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Covid news live: WHO racing to understand whether Omicron variant causes more severe disease

Passengers from South Africa were not tested and ‘got home in normal way’, Sajid Javid admits

The WHO says it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other Covid variants, including Delta, though its discovery has coincided with an uptick in cases in South Africa.

The global health agency said it is working with researchers across the world to establish whether the new “variant of concern” causes “more severe disease compared to infections with other variants”.

Meanwhile, secondary school students across England have been told they must once again wear face coverings in communal areas, as the government attempts to contain the spread of the variant.

Under the new guidance – which comes into force on Monday – all staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 or above are “strongly advised” to wear a face covering, unless they are exempt. The rule covers all education establishments including universities, as well as childcare settings such as early years care.

It comes after a third Omicron case was confirmed in the UK, involving a traveller who visited Westminster but has since left the country.

It came after Sajid Javid admitted on Sunday that air passengers from South Africa were not tested on arrival into the UK on Friday – despite fears they could be carrying the new variant.

Follow our live coverage below

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India ramps up airport screening

The Indian government on Sunday revised its guidelines for screening international travellers arriving from Europe, including the UK and 11 other “at risk” countries.

The country has also mandated testing on arrival, home quarantine for seven days on a negative result and another Covid-19 test on the eight day. Individual states have been directed to randomly test five per cent of the passengers arriving in flights from “at risk” countries.

File: An airport employee wearing a face shield checks the body temperature of a passenger at Bagdogra airport, on the outskirts of Siliguri on May 28, 2020

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Too early to conclude Omincron variant causes more severe infections of Covid-19: WHO

It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, said WHO.

The global health agency said that though the number of people testing positive for the variant have risen in South Africa, it added that “epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors”.

WHO also said that “it is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.”

It said that the increase in hospitalisation may be due to “increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.” The WHO added that there is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.

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Watch: Oxford Street shoppers agree with omicron restrictions

Omicron: Oxford Street shoppers agree with new restrictions due to Covid variant

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Face masks must be worn again in secondary schools – ministers

Following my earlier post (6.21pm), here’s Tom Batchelor with more on the new Covid rules for England’s secondary schools.

Face masks should be worn in communal areas in England’s schools and colleges, as part of efforts to slow the spread of the omicron Covid variant, the government has said.

Pupils in year 7 and above, plus staff and visitors, are being “strongly advised” to wear a face covering under the “temporary and precautionary” measure, which will take effect from Monday.

Masks will not be required in classrooms and exemptions will remain in place for those who have a medical reason not to wear one.

‘Temporary and precautionary’ measure will take effect from Monday

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Swiss approve Covid restrictions as cases rise

A vote in Switzerland on Sunday gave the green light to new legislation, which bars unvaccinated people from attending public events and gatherings. People who have recovered from Covid or test negative will can attend such events, alongside those who are vaccinated.

The final count showed 62 per cent of voters supported the measure, which is already in force. The vote on the country’s “Covid-19 law,” which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland — like many other nations in Europe — faces a steep rise in Covid cases.

Switzerland’s government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it didn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-Covid-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box.

Swiss health minister Alain Berset

Health minister Alain Berset said, with the result now in, authorities “still have the necessary instruments to manage the crisis, and we can, if necessary, adjust the instruments to developments”.

“A decision has been made and we must come together now to get through this winter as well as possible,” Mr Berset said. “This is an appeal for unity but also for respect for decisions that have been taken.”

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” on infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbours Austria and Germany at about two-thirds of the population.

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Fauci says ‘fifth wave’ of Covid possible if Americans shun vaccines

The United States could be in for yet another wave of Covid-19 infections unless Americans continue to receive vaccines and booster shots, White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has said.

Speaking to CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Dr Fauci warned that the next few weeks will be crucial for determining whether the US can stem the tide of new cases and the deaths that could result from a fifth wave.

“We certainly have the potential to go into a fifth wave,” he said amid the new omicron variant. “And the fifth wave, or the magnitude of any increase, if you want to call it that it will turn into a wave, will really be dependent upon what we do in the next few weeks to a couple of months.”

Andrew Feinberg reports from Washington, DC:

The veteran virologist said more Americans will need to be vaccinated if the country wants to stave off another major wave of infections

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NI activates plan to determine if omicron in country

Over to Northern Ireland now, where plans are underway to identify any spread of the omicron variant in the country.

Robin Swann, NI’s health minister, also urged the public to follow basic steps to help prevent the spread of all variants of Covid-19, and underlined the continuing importance of vaccination.

He will update the Assembly on Monday about the measures being deployed in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The variant has been identified in England and a host of other countries across Europe, however no cases have yet been notified in Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic.

Mr Swann said measures against omicron include the addition of a number of countries to Northern Ireland’s red list for international travel.

“If the new variant is confirmed here, all appropriate health protection actions will be carried out and the public will be informed as appropriate,” he told the media on Sunday.

NI health minister Robin Swann

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Watch: Passengers from SA not tested, Javid admits

Passengers from South Africa were not tested and ‘got home in normal way’, Sajid Javid admits

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New Covid school measures ‘helpful,’ says union

More reaction now to the news that secondary school students will have to wear face masks in communal spaces from Monday.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT said the reintroduction of the requirement for face coverings to be worn ... is helpful, however he pushed the government to “go further”.

“If schools are to maintain safety during the remainder of this term, the government will need to accept that its messaging needs to be stronger and that the rules governing isolation of close contacts in particular need to be clear and robust.

“In the case of pupils who are suspected to have Covid-19 symptoms, the government needs to consider seriously bolstering its advice to require close contacts to self-isolate ... It is right that the government should focus on ensuring that pupils are tested regularly. However, given that significant numbers of pupils do not undertake the recommended twice-weekly LFD tests, the government must identify a more effective strategy for Covid testing to ensure that all schools can continue to remain open safely.

“In addition to the publication of new guidance, the Government must also ensure that schools and colleges have the additional resources they need to implement essential Covid-safety measures both in the run up to the Christmas break and on their return in the new year.”

Meanwhile, Unison’s assistant general secretary Jon Richards said “swift action” is needed to help contain the spread in schools and “avoid further disrupted learning”.

“Face coverings mustn’t be limited to communal areas,” he said. “If they’re to have the right effect they need to be in all areas of secondary schools, including classrooms, as is the case in Scotland.”

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Omicron: How return of PCR tests and self-isolation will work

PCR tests and self-isolation are back for travellers arriving in the UK. Weeks after international travel rules were eased to allow cheaper and faster lateral flow (antigen) tests, the government is tightening restrictions once again in response to the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

At the same time, the previously dormant red list has been expanded and now applies to arrivals from 10 southern African nations.

So, what does it all mean? And how will it all work? Our travel correspondent Simon Calder has all the answers.

New rules take effect at 4am on Tuesday30 November