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Covid news – live: Boris Johnson holds press conference as UK finds first two cases of Omicron variant

First two cases of Omicron variant found in UK as Javid announces targeted testing

Boris Johnson is addressing the nation from Downing Street, where he is expected to outline so-called “further measures”, after the UK detected its first two cases of the new Omicron Covid variant.

The cases – identified in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham late last night – are “linked” and have both been connected to travel to southern Africa, according to health officials. Targeted testing is now being carried out at locations where the positive cases were likely to have been infectious.

Health secretary Sajid Javid has announced four more countries – Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia – are being added to the travel “red list” from Sunday, requiring arrivals to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

He added that the PM will “set out further measures” later today, alongside England’s chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.

Professor Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford vaccine programme, has said it is “extremely unlikely” the Omicron variant will trigger a major new wave of the pandemic in the UK, despite the sudden return of travel restrictions.

Follow our live coverage below

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PM says variant spreads between vaccinated people

Johnson says scientists believe Omicron spreads very rapidly and can spread between two people who are doubled vaccinated.

He adds that the new variant diverges from previous configurations of the virus and reduces protection from vaccines over time.

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Watch live as PM holds briefing on Omicron Covid variant

Watch live as Boris Johnson holds press conference on Omicron Covid variant

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Boris Johnson to address nation at 5pm

The PM will hold a Downing Street press conference in a few minutes.

He will be joined by Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and chief scientific adviser Prof Patrick Vallance.

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Timeline of Omicron discovery to arrival in UK

Two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have now been detected in the UK.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how the variant went from an emerging cause for concern in southern parts of Africa to arriving in Britain.

UK scientists first become aware of the new variant after samples are uploaded to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana.

25 November

Downing Street says the variant will be kept under “close investigation”.

Health secretary Sajid Javid says early indicators show it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines may be less effective against it.

It is announced that from the next day, six southern African countries - South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana - will be added to the travel red list, meaning flights are suspended.

People arriving before then are told to self-isolate at home and take a PCR test on day two and day eight. Anyone who arrived up to 10 days prior are also told to take tests.

Mr Javid said scientists are “deeply concerned” about the variant, and mentioned turning to Plan B of coronavirus restrictions.

Scientists describe the variant as “very serious”, with professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, declaring it will “almost certainly” make the vaccines less effective.

Mr Javid updates MPs in the Commons on the variant called B.1.1.529, saying it “is highly likely that it has now spread to other countries”. He confirms the government is still following Plan A for managing Covid in the autumn and winter, but warns “if we need to go further, we will”.

Downing Street later urges those who have recently returned from one of the six southern African countries not to wait for NHS Test and Trace to contact them before getting tested.

Later in the day, it is designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation, and named Omicron.

Boris Johnson speaks to South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the challenges of the variant.

Two cases of the Omicron Covid variant are discovered in Brentwood and in Nottingham, the Department of Health and Social Care reveals.

The individuals that tested positive, and all members of their households, are retested and told to self-isolate.

It is announced the PM will host a press conference in Downing Street alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

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Watch: Omicron variant ‘unlikely’ to trigger new wave, says prof

Omicron variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to trigger new pandemic wave in UK, says Andrew Pollard

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Union calls for compulsory face coverings to be introduced on public transport

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association has called for the immediate compulsory introduction of face coverings across the public transport system as a precaution against the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: "It's vitally important immediate precautionary steps are taken to do all we can to combat the spread of the new Omicron variant.

"The government has already introduced travel restrictions to several countries but they need to go further. The government should move swiftly to bring in more measures until we know more about this new strain.

"One thing which would help is the compulsory introduction of face masks on all forms of public transport.

"Ministers must know this is a no brainier because it will help to protect not only the travelling public but those brave transport workers, our members, who have stood on the front line throughout what is an ongoing pandemic."

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Schools told to bring back on-site testing after Christmas holidays

Secondary schools should test pupils for coronavirus upon their return from the Christmas holidays, the government has said.

The Department for Education (DfE) emailed schools on Friday urging them order a sufficient amount of lateral flow tests by Tuesday to ensure they can test pupils once on-site after they come back in January.

Andy Gregory has more details:

Ministers accused of treating headteachers like ‘an ad hoc branch of the NHS’, as new variant emerges

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One case of Omicron variant detected in Brentwood, Essex council confirms

Essex County Council has confirmed a single case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in Brentwood.

A spokesperson said the case was connected to a second case in Nottingham, both involving travel to South Africa.

The council said in a statement: "We can confirm that a single case involving the new Covid-19 Variant of Concern (B 1.1.529), Omicron, has been identified in Brentwood.

"This is linked to a single case from Nottingham involving international travel to South Africa.

"We are working with regional and local public health officers who are assessing the situation.

"All close contacts of these individuals will be followed up and requested to isolate and get tested.

"The individuals who have so far tested positive, as well as all members of their households, are being re-tested and have been told to self-isolate while contact tracing is under way.

"While this work takes place, 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."

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Opinion: South Africa is right to feel aggrieved over the West’s response to Omicron

Where South Africa has genuine cause for complaint, where the whole continent of Africa has cause for complaint as the air travel bans fly, is over the West’s previous hoarding of vaccines, and the slow and patchy supply to the rest of the world, James Moore writes in this opinion piece for Indy Voices.

Viruses don’t care about borders. Hoarding vaccines and looking after number one is self-defeating

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Boris Johnson to host press conference ‘to set out further measures'

Boris Johnson will host a press conference with the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser later today “to set out further measures”, health secretary Sajid Javid has said.

Asked what the public’s response should be, he said: “If anyone is sitting at home, thinking what can I do – get vaccinated.”