South African scientists announced that they had discovered the Omicron variant, which has several mutations that may carry the risk of reinfection. The same variant was also detected in neighboring Botswana, as well as Hong Kong, and was first detected on Nov. 12-22 before being announced on Thursday.

On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the strain a "variant of concern," naming it Omicron.

Several countries around the world have now banned flights from over half a dozen Southern African nations, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Eswatini, over fears of the new variant.

'Targeted measures'

In a press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced immediate "targeted measures," including mandatory face coverings on public transport and in shops, except for the hospitality sector.

Speaking alongside government chief medical adviser Christ Whitty and chief scientific aide Patrick Vallance, Johnson said the government was "asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport."

He added that all international arrivals entering the UK must take a day-two PCR test and self-isolate until receiving a negative result, with all contacts of suspected Omicron cases also self-isolating for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Johnson also announced that the government would "boost the booster campaign," saying: "It's more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible."

He said that the health secretary would ask the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to consider giving boosters to more people and reducing the gap for second doses.

For his part, Whitty said that the Omicron variant's ability "to spread is clear" and that "it's spreading around the world."

"The reason this one is worrying is the combination of transmissibility and the potential for some degree of escape from vaccines because of the number of changes," said Vallance.

He added that the UK would respond to the new variant in three ways: Limiting the number of cases that enter the UK, trying to limit spread within the country, and bolstering defenses by boosting both vaccines and the anti-viral drugs being developed.

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