Three Omicron cases in UK & 225 more 'likely' but new rules 'won't ruin Christmas'
HEALTH chiefs last night confirmed a third case of the new Omicron Covid strain in the UK — amid fears there are already hundreds of others.
More than 75 “probable” cases of the mutant variant have been flagged with more than 150 possible others, according to Government sources.
Ministers and scientists are scrambling to work out how contagious and dangerous Omicron is.
It is feared to spread more rapidly.
But one doctor in South Africa, where it was identified 12 days ago, reported its symptoms as “mild”.
Meanwhile the UK Health Security Agency warned it was “very likely” further Omicron cases will be discovered in the coming days.
Last night there were extensive contact tracing efforts in Westminster after it emerged the latest confirmed case had visited before leaving the UK.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid dismissed calls for a further lockdown.
He said infections and hospitalisations were “nowhere near” the level required for restrictions beyond those announced by Boris Johnson at Saturday’s surprise press conference.
Mr Javid said the tighter restrictions on the border and masks for Christmas shoppers and commuters are needed to “buy time” to work out how bad the new variant is and whether it blunts the effectiveness of vaccines.
🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news & updates
Last night it was confirmed:
- New compulsory mask rules for shops and trains will come into force on Tuesday after a law change is nodded through today;
- International arrivals entering the UK from Tuesday morning will have to take a PCR test for Covid and self-isolate until they get a negative result;
- Children in Year 7 and above will be told to mask up in communal areas in schools and colleges from today.
But Mr Javid insisted these restrictions would not spoil festivities and urged Brits to “keep making plans to see family and friends” — just like he is doing.
He said: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas. I think it's going to be a great Christmas.”
But he warned it would be “irresponsible” to guarantee that further restrictions would not be needed.
He told Times Radio: “We’ve been very open with the information we have. We just don't know enough yet to make definitive conclusions.
“But if we can buy some time to stop it from being seeded quickly or to stop its spread — then we can use that sensibly to assess it more and get answers to all these vital questions.”
Despite reassurances, vaccine task force boss Sir John Bell warned that it was too late to stop “the monster” from reaching the UK — and it would only be a “matter of time” before infections rocket.
But he confirmed a “tweak” to existing coronavirus jabs could be done and Britain was well-placed to do so thanks to the Oxford/AstraZeneca team.
Labour last night demanded workers be sent home from offices, and even tighter rules on masks and borders.
Frontbencher Lisa Nandy hit out: “There are a number of outstanding holes in our defences” around travel.
She warned: “We don’t think the Government has been getting the balance right up to now.
“That’s why we support the measures to bring in greater use of masks, mandatory masks in some settings.
“And we’ll be asking questions about whether the scientific basis for that suggests that that needs to go further.”
A handful of head teachers even urged schools to close early for the Christmas holidays and there were calls for a return to hated social distancing.
But Mr Javid rejected the moves.
He told Sky News: “We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health.
“So if one was to make decisions like that, they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet — we’re nowhere near that.”
Yesterday 37,681 Covid cases were confirmed, with 51 deaths.
The number of patients going into hospital was 11 per cent down on last week.
Doc: New cases have been mild
A DOCTOR who treated Omicron patients says symptoms are mild but unusual — including high heart rate.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, who runs a private clinic in Pretoria, South Africa, said it did not cause loss of taste or smell like previous variants.
She said cases were not serious but added: “We have to worry about older, unvaccinated people.
"If they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many with a severe form of the disease.”
The Omicron strain may also be able to avoid vaccines, experts fear.
Jab snub man dies
A VEGAN who refused a Covid jab in a stand against animal testing has died from the virus.
Glynn Steel, 54, lost his fight for life after two weeks in intensive care.
His wife Emma, 50, said his last words were: “I have never felt so ill. I wish I’d had the vaccine.”
Double jabbed Emma, of Malvern, Worcs, said near the end Glynn “begged for the vaccine” but was told it was too late.
She urged other people to get inoculated.
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