Home » Covid Live: Two Omicron Cases Found In UK; South Africa ‘punished’ For Detecting Variant

Covid Live: Two Omicron Cases Found In UK; South Africa ‘punished’ For Detecting Variant

  • by

15:20

Singapore has recorded 1,761 new cases, up from 1,090 the previous day.

A further six deaths were also reported, compared to three on Friday. The latest figures take the total number of fatalities in the country of 5.7 million people to 690.

14:46

Britain is to add four more countries to its travel “red list”, health officials have announced, after two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant were detected in the UK.

Following fresh advice from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), from 4am on Sunday Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will join the red list. Travellers who have returned from these four countries in the last 10 days must isolate and get a PCR test, officials said.

The Guardian understands the UKHSA is now following up recent arrivals from these countries. Ministers are not ruling out adding further countries to the red list.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said:

We will do all we can to protect the UK public against this emerging threat and that is why we are surging testing capacity to the impacted communities and introducing travel restrictions on a further four countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola. We will not hesitate to take further action if required.

From 4am on Sunday 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, officials said. This does not apply to those who have stayed airside and only transited through any of these countries while changing flights.

UK and Irish residents arriving from 4am on Sunday must isolate in a government-approved facility for 10 days. During their stay, they will be required to take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8.

South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were added to the red list on Thursday and passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.

Updated

14:35

Asked if the UK public should now expect changes “as we head into Christmas”, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

We’ve always been really clear that we will do whatever is necessary to protect the progress that we’ve made as a country.

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

Boris Johnson is due to take part in a news conference at 5pm with the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, “to set out further measures”.

When asked what the public’s response should be, Javid replied:

If anyone is sitting at home, thinking what can I do – get vaccinated.

Updated

14:27

Four more countries are being added to the UK’s travel “red list” from 4am on Sunday: Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.

Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, said:

We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing.

We will do all we can to protect the UK public against this emerging threat and that is why we are surging testing capacity to the impacted communities and introducing travel restrictions on a further four countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola. We will not hesitate to take further action if required.

This is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic.

Getting the vaccine has never been more important – please come forward for your first jab if you haven’t already and if eligible, book your booster as soon as possible.

Updated

14:14

After overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed that two cases of Covid-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 have been identified in the UK.

The individuals that have tested positive, and all members of their households, are being retested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing is under way, officials said.

One case has been located in Chelmsford and the other in Nottingham. The two cases are linked, officials said, and there is a link to travel to southern Africa. The UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to have been infectious.

Updated

14:06

Two cases of Omicron variant detected in UK

Two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the UK, the health secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said the two individuals are now self-isolating and the cases are connected.

He added there would be targeted testing in the areas where the cases were found – in Chelmsford and Nottingham.

Two cases of Omicron Covid variant detected in Britain, says health secretary – video

Updated

13:41

A summary of today’s developments

  • The first suspected case of the Omicron Covid variant in the Czech Republic is under investigation. The prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said the suspected infection was a woman who stayed in Namibia, and then flew home via South Africa and Dubai.
  • In Germany, a minister in the state of Hesse said the Omicron variant, known officially as B.1.1.529, had probably arrived in a traveller returning from South Africa. The country’s top health officials have raised the prospect of a national lockdown amid rapidly rising cases and hospitalisations.
  • Dozens of people who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for Covid. Dutch authorities are scrambling to see if 61 passengers from South Africa who tested positive for Covid-19 have the new B.1.1.529 variant.
  • There have been 77 fully confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in South Africa, four cases in Botswana and one in Hong Kong. Cases have also been reported in Israel and Belgium, although it is possible the variant has spread further.
  • The Omicron variant is unlikely to “reboot” the pandemic in a population that has been widely vaccinated, according to Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.
  • South Africa has complained it is being “punished” for detecting the Omicron variant, as countries around the world rushed to impose travel bans from southern African countries.
  • Travel bans from certain African countries have been introduced by the UK, US, EU, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman and Thailand, among others.
  • BioNTech, the company that developed the Pfizer jab, has said it could manufacture and distribute an updated version of its vaccine within 100 days if the new Covid variant is found to evade existing immunity.

Updated

13:21

Hi, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong again. South Africa has complained it is being “punished” for detecting the Omicron variant.

The foreign ministry made the statement as countries around the world rushed to impose travel bans from southern African countries.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.

The bans on flights was said to be “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”.

Updated

12:38

Members of the UK’s Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have expressed concern at the emergence of the Omicron variant when Covid cases in the UK are high and people are socialising indoors.

Dr Zubaida Haque called on the government to take “early and preventative action now”, saying “high cases and no mitigations means spread of new variant is faster”.

Dr Zubaida Haque (@Zubhaque)

It’s not just the emergence of #Omicron – a more transmissible & possibly vaccine-resistant variant which is problematic (given more indoor socialising, low children’s vaxx and incomplete booster protection); it’s also that it’s arriving at a time when cases are 50,000/day in UK t.co/AtvAyjhkel

November 27, 2021

Meanwhile, Prof Susan Michie and Dr Kit Yates have thrown their weight behind Prof Stephen Reicher “debunking the idea of behavioural fatigue”.

“The evidence is that people respond to clear leadership from trusted sources,” Michie said.

Advocating for a policy of elimination, Dr Deepti Gurdasani stressed that “with every shift in the virus we risk dealing with a shift in the pandemic”.

“Progressive coordinated and supported global elimination was the only way to really deal with this threat. And with every new variant, it gets harder to do this,” she said.

Deepti Gurdasani (@dgurdasani1)

Elimination zones struggled with delta but managed to do this through strong public messaging & aggressive action in many places. With every shift in the virus we risk dealing with a shift in the pandemic, and every step threatens elimination in places that fought hard for this.

November 27, 2021

Gurdasani said a lack of mandatory hotel quarantine in the UK means “spread can happen in households and onward” and called for comprehensive mandatory border quarantines from all regions, mask mandates, mitigations in schools and limits on large gatherings. She also urged the booster programme and vaccine drive for children to be accelerated.

Updated

12:06

Authorities in the Czech Republic reported the first suspected case of the Omicron variant has been identified in a passenger who arrived from Africa.

The prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said the suspected infection was a woman who stayed in Namibia, and then flew home via South Africa and Dubai.

This is Harry Taylor, bringing you Covid news for the next hour.

Updated

11:35

A useful thread from Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, on what factors to look out for in terms of learning about the Omicron variant.

Jeremy Farrar (@JeremyFarrar)

As a new variant many issues to resolve amid uncertainty. Having great public health & science people, teams, infrastructure & close links into informed policy makers committed to sharing evidence is crucial. Fortunately all that is true in South Africa.They need all our support

November 27, 2021

Among the key points to look for are the variant’s epidemiology, its clinical impact and how it fares under existing public health measures. Farrar adds:

New variants are inevitable the virus remains highly plastic still evolving and will continue to do so. New variants are not a reason to stop doing what we know works.

New variants are a reminder if we needed it that the pandemic is far from over, inequity is what will extend the pandemic. We do need to do inclusive public health better including urgent equitable access to vaccines and all the tools needed stop pandemic.

Updated

11:27

The unequal sharing of Covid vaccines globally is likely to lead to more variants like Omicron emerging, the international affairs thinktank Chatham House is warning.

“The emergence of a new Covid-19 variant with all its myriad mutations – on this occasion from South Africa – is not unexpected,” said Dr Osman Dar, the project director of Chatham House’s One Health Project and a specialist in public health and the control of communicable diseases.

What it highlights are the continuing and fundamental risks to everyone associated with not seriously addressing the inequalities still at play globally in the fight against disease and poor health.

Mutations will continue to surface, as will in all likelihood other infectious viruses with pandemic potential. This latest variant – rapidly detected thanks to South Africa’s relatively advanced genomic sequencing capability and willingness to engage with international partners and collaborating agencies – has for South Africa resulted in a series of travel bans restricting their citizens and impediments to international trade.

African states will pay the price of travel bans which are implemented to try to contain the spread of Omicron, while drug companies will benefit from the search for modified vaccines, he added.

Movement restrictions, including international travel bans do clearly slow and limit the spread of infectious disease, and as is the case is with the current pandemic, allow countries the time and breathing space to prepare medical countermeasures as well as adapt strategies to control local outbreaks.

While for drug and vaccine manufacturers, largely based in the global north, it represents the firing of a start-gun in the next race for market share and profit as they test whether their currently licensed IP-protected vaccines will be effective and whether or not a new, modified vaccine is necessary.

So in effect, a low/middle income nation – along with the continent it sits in – is economically penalised, socially ostracised and socio-politically stigmatised for demonstrating global solidarity and doing the right thing through their timely reporting and sharing of the variant’s genetic data. Meanwhile, a small group of hugely wealthy pharmaceutical companies find new opportunities to generate exorbitant profits as fear starts to once again grip politicians and the wider public.

What’s necessary, therefore, to limit the negative socioeconomic impacts of these restrictive measures on trade and travel, is to have a sufficiently resourced global regime in place. This should support countries reporting new variants through the significant financial and social hardships that then ensue – a disaster or pandemic fund specifically engineered around the impacts of trade and travel restrictions.

Updated

11:00

Hello! It’s Léonie Chao-Fong here, taking over the live blog from Aamna Mohdin. Here’s a bit more on the 61 passengers onboard the two flights from South Africa to Amsterdam who tested positive for Covid-19.

Dutch health authorities said the positive cases were being quarantined in a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

“We now know that 61 of the results were positive and 531 negative,” the Dutch health authority (GGD) said in a statement.

“The positive test results will be examined as soon as possible to determine whether this concerns the new worrisome variant, which has since been given the name Omicron variant.”

Those who tested positive will be required to stay in hotel quarantine for seven days if they show symptoms and for five days if they do not. Those who test negative are expected to isolate at home.

The Dutch government had banned all air travel from South Africa early on Friday because of concerns about the Omicron variant. Testing is required before flights.

Around 600 passengers arrived at Schiphol on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing.

The passengers from the two aircraft, which landed shortly after each other, were kept separate from other people at the airport, De Telegraaf reports. One aircraft came from Cape Town and landed at Schiphol around 10.30 am on Friday. The other flight, from Johannesburg, arrived at around 11am.

Some people complained about the lack of information from airport officials and said it took seven hours before they were given anything to eat or drink.

Lorraine Blaauw, who runs a support group for South African families in the Netherlands, told DutchNews.nl she had been contacted by several people onboard the two flights.

“It was chaos,” she said. “No one knew what was going on. There was no food, no milk for the babies. KLM provided 30 blankets for 600 people. The KLM crew just went home.”

The Kennemerland health board, which is responsible for testing at the airport, said it understood the frustration under passengers about the situation. “People who have just had a long journey … were confronted with a situation we have never had to deal with before,” the health board said in a statement.

Updated

10:32

Suspected Omicron case found in Germany, says state minister

A German state minister has warned that the Omicron variant has “very likely already arrived” in Germany, as mutations typical of the variant were detected in a traveller returning from South Africa.

“Last night several Omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa,” tweeted Kai Klose, the minister of state for social affairs and integration in the western German state of Hesse.

The full sequencing of the variant hasn’t yet been carried out, but he said health authorities had a “high level of suspicion” that the person has contracted the variant. The traveller has been isolated at home.

If confirmed, it would be the first case of Omicron in Germany.

No further details were given about the passenger or which airport the infected person arrived at. Frankfurt international airport, Germany’s busiest airport, is located in the state of Hesse.

“If you have returned from southern Africa in the last week, limit your contacts and get tested,” Klose warned.

Updated