‘Plan B’ measures to be introduced in England
On Wednesday night, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced the commencement of tougher Covid, ‘Plan B’ measures in England to control the spread of the Omicron variant.
Under the new rules, guidance to work from home will return and facemasks will become mandatory in more indoor public venues. Covid passes proving vaccination or a negative test will be required at nightclubs and venues with large crowds. But Mr Johnson said Christmas parties and nativity plays should still go ahead – as long as the guidance is followed.
This news comes as SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for England have voiced concerns about the speed of transmission of the new Omicron variant. In their last meeting this week, a scientist said “With the speed of growth seen, decision makers will need to consider response measures urgently to reduce transmission if the aim is to reduce the likelihood of unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
Read the full story in BBC News.
Pfizer booster shot found to offer significant protection against Omicron infection
Laboratory data has found that three doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are likely to protect against infection with the Omicron variant but two doses may not. The company said they would continue “at full speed” with plans to develop an updated Omicron-based vaccine by March 2022 if needed.
The lab tests, which used antibodies in blood samples, have offered some of the first insights into how far Omicron might escape immunity in people who are double jabbed. The findings suggest that, for Omicron, Pfizer/BioNTech should now be viewed as a “three-dose vaccine” as results displayed a stark drop-off in the predicted protection against infection or any type of disease for people who have had two doses.
Daniel Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the study offered a clear message. “Those who are unvaccinated, or even two-dose vaccinated, are likely to be highly vulnerable to infection,” he said. “However, those who’ve seen a spike three times, either by boosting or by infection plus two doses, appear generally in the safety zone … So [there is] an even stronger argument for getting boosters as widely and rapidly as possible.”
NHS recruits more staff to ‘ramp up’ booster vaccination rollout
One year after the national vaccination programme became the first in the world to administer a Covid-19 jab, the NHS is set to hire an extra 52,000 vaccinators and volunteers to “ramp up” its booster drive.
Last week, Boris Johnson announced that every eligible adult in the UK should be offered a Covid booster by the end of January under plans to boost protection against the Omicron variant. Millions more people now qualify for the jab as the criteria changed on Wednesday to mean that all those over 40 are eligible. Qualifying time has also been cut from six months after a second dose to three.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the rollout would not have been as successful as it had been “without the help of thousands of volunteers”. She said the NHS was now “ramping up its vaccine drive once again as millions more become eligible for their booster, sooner, following updated JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] guidance”.
Top UK health officials call for stricter Covid isolation and testing rules
Amid concerns that triggering plan B is not enough to stop the spread of Omicron, top officials at the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) have drawn up advice saying the UK should bring back stricter isolation and testing rules for contacts of Covid cases.
The senior health officials have given three different options to help contain the threat, which at the strictest end would mean all contacts of Covid cases being asked to isolate again regardless of age or vaccination status. Other options would be asking contacts of positive Covid tests to isolate until a PCR test result, with subsequent daily lateral flows, or requiring the contacts to take daily lateral flows. They give further advice in favour of a return to working from home and an extension of mandatory mask-wearing.
Nicola Sturgeon revealed on Tuesday that about 4% of Covid-19 cases in Scotland were likely to be the new Omicron variant, with that figure “steadily rising”. She said “Our estimate at this stage is that the doubling time for Omicron cases may be as short as two to three days, and that the R number associated with the new variant may be well over 2”.
Quote of the week
As the government instructs English employees to work from home, an owner of a chain of coffee shops in Leeds has explained the devastating impact this will have on business.
“We’ve had such a hard time in the pandemic and things were just starting to pick up again. The rules change every week, it seems. It’s just so hard. I’ve genuinely thought about whether to throw in the towel…The government should have been clear with business owners what might happen if a new variant came along. They should have told us about the contingency plan.”
Read the full story in BBC News.