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Two cases of new COVID variant Omicron detected in UK

UK Health Minister Sajid Javid has announced this afternoon, Saturday 27 November, that two cases of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has been detected in England.

After overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed that two cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 were identified.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was designating the B11529 variant, named Omicron, as being “of concern” while they seek to determine if it is more transmissible or infectious than other variants.

Early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said.

The Health Minister said:

“We have been made aware by United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. 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.

“As a precaution we are rolling out additional targeted testing in the affected areas - Nottingham and Chelmsford - and sequencing all positive cases.

“This is a fast-moving situation and we are taking decisive steps to protect public health.

“We are also adding Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to the travel red list - effective from 4am Sunday.

“If you have returned from there in the last 10 days you must isolate and get PCR tests.

“And if you are eligible for your booster jab - now is the time to get it.”

Virologist at Britain’s Warwick University, Professor Lawrence Young, commented:

“This new variant of the Covid-19 virus is very worrying. It is the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen to date.

“Some of the mutations that are similar to changes we’ve seen in other variants of concern are associated with enhanced transmissibility and with partial resistance to immunity induced by vaccination or natural infection.”

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said:

“We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.

“It is important that everyone takes sensible precautions – get a PCR test if you have symptoms, isolate when asked, wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, ventilate rooms, get your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

“We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are able to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread.

“We are particularly grateful to public health colleagues in South Africa for early sharing of information on the Omicron variant to support global health security.

“We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

“If you have any COVID-19 symptoms you must isolate and get a PCR test immediately.

“It remains vital to come forward for vaccination, wear a face covering in crowded places and try to meet people in well-ventilated areas.”


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