Great Britain
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Government’s Nervtag advisers ‘can’t rule out’ Omicron causing biggest wave yet of Covid infections

The omicron variant could see a surge in new Covid-19 infections across Britain even bigger than previous waves, a key group of government advisers has warned.

Scientists in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises Boris Johnson’s government, met last week to discuss the impact of the new variant in the UK.

“We cannot exclude that this wave would be of a magnitude similar, or even larger, than previous waves,” the advisers stated in minutes from the 25 November meeting.

In a stark warning for the NHS, they said “a large wave of infections will be accompanied by a wave of severe cases, and the subgroup cannot rule out that this may be sufficient to overwhelm NHS capacity.”

The experts also called for “early and robust actions” from government to limit the transmission of the variant first detected in South Africa in the UK.

It follows leaked minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which warned that omicron could see a “very large wave” of infections in the UK and may need tougher restrictions to protect the NHS.

The Sage warning added: “This would in turn lead to a potentially high number of hospitalisations even with protection against severe disease being less affected.”

Although the top scientists remain unsure how big a wave of omicron infection might be, Sage advisers warned that a “very stringent response measures” may be needed from Downing Street.

No 10 said ministers make “balanced” judgements on scientific advice received after the leaked Sage papers suggested testing people for Covid before they travel to the UK would be “valuable”.

Asked if ministers had ignored the guidance, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “At all times we take account of any clinical advice we receive, and then we need to make a balanced judgement on what is right.”

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