The UK reported its first new cases omicron coronavirus mutation As the variant continues to spread in Europe, scientists are rushing to assess the level of danger it poses.
The Department of Health said one case had been identified in Chelmsford and the second in Nottingham. Officials said the two cases are related to each other and linked to travel to South Africa.
The news of the latest infections came in the name of the World Health Organization Urging a self-restraint approach to the variable to ensure that countries that have reported cases are not penalized for doing so.
Sajid Javid, Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, said the government discovered the two cases “thanks to global genetic sequencing… We have moved quickly and individuals are self-isolating while tracing contacts”.
The government will do everything in its power to protect the UK public from the emerging threat through an increase in testing capacity in affected areas and the introduction of travel restrictions, which will apply from Sunday to four other African countries. “We will not hesitate to take further action if necessary,” Javid added.
The Department of Health said the UK’s Health Security Agency was carrying out “targeted testing at sites where positive cases are potentially contagious”.
It added that individuals who tested positive for the virus in the UK, and all members of their families, were retested and asked to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing were carried out. Dr Jenny Harris, chief executive of the Occupational Health and Safety Services Authority (UKHSA), added that the agency was continuing its efforts “to understand the impact of this variable on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy”.
Confirmed cases and contacts are being followed up, and they are required to isolate and test them.
Javid said the latest development was “a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic,” adding that “getting a vaccine has never been more important.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a press conference at 5pm on Saturday alongside the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.
On Friday, the World Health Organization classified Omicron “alternative to anxietySkip the ‘significant’ intermediate designation.
The results of tests to measure Omicron’s response to vaccines and immune systems are not expected for two to three weeks, scientists and officials said.
Global travel has become increasingly limited since Thursday, with the United States, the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom imposing varying levels of restrictions on flights to South Africa and a number of other countries where the alternative has been discovered.
The South African scientists behind Omicron’s discovery have moved on to ship samples of the virus to biosecurity agencies around the world, including the UK’s Health Security Agency and the government’s Porton Down Laboratory.
Whitty said the UK would “continue to work closely with the international community to rapidly gather and analyze information on this variable to understand any potential increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.”
Meanwhile, there was further evidence that the new variant is being implanted in Europe where the first cases were identified in Germany and the Czech Republic, a day after a case was identified in Belgium.
Authorities in the Netherlands are investigating whether 61 people who tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday had contracted the alternative, Omicron.
They have been placed in hotel isolation, according to Dutch health authorities.
“Positive test results will be checked as soon as possible to determine if this is related to the new variant of concern,” the Dutch health authority said.
The hotel’s isolation of passengers will continue for at least seven days.
Omicron appears to be behind the surge in cases in South Africa. Its increased transmissibility has not been confirmed, although the World Health Organization has said it appears to have a growth advantage.
Some of its mutations have previously been associated with immune escape. Any variant more transmissible than Delta, already more contagious than ancestral coronavirus, or capable of penetrating protection through a vaccine could seriously impede global recovery from the pandemic.
Additional reporting by Mehreen Khan