Boris Johnson says government ‘not changing guidance’ around Christmas socialising
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned that more restrictions could be needed to combat the emergence of the omicron variant, leaked meeting minutes show.
Although the advisers acknowledged that there is still uncertainty about the threat this variant poses, they suggested it could cause “a very large wave of infections” and necessitate “stringent response measures” in the UK.
This comes as Boris Johnson clashed with scientists over how to respond to omicron, as he mandated mask wearing but urged the public not to scrap social plans in the run-up to Christmas.
The decision seems at odds with the advice given by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief Dr Jenny Harries, who told people that “being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to” and having a booster jab were both important steps in reducing the spread of the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official described Europe as the “epicentre” of the pandemic on Wednesday, with countries like Germany struggling with high infection numbers.
Europe now pandemic ‘epicentre’, says WHO official
Europe is currently the “epicentre” of the pandemic, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official has said.
Elsewhere in Europe, Germany announced its highest daily Covid-19 death toll since mid-February.
‘Just common sense’ to make Covid tests mandatory for UK-bound travellers, says Cooper
The new shadow secretary has reiterated Labour’s demands for mandatory pre-departure coronavirus tests for travellers coming to the UK.
Yvette Cooper, who returned to Labour’s frontbenches earlier this week, said the proposal “is just common sense right now”.
“If you have got omicron spreading across the world it is really important that action is taken to prevent new cases arriving in the UK,” she told the BBC.
Ms Cooper said the pandemic was “massively accelerated” by the arrival of 10,000 separate Covid-19 cases in March 2020.
“So, the task now is to stop many different new separate cases of Omicron arriving in the UK and that is why you have to be really vigilant,” she said.
Vietnam to suspend flights to and from southern Africa
Vietnam will cancel all flights to and from seven southern African countries which have reported outbreaks of the omicron variant.
It is not known when the move will come into effect.
The country’s health ministry announced 14,508 new daily Covid-19 infections on Wednesday.
Schools to remain open until Christmas holidays, says government
The government wants to keep schools open until they break up for Christmas, the children’s minister has said.
Will Quince told the Commons that it was “deeply regrettable” that some school plays and concerts had been cancelled over health concerns.
However, a teaching union has called on head teachers to put a stop to mass gatherings in schools in Northern Ireland before Christmas.
Justin McCamphill, of the NASUWT, added that a circuit-breaker closure of schools in the territory could help drive down infections.
France to demand negative Covid test result from non-EU travellers
France will require tourists travelling from outside the EU to show a negative Covid-19 test result before entering its territory.
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said the change would happen soon but did not give an exact date.
All travellers will need a negative test result, regardless of vaccination status
Botswana: 16 out of 19 omicron cases asymptomatic, says health chief
Almost all of the omicron cases detected in Botswana have been asymptomatic, the country’s acting health minister has said.
Pamela Smith-Lawrence told Reuters that 16 out of the 19 people who tested positive for the variant displayed no symptoms, adding that the others only had “very mild” signs of the disease.
The health minister also said it was “unfair” to consider Botswana as omicron’s ground zero.
EU calls for ‘common approach’ on possibly making jab mandatory
The European Union is saying that a “discussion” is needed on potentially making vaccines mandatory in the bloc.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said discussions need to be had on whether to make vaccines compulsory.
At a press conference, she said that a third of the 450 million EU population is still not jabbed.
She said: “How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union?
“This needs discussion. This needs a common approach.”
Travellers to France to need negative test regardless of jab status
Travellers reaching France from outside the European Union will have to show a negative Covid test regardless of vaccination status.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal announced the move today as part of measures aimed at tackling a new surge in infections amid international concern over the omicron variant.
Mr Attal said that decisions regarding intra-EU-travel would be coordinated by European leaders later this week.
More nations report omicron; Kremlin ‘ready to fight’ variant
Omicron has popped up in some more countries after it was first detected in southern Africa last week.
Ireland has reported its first case today.
Norway has reported two cases, as has Nigeria.
South Korea has also reported its first cases, but the number of them has yet to be revealed.
Russia is “ready to fight” the variant – if and when it eventually emerges there, the Kremlin has said.
Illness in omicron cases so far ‘mild’ – WHO
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is saying that there have so far been only “mild” symptoms reported in omicron cases.
The organisation said that it is working with experts across the world to further ascertain the transmissability and severity of omicron cases.
The WHO also said that there is no evidence yet to show that efficacy of vaccines is reduced when faced with the variant.
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