The UK should reintroduce Covid restrictions to fight the Omicron variant, scientists have advised the Government.
A new mutation of the virus, believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant, was discovered by South African scientists last month.
The world quickly responded with border restrictions, but the strain has already popped up in at least 24 countries, including the UK.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) held its 97th coronavirus meeting on Monday to discuss how the country should respond to the variant.
The advisers agreed border controls could help to delay the expected influx of Omicron cases and allow the UK ‘more time to prepare’ other defences, such as booster shots.
But they also warned that ‘border measures cannot completely prevent the
introduction of variants into the country’.
This is the reason the scientists believe the UK needs to look at curtailing people’s freedoms further, once again.
The meeting’s minutes read: ‘Past SAGE advice on measures to reduce transmission remains highly relevant, including but not limited to advice around ventilation, face coverings, hand hygiene, reducing contacts (e.g. by working from home), vaccination certification, and the importance of effective testing, contact tracing and isolation.’
Sage stressed these steps are especially important now that natural ventilation will be lessened – as people stop opening windows during winter – and Omicron threatens to show ‘more airborne transmission’.
‘The earlier measures to reduce transmission are introduced, the more stringent they are, and the wider their geographic coverage, the more effective they will be,’ the scientists added.
The Government has already reintroduced mandatory face coverings and the requirement for travellers arriving into England to use PCR tests.
The restrictions suggested by Sage, namely work from home instructions and vaccine passports, would be automatically implemented if Boris Johnson decides to use the Plan B he set out months ago.
It is not clear what data will determine whether the Government enforces Plan B but the Prime Minister has previously said he will use the rules to avoid another lockdown during winter.
Imperial College London’s Professor Neil Ferguson, who helped model the first-ever coronavirus lockdown last March, estimates daily hospital admissions would have to rise to more than 1,200 for Plan B to be triggered.
Some 787 coronavirus patients were admitted to hospital on Monday – the most recent day for which data is available.
Whilst some days this number has hit more than 1,000, the figure has fluctuated between 700 and 900 from around mid-July.
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