TWO cases of the Covid Omicron variant feared to have higher re-infection rates have been detected in the UK.
Boris Johnson will set out further measures in a Downing Street press conference on Saturday afternoon after the infections were detected in Nottingham and Essex.
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed the cases, which are both believed to be connected and linked to travel to southern Africa, after genomic sequencing overnight.
The individuals and their households were ordered into self-isolation and targeted testing was being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been infectious
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will face travel restrictions from Sunday.
The Prime Minister will address the nation alongside chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty at 5pm.
Read more: Does the new Covid variant resist vaccines? What we know
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said “this is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over” as he urged people to get their vaccines, including boosters.
“We were concerned from the moment we first identified this new variant,” Mr Javid told reporters.
“It’s a deeply concerning new variant and we do need to learn more about it but the fact that we now have these two cases in the United Kingdom does mean we need to take further measures and that’s why I’ve set this out today.”
Mr Javid did not say whether further restrictions could be added in the weeks before Christmas in light of the presence of the new strain, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated a “variant of concern”.
Instead, he said: “We’ve made a lot of progress, we all want to see that protected and if anyone’s sitting at home thinking what can I do? Get vaccinated.”
Essex County Council said the case within its boundaries was identified in Brentwood, and not Chelmsford as incorrectly first stated by the Department of Health and Social Care, and is linked to the case from Nottingham involving international travel to South Africa.
Mr Javid said anyone who has travelled in the last 10 days to the 10 countries now on the red list, which also includes South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia, must self-isolate and take PCR tests.
The UK is the second European nation to have reported the presence of Omicron after Belgium said it had identified a single case on Friday.
The Netherlands was also of concern, with Dutch authorities saying 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests are under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.
It was unclear when the two individuals were infected, or their full travel history, as countries scrambled to close their borders to much of southern Africa.
Read more: What to do if you think you have Long Covid - the symptoms you need to know
Prof Chris Whitty said: “We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.”
Ministers said non-UK and Irish residents who have been in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England from 4am on Sunday.
Those who are permitted to return will be ordered to isolate in a Government-approved facility for 10 days.
For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.
Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on [email protected] or contact 01325 505054