The first UK cases of the omicron Covid variant were confirmed on Saturday, as ministers planned to impose travel restrictions on further countries where the mutation has been identified.
Two people in Essex and Nottinghamshire have been found to have tested positive for the new variant, with officials carrying out mass testing in affected areas to identify further cases.
Amid warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant, the Government announced that four additional countries were due to be added to the travel red list, meaning that flights to and from the countries will be temporarily banned.
Ministers had already suspended all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Meanwhile, the Government is thought to be trying to trackdown more than 9,000 people who have come from South Africa over the last fortnight.
Experts have warned omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, but are trying to establish how effective the vaccine is against it.
On Thursday, ministers banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding nations after the new variant was first identified in the country.
Anyone returning from the affected countries before 4am on Sunday will have to isolate at home and after that time face 10 days’ mandatory hotel quarantine.
Rugby fans who attended Twickenham urged to come forward
More than 80,000 rugby fans who attended the England South Africa game at Twickenham last weekend are now being urged to come forward for testing of the new variant.
The game operated a strict Covid pass system meaning that spectators had to show evidence of double vaccination and a negative lateral flow test.
On Saturday the MP for the area, Munira Wilson, who is also the Liberal Democrats health spokesman, said: “While I’m confident the RFU will have had the necessary protocols in place to prevent any potential spread, this serves as a reminder that we all must remain vigilant in the fight against this virus.
“Those who had flown in for the match and anyone who was in and aro
und the stadium that day who has concerns should follow UKHSA advice in coming forward and getting tested.
“More broadly, the emergence of this new variant stresses the need to donate vaccines through the COVAX programme. Ministers must spring into action and recognise no one is safe from Covid until we all are safe.”
As concern grows over the new variant, one of the UK’s leading Covid experts said omicron was unlikely to “reboot” the pandemic in the UK.
Speaking on Saturday, Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group that developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, said the mutations found in omicron indicated the vaccine would still be effective.
He said: “If you look at where most of the mutations are, they are similar to regions of the spike protein that have been seen with other variants so far.
“That tells you that despite mutations existing in other variants, the vaccines have continued to prevent very severe disease as we’ve moved through alpha, beta, gamma and delta,”
The professor added: “It is extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.”
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