UK

Covid rules are set to be extended in bid to fend off even tougher curbs

Laws requiring masks in shops and on public transport are set to stay until the New Year, as ministers try to fend off demands for tougher restrictions in the run up to Christmas.

Emergency regulations last week reintroduced mandatory masks until December 21 to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

A final decision on whether to extend their use may not be taken until as late as December 18.

But Whitehall sources said it was likely masks would stay mandatory for at least another three weeks to give scientists more time to assess the threat posed by Omicron.

Other restrictions, such as travel tests and compulsory ten-day quarantine for those in close contact with an Omicron case, are also set to be extended.

However, sources said Boris Johnson is resisting pressure to move to the Government’s Plan B until at least the New Year.

Emergency regulations last week reintroduced mandatory masks until December 21 to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant (file image)

The contingency plan would involve the use of vaccine passports and ordering millions to work from home (file image)

The contingency plan would involve the use of vaccine passports and ordering millions to work from home (file image)

The contingency plan would involve the use of vaccine passports and ordering millions to work from home. 

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab yesterday urged people to press ahead with their plans for the festive season, saying it was ‘going to be a great Christmas’. 

A Whitehall source said: ‘In terms of Plan B, we are not there yet. The ambition is that people can have a much more normal Christmas than last year.

‘That depends on what the data shows about the new variant. But certainly the hope is that things stay as they are in the next couple of weeks.’ 

Mr Raab urged people to get their booster jabs, saying it was the most important measure in heading off further restrictions.

But he said ministers did not want to follow Germany in making vaccinations mandatory. 

And he ruled out restricting medical treatment for the unvaccinated, despite warnings from the medical profession that their needs are crowding out other vital care. 

Nicki Credland, chairman of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses, told The Sunday Times: ‘All nurses understand they have to provide non-judgmental care.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab yesterday urged people to press ahead with their plans for the festive season, saying it was 'going to be a great Christmas'

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab yesterday urged people to press ahead with their plans for the festive season, saying it was ‘going to be a great Christmas’

‘But what we find difficult is that giving care to patients who have chosen not to be vaccinated has a knock-on effect on other patients.

‘We are still human beings and we still get angry at things that we think aren’t just.’

Her comments came after figures revealed more than 90 per cent of Covid patients needing the most specialist care have not been vaccinated. Doctors have warned that some transplant surgery is not going ahead and that vital cancer operations are being delayed.

Mr Raab told Times Radio: ‘I would not countenance some sort of suggestion that we would refuse access to vital services for people who have not had a jab.’

Britain’s Omicron outbreak grows by more than 50% in a day: 86 new cases take total to 246 as scientist warns its ‘too late’ to halt spread and overall Covid cases rise by 16% in week to 43,992 

James Gant for MailOnline 

The number of new Omicron cases reported in the UK rose by 86 on Sunday, bringing the total cases to 246 – an increase of more than 50 per cent in the space of a day.

The UK Health Security Agency, who publish the figures, said 18 of the new cases are in Scotland taking their total to 48. 

The remaining 68 cases were recorded in England, according to the UKHSA.

Meanwhile, a further 43,992 Covid cases were recorded in the UK this week, an increase of 6,311 on last week’s figures.

The increase marks a 16.7 per cent rise since last Sunday while a further 54 deaths were recorded.

The number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid rose by 5.8 per cent from 51 last week.

‘It doesn’t look there’s a great degree of severity’: Dr Fauci says Omicron may be LESS dangerous than Delta

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci says early indications from South Africa suggest that the Omicron variant may not be as severe as previously feared. 

‘Thus far – though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it – it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it, but we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to delta,’ he said. 

‘But thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity. But again we’ve got to hold judgement  until we get more experienced.’

President Joe Biden locked eight South African countries out of the US last Monday in fear of the new super mutant COVID variant, and the ban remains in place despite travel remaining open to other foreign countries.

But Fauci said Sunday that the restrictions were made during a time when an explosion of Omicron cases were rocking South Africa as the severity of the variant remained unknown.

He said US officials are now reevaluating the restrictions. 

‘When the ban was put on, it was put to give us time to figure out just what is going on,’ Fauci told CNN’s Jack Tapper.  

It comes as a leading scientist warned Britain has left it ‘too late’ to halt the spread of the Omicron super-variant.

Professor Mark Woolhouse said bringing in new curbs on travel was ‘a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’.

The Edinburgh University epidemiologist said it was ‘spreading pretty rapidly’ and could become the world’s dominant strain.

 Professor Woolhouse, who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling which advises the Government, said the measures would not make a ‘material difference’ as the variant is already ‘spreading pretty rapidly’.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: ‘I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

‘If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.

‘The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere.

‘But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave, if we’re going to have one.’  

The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has also warned the NHS will be in a ‘very, very difficult position’ if the Omicron variant were to lead to a surge in hospital admissions.

Dr Katherine Henderson said hospitals were already struggling to cope as they enter winter.

‘It is pretty spectacularly bad now, it will get worse – and if the new variant becomes a thing in terms of numbers and translates into hospitals admissions we are going to be in a very, very difficult position,’ she said.

‘We will always still be there. We still want patients to come but we do have to help people to understand that really at the moment the service is so stretched that an extra push could be very very difficult.’

The World Health Organization (WHO)  has said there have been no deaths linked to the super mutant variant despite the strain being spotted in 38 countries. 

However, it warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it causes more severe illness and how effective treatments and vaccines are against it.

‘We’re going to get the answers that everybody out there needs,’ WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Friday.

Many of the Omicron cases surfacing in the states – and across the globe – look to be connected to people who had traveled to South Africa recently, including the first person in the US to have an identified case of the variant, a resident of San Francisco.

Official data shows that the proportion of positive Covid tests with a mutation synonymous with the highly-evolved strain is on the rise. Like Alpha, or the 'Kent variant', Omicron has a specific alteration which means it can be detected through PCR tests without the need for genomic sequencing. The proportion of positive tests in England with this so-called S-gene dropout has risen from 0.1 per cent in the past week to 0.3 per cent, the equivalent of one in 330. Scientists said the increase in S-gene dropouts suggests there could be hundreds of Omicron cases that are flying under the radar currently

Official data shows that the proportion of positive Covid tests with a mutation synonymous with the highly-evolved strain is on the rise. Like Alpha, or the ‘Kent variant’, Omicron has a specific alteration which means it can be detected through PCR tests without the need for genomic sequencing. The proportion of positive tests in England with this so-called S-gene dropout has risen from 0.1 per cent in the past week to 0.3 per cent, the equivalent of one in 330. Scientists said the increase in S-gene dropouts suggests there could be hundreds of Omicron cases that are flying under the radar currently 

At-home anti-viral pill plan 

The first home Covid treatment could be offered to patients before Christmas in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable from the Omicron variant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is to launch a trial of Molnupiravir, also known as Lagevrio, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Under the plans, the NHS is expected to deliver courses of the anti-viral pills to clinically vulnerable and immunosuppressed patients within 48 hours of them testing positive.

Hospitals and GPs have been told a series of delivery units are being set up, it is said.

Last month, the UK became the first country to license use of the pill. A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘There are a number of exciting opportunities in the pipeline and we will provide further details in due course.’

South Africa’s Covid surge continues: Today’s cases rocket 289% compared to last Sunday with 11,125 new infections recorded as hospitalisations begin to tick up too

By Jonny Rose for MailOnline

Covid cases in South Africa have soared by a massive 289 per cent in just one week while deaths dropped from six to one across the same time period, according to the latest figures.

The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases recorded another 11,125 cases in the last 24 hours – with the vast majority in epicentre Gauteng province.

This was a 289 per cent increase from last Sunday, when just 2,858 new infections were registered across the previous 24 hours. It is not known which variant the new cases recorded were.

The Omicron-stricken country also recorded one death on Sunday, down from last week when six deaths were announced.

A woman is tested for COVID-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Doctors are concerned about the rising number of hospitalisations in the country, particularly in the epicentre Gauteng province

A woman is tested for COVID-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Doctors are concerned about the rising number of hospitalisations in the country, particularly in the epicentre Gauteng province

 

NICD data is based on lateral flow and PCR tests done across South Africa every day. 

It showed that in the country’s nine provinces most new infections were recorded in Gauteng with 7,929 new cases.

The latest figures bring the total number of cases in South Africa up to 3,031,694, while the number of deaths have increased to a total of 89,966.

It comes as the outbreak of the new Covid variant Omicron in the province of Gauteng in South Africa has triggered the sharpest rise in hospitalisations of any previous wave, sparking concerns that a similar outbreak in the UK could overwhelm the NHS.

Gauteng alone has seen over 1,000 hospital admissions in the past week, quadrupling the figure recorded just two weeks ago, while South Africa recorded a total of 1,802 hospitalisations in the past week to Friday – the latest day for which data is available. 

The virus also appears to be more transmissible, with cases up from around 300 three weeks ago to nearly 7,000 on a seven-day rolling average.    


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