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Britain records third case of Omicron coronavirus variant

A third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK, officials have confirmed.  

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said the individual, who is longer in the country, tested positive for the variant after travelling to Westminster in London and the infection was 'linked to travel to southern Africa'.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said: 'Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread.  

'It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.'

It comes after another 37,681 Covid cases and 51 deaths were recorded in the UK today. 

A third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant has been recorded in the UK

New Covid restrictions to fight Omicron variant

The number of infections posted by Department of Health officials today is down 5.8 per cent from 40,004 recorded last Sunday, while the number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid fell by 16.4 per cent from 61 last week.

It comes as Sajid Javid today insisted it is 'going to be a great Christmas' and the UK was 'nowhere near' proper lockdown as he desperately tried to cool panic over the new Omicron Covid variant.

The first two cases of the variant were detected in Nottinghamshire and Essex on Saturday.

Both were linked to travel to southern Africa, the suspected origin of the mutation, and the infected individuals were and members of their households were told to self-isolate after the UK Health Security Agency confirmed the sequencing.   

Today, the Health Secretary said the government was taking 'proportionate and balanced' precautions to 'buy time'.

He also confirmed that masks will be compulsory again in shops and on public transport from Tuesday. 

According to a message on the passenger locator form section of the Government’s website, day two tests for arrivals in the UK will also need to be PCRs rather than lateral flows from 4am on Tuesday. 

But Mr Javid stressed there is no certainty that the 'super-mutant' strain will be able to dodge vaccines, or to what extent that could happen.    

Mr Javid said the government would consider updating the recognised symptoms for Covid, after being told on the BBC's Andrew Marr show that reports in southern Africa suggested people did not lose sense of smell or taste and suffered more fatigue.

'We will of course if we need to,' he said.

The reassurance effort came after Boris Johnson announced changes to testing and isolation rules, and mandatory masks in shops and on trains in a bid to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible new variant.

At a Downing Street press conference last night the PM put unlocking in reverse as he extended travel bans, enforcing day-two PCR tests for arrivals in Britain, and making facemasks compulsory in shops and on trains.

All arrivals to the country must self-isolate until they get a negative result from a gold-standard test - which can identify those carrying Omicron.

All contacts of people infected with the variant must stay at home for 10 days.

Mr Javid said this morning he hopes extra measures will be 'temporary', adding he thinks people will 'take this more seriously'.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Sajid Javid said: 'Doing it in this proportionate way where it's for public transport, it's for retail outlets, I think is the right level of response on masks.

'It will be via Government regulation and that means, I think, that people will take it seriously.'  

Sajid Javid said the government was taking 'proportionate and balanced' precautions to 'buy time', but stressed there is no certainty that the 'super-mutant' strain will be able to dodge jabs

Pressed on whether people will follow the rules on masks, Mr Javid said following the news of a new variant: 'I do think people will take this more seriously.'

At least 61 new Covid cases found in the Netherlands after passengers arrive from South Africa 

At least 61 new cases of Covid have entered the Netherlands from South Africa as fears mount over the spread of the new super mutant variant.

Around 600 passengers arrived on two planes in Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, from Johannesburg — the epicentre for the new strain — hours after travel bans were put in place. 

The passengers in the Netherlands have been placed in quarantine hotels while the authorities investigate whether they have been infected with the variant. Some complained at being left on the plane for hours with no snacks or water. 

People returning to the Netherlands from outside the EU are required to take to show either a negative PCR tests taken 48 hours before their arrival or a negative lateral flow swab done 24 hours before coming back. 

The test results have to include name and contact information of the institute, doctor or laboratory that conducted the test.

Authorities in the country have just announced the early closure of bars, restaurants and some shops due to the record-breaking surge of Covid sweeping through the country. 

'We now know that 61 of the results were positive and 531 negative,' the Dutch Health Authority (GGD) said in a statement  

'Travellers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol.

'Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named Omicron.'

The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that passengers already en route to the Netherlands would have to undergo testing and quarantine upon arrival.

Passengers on the two KLM flights, from Cape Town and Johannesburg, said they were kept waiting on the tarmac for hours. 

Mr Javid added: 'It's important, I think, to act in a proportionate way and also in a temporary way. 

'I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks. But I do think in terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal, but at this point in time, given what we know about this variant, and the expert advice that has been received, I think it is right to take some proportionate and balanced action.' 

Yesterday four more countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – were added to the no-fly list and all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were banned by Sajid Javid amid growing international panic about the Omicron variant.

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain's move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants. 

Britain's first two Omicron infection came as a spate of cases were found across Europe, with at least 61 new cases of Covid entering the Netherlands from South Africa this morning. Authorities are currently sequencing the tests for the new variant.

Europe's first case of the variant was spotted in Belgium and Germany and the Czech Republic both confirmed suspected cases a day later.  

In an announcement yesterday afternoon, Mr Javid said: 'Today I can announce one thing that we are doing immediately is carrying out targeted testing and sequencing of positive cases in the two areas that are affected.

'We know there's this new variant out there. We don't know enough about it yet but from what we do know, the protections that we have – especially the vaccines – are hugely important.

'We will do whatever is necessary to protect the progress we have made as a country. 

'We've come a long way since the summer and we keep all of this under review and if we need to take further action, we will.' 

Mr Javid said anyone who has travelled in the last 10 days to the 10 countries now on the red list, they must self-isolate and take PCR tests.

England's chief medical officer Professor 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.' 

Experts warned Britain could face restrictions being reintroduced in the country this Christmas but the Prime Minister hopes travel bans could prevent the need for another lockdown. 

Prof Whitty previously said he fears Britons will not accept another national lockdown to fight off the variant over the winter because of 'behavioural fatigue' caused by two years of restrictions.  

And Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of the Oxford scientists behind the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the variant.  

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we've moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

'At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.

'It's extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.' 

Prof Pollard said a new vaccine to combat Omicron could begin 'very rapidly' if required.

'The processes of how one goes about developing a new vaccine are increasingly well-oiled, so if it's needed that is something that could be moved very rapidly.' 

South African experts yesterday also attempted to calm the wave of panic over the variant, describing it as a 'storm in a tea cup'. 

Meanwhile, British vaccine task force member Sir John Edmunds said travel bans will not keep the new variant away from British shores but could delay a potential surge in cases beyond the festive period to protect the NHS from further pressure.

Experts however have insisted there is 'no plausible scenario' in which Omicron will take the UK back to 'square one', and called for 'calm heads' despite the halting of flights from southern Africa. 

Mr Javid told MPs that, while there was 'huge international concern', vaccines had put Britain in a strong position.