Covid news: Boris Johnson says another lockdown ‘extremely unlikely’ but won’t rule it out

·43-min read
Covid news: Boris Johnson says another lockdown ‘extremely unlikely’ but won’t rule it out

Boris Johnson has said another lockdown looks “extremely unlikely” in the wake of the Omicron variant.

However, the Prime Minister said the Government hadn’t ruled anything out amid the ongoing pandemic.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “We haven’t ruled out anything, I’ve got to tell you. I think another lockdown of the kind that we’ve had before is extremely unlikely, I’ll be upfront with you about that. But we keep everything under constant review.

“In our fight against the Delta variant, we think it has basically been going our way or going the way that we planned, so though cases remain high or high-ish, you are seeing a decline in the number of admissions to hospital and a decline in the number of deaths, and that’s the crucial thing that we’ve been following.

“So, at the moment, we’ve seen no cause to move to Plan B but, as I’ve said to you many times before, we’ve got to keep that under review. But the measures we are talking about to deal with Omicron are, as I’ve said, distinct.”

He spoke after announcing a huge expansion of the booster programme.

Meanwhile, mandatory face coverings in shops and on public transport, and self-isolation rules, returned on Tuesday as part of a suite of measures reduce the spread of the variant.

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Brazil has two cases of Omicron

20:58 , Barney Davis

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa said on Tuesday that laboratory analysis had found two Brazilian cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the first reported cases in Latin America.

Anvisa said a traveler arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife had both apparently contracted the variant.

The traveler landed at Guarulhos international airport on Nov. 23 with a negative test for COVID-19. But before a planned return trip, the couple tested positive and the samples were sent for further analysis, which identified the Omicron variant.

The samples will be sent for a second confirmatory analysis, the regulator said.

Over 60s urged not to travel after Omicron threat - WHO

18:59 , Barney Davis

Christmas travel could be cancelled after the emergence of Omicron as the World Health Organisation issued new advice.

It says those over the age of 60 or at risk of developing serious illness due to COVID should postpone international travel due to the new variant.

159 more UK Covid deaths

18:56 , Barney Davis

The Government said as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 39,716 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

The Government also said a further 159 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 144,969.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 169,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Xmas parties already being cancelled warns nightlife exec

17:29 , Barney Davis

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said uncertainty was “extremely frustrating” after Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, urged people not to socialise if they do not need to in the run-up to Christmas.

“At the very moment operating costs are at their highest, we are now faced with another poorly conceived communications strategy from Government which has and will severely impact businesses,” he said.

“Christmas bookings and advance ticket sales have already been hit following the announcement of the new Omicron variant.

“The Government needs to recognise that, while restrictions are not in place for the hospitality and night-time economy sectors, we are reliving the moments of March 2020 where the Prime Minister asked people not to go to pubs, bars, clubs and theatres.

“It is surreal and extremely frustrating to see healthcare advisers publicly telling people not to socialise, giving unnecessary uncertainty to our customers and workforce.”

Gym owner fined for keeping gym open

17:26 , Barney Davis

A gym owner has been convicted after keeping her gym open against coronavirus legislation.

The Ripped Gym in Harlow had put out social media posts saying it planned to remain open despite the second national lockdown last autumn.

A woman later identified as owner Michelle Meade-Wyatt handed an officer a notice claiming the gym was operating under common law.

She was asked if she was the owner or could identify who the owner was so that officers could speak to them, but she refused to answer any questions.

When she was identified as being the gym owner, officers explained she was contravening coronavirus legislation and would be issued a fixed penalty notice.

They asked for her details a number of times in order to issue the fine, but she refused, and said she would not consent to the fine or answer any questions.

She appeared at Colchester Magistrates’ Court on 23 November where she admitted the charge.

Meade-Wyatt, of Pygons Hill Lane, Liverpool, was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £1,205.

Where are the new Omicron cases?

16:51 , Barney Davis

The latest Omicron cases in England, by local authority:

Barnet 2 (new), Brentwood 1, Camden 2 (1 new), Haringey 1 (new), Liverpool 1 (new), North Norfolk 1 (new), Nottingham 1, Sutton 1 (new), Wandsworth 1 and Westminster 2 (1 new).

Of the nine cases in Scotland, five are in Lanarkshire and four are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

And that brings an end to the Downing Street Press Conference

16:48 , Barney Davis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the military would help the NHS deliver booster jabs (Hollie Adams/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the military would help the NHS deliver booster jabs (Hollie Adams/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson said the Government does not want people to cancel Christmas parties or nativity plays

16:47 , Barney Davis

He told a press conference: “We don’t want people to cancel such events. We think that overwhelmingly the best thing for kids is to be in school, as I’ve said many times throughout this pandemic.

“What we are doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that seems to be posed by Omicron, or certainly is posed by Omicron, focused in particular on measures at the borders.

“And we think that’s the right way to go for the time being, until we know more and until we can get more boosters, as we’ve been saying, into people’s arms.”

Why is England not giving Work From Home advice?

16:44 , Barney Davis

He repeats a need for a balanced and proportionate approach.

Boris Johnson responds: “This is not something that we think currently is necessary.”

He says the main aim for now is to deal with the “potential seeding of the new Omicron variant” by focusing on “tough measures at the borders”.“What we are looking for is the first signs of vaccine efficacy against this variant.”

Community transmission likely - Sajid Javid says

16:42 , Barney Davis

Responding to the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves, Health Secretary Sajid Javid says it is “likely” there is community transmission.

The cases identified at the weekend were linked to South Africa travel and officials are trying to find out more information about the further infections, but he says we must be “realistic”.

The University of Nottingham confirmed that one of its students had been found to have the Omicron variant

16:41 , Barney Davis

A university spokeswoman said: “Whilst we do not ordinarily comment on individual cases, we can confirm that a student is among the increasing number of people reporting cases of the Omicron variant nationwide.

“The student has been off campus and self-isolating throughout the period of infection. We are supporting them in liaison with the public health authorities and wish them a speedy recovery.

“This underlines the importance of everyone following the new government restrictions introduced today.”

The university currently has fewer than 20 Covid-19 cases among a total student population of 35,000, with all those affected self-isolating in line with national guidance.

NHS chief says we have no supply issues for booster jabs

16:39 , Barney Davis

Sajid Javid says 5million people still unvaccinated and says most pregnant women admissions are unvaccinated.

Boris Johnson was asked if measures can stop in March.

The PM replies we need to check the effect of the booster jabs. He promises any restrictions will not last “a minute more than is necessary for public health”.

Boris Johnson says this Xmas will be better than last then calls NHS chief Amanda Pritchard ‘Emily' by accident

16:33 , Barney Davis

Boris Johnson says the guidance remains the same but people should still wash hands, wear masks in confined spaces and have good ventilation.He repeats party line for third time about “balanced and proportionate” approach.

“I’m still confident that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas”, he says before handing over to “Emily” before correcting himself as Amanda Pritchard starts speaking.

Sajid Javid said 18 million booster doses have been delivered across the UK

16:31 , Barney Davis

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the daily number of jabs has risen by a third since the start of this month.

He added that people should get vaccinated to “give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones”.

Mr Javid told a press conference: “What we’re seeing recently has brought back memories of the strain of the last winter. But although we can’t say with certainty what lies ahead, we have one huge advantage that we didn’t have back then: our vaccination programme, which has already done so much to keep this virus at bay.

“But these defences will only keep us safe if we use them. This is a national mission and we all have a role to play.

“If we want to give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones, the best thing we can all do is step up, roll up our sleeves, and get protected when the time comes.”

Should we cancel Christmas parties? asks BBC Vicky Young

16:30 , Barney Davis

Boris replies, simply no.

“The guidance remains the same. We are trying to maintain a balanced and proportionate response.”He adds we have tougher measures on international arrivals and quarantine, stricter mask wearing and rolling up boosters to buy us time to tackle Omicron.He says the measures will be under constant review.

Amanda Pritchard adds the NHS staff have responded magnificently to complex booster rollout.

Alex in Surrey asks why the government is not expanding the rules on face coverings to cover more settings in the wake of the emergence of the Omicron variant.

16:25 , Barney Davis

Boris Johnson says he is “trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach” by not mandating masks in all settings.

'NHS will contact you when it’s your turn’

16:22 , Barney Davis

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard says staff are working at “breakneck speed” to get booster jabs rolled out.

“We will be vaccinating the most vulnerable first,” she adds.

The booking service will then open up to over-40s before moving to younger age groups.

She adds not to contact the NHS “We will let you know when it’s your time.”

Best way to show gratitude to NHS is to step forward in time for booster, says PM

16:19 , Barney Davis

Boris Johnson says: “I’ve been waiting patiently for my moment to come it’s happening on Thursday I’m please to say. Whenever your turn comes get your booster and ask your friends and family to do the same.

“It’s time for another Great British vaccination effort, you’ve done it before and we’re going to do it again. Let’s not give this virus a second chance.”

He hands over to “Saj” the Health Secretary Sajid Javid who concedes there is a “lot we don’t know” about the variant. He adds that scientists are “working night and day” to learn more.

Temporary vaccination centres to ‘pop-up like Christmas trees’ says PM

16:10 , Barney Davis

Mr Johnson said England will have more than 1500 community pharmacy sites, adding: “There’ll be temporary vaccination centres popping up like Christmas trees and we’ll deploy at least 400 military personnel to assist the efforts of our NHS, alongside of course the fantastic jabs army of volunteers.

The PM says he understands the sense of exhaustion and frustration that we could be going through this all over again thanks to emergence of Omicron.

“But today, I want to stress this, that’s the wrong thing to feel our position is immeasurably better than what it was a year ago.”He says the measures are to buy time for our scientists to “crack the Omicron code”.

Everyone to get booster by January’s end says PM

16:09 , Barney Davis

The Prime Minister says we know for sure the best single defence against Omicron variant is to get vaccinated and boosted.

He repeats the policy that boosters should be recommended to everyone over 18 and half time to wait for a booster jab.

Over 14 million adults have become eligible in England alone, he says by halving the time from six months to three.

The PM adds he wants to offer a booster to everyone by the end of January, and for people to wait until NHS says it’s your turn to book.

The Prime Minister said: “The target that we’ve set ourselves is to offer a booster to everyone eligible by the end of January.

“As with the first jabs, we will be working through people by age group going down in five-year bands, because it is vital that the older and the more clinically vulnerable get that added protection first.

“So, even if you have had your second jab over three months ago and you are now eligible, please don’t try and book until the NHS says it is your turn.”

“We will be throwing everything at it”, he says.

Downing Street briefing from Prime Minister delayed a couple of minutes, says No10

16:02 , Barney Davis

Downing Street has given a four-minute warning

It was due to start at 4pm but, not unusually, is running slightly late.

Eight more Omicron cases detected as Boris Johnson imminent a Downing Street press conference

16:00 , Barney Davis

Eight further cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in England, bringing the total number in the country to 13, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Confirmed cases have been identified in the East Midlands, the East of England, London and the North West.

Officials said individuals who have tested positive and their contacts are all isolating.

Work is under way to identify any links to travel to southern Africa, the UKHSA said.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said: “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. That’s why it’s critical that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”

Just in: Russia to quarantine people from high-risk countries

15:26 , Daniel Keane

People coming to Russia from countries with high risk of the COVID-19 Omicron variant will have to quarantine for two weeks, Anna Popova, the head of the consumer watchdog, said on Tuesday.

The country has not recorded cases of the Omicron variant on its territory as yet, she added.

All nine of Scotland’s Omicron cases can be traced to single event, says Sturgeon

15:04 , Daniel Keane

All nine cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus can be traced back to a single event on November 20, Nicola Sturgeon said.

The First Minister said contact tracing work had been carried out and more cases were expected to emerge in coming days.

She told the Scottish Parliament this suggested there was community transmission of Omicron in Scotland, though it may still be “limited”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “None of these individuals - as far as we know - has recent travel history to or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

“However, while the contact tracing exercise is still ongoing, health protection teams have established that all nine cases are linked.

“They all trace back to a single private event on 20 November.”

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

Brady says Government must not impose full lockdown

14:46 , Daniel Keane

Sir Graham warned against a return to lockdowns if the variant is found evade vaccine protections.

He said: “If the Government’s research were to find that this new variant is effective in evading the vaccines, what action exactly do they propose then?

“Surely not to return to a full lockdown, knowing that would simply defer a problem for a period of days or weeks or months.”

Tory MP Dr Andrew Murrison said: “The reason for lockdown was to reduce a potential impact on the National Health Service.

“There is no conceivable way in which our NHS is going to be overwhelmed by this. That would be a remarkable thing since 90% of us have antibodies right now. Therefore a justification for a lockdown falls away completely.”

Tory backbenchers warn of ‘cycle’ of freedom & restrictions

14:34 , Daniel Keane

Influential Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady has warned against a “creeping” cycle of freedom and Covid restrictions.

Sir Graham told the Commons: “Maybe 18 months ago, when some of us started raising these concerns, it was possible for some people to suggest that we were being fanciful. We’ve now lived it for 18 months, and we can see this reaching ahead.

“Now again we see the Government’s immediate assumption that what it should reach for is new controls, new compulsion. New rules that will be inflicted on the British people.

“And I think we need to move away from that, move back to a world where we trust people.”

Government ‘won’t keep regulations in place for any longer than is necessary’

14:15 , Daniel Keane

The Government has said it will not keep new Covid-19 regulations in place for “any longer than is necessary” after a Conservative backbencher questioned why one new rule would not expire in December along with the other temporary measures.

Conservative former minister Mark Harper said: “The Government said it is going to review these measures after three weeks, she (Maggie Throup) is right on the face masks, the regulations expire on December 20, but the self-isolation rule has no expiry date, which means it will run all the way until the main statutory instrument expires on March 24, 2022. Why is that?”

Vaccine minister Maggie Throup replied: “I would like to reassure him that we will continue to update the House over the next few weeks and that we will not continue to have these regulations in place for any longer than is necessary.”

PM accused of hypocrisy over masks

13:59 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has been accused of hypocrisy over face coverings after imposing a mandate despite deciding not to wear one on a recent trip to a hospital.

Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper questioned how the Government would encourage people to wear masks without enforcement.

She said: “One of the major problems being faced by GPs in my constituency of St Albans is that some people are refusing to wear masks because they quote ‘that the Prime Minister didn’t have to when he went to a hospital’.

“Can I ask the minister how she intends to lead by example when half of her own colleagues are still refusing to wear masks on the benches opposite?”

Health minister Maggie Throup said: “We are mandating the use of face coverings. I think we are in a different situation in regards to that.”

Number of pupils off school surges

13:48 , Daniel Keane

The number of children out of school for Covid-related reasons in England has risen sharply over the past fortnight, figures show.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 2.6% of all pupils - more than 208,000 children - were not in class for reasons connected to the virus on November 25.

This was up from more than 130,000 children, or 1.6% of all pupils, on November 11.

It comes as new rules on face coverings were introduced in communal areas in a bid to stem transmission of the virus in schools.

Just in: Denmark registers four new cases of Omnicron variant

13:37 , Daniel Keane

Denmark has registered four cases of the Omnicron coronavirus variant, health authorities have announced.

The country’s health minister Magnus Heunicke said that no new containment measures were planned despite the emergence of the new strain, stressing that the current regulations are “sufficient”.

“(The new restrictions) are what our authorities and we believe are sufficient in the situation in which we find ourselves now,” he said on Monday.

“It’s an unpredictable time and this new variant also underlines that.”

Covid rules are ‘proportionate and balanced’, says minister

13:22 , Daniel Keane

Proposed new measures to tackle the Omicron variant of Covid are “proportionate, precautionary and balanced”, minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup has said.

Speaking in the Commons debate to approve new Covid regulations on the wearing of face coverings and self-isolation restrictions, she said: “While we are not implementing the entirety of the (autumn and winter) plan now, we are taking steps to respond to a potentially potent mutation of the virus.”

‘Nothing in data that shows need for Plan B’, says PM

13:13 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson was asked whether he agreed with UK Health Security Agency chief Dr Jenny Harries who suggested people could limit their social contacts to curb the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

The prime minister said: “I think it’s always sensible to be careful. But I think what Jenny is saying there is right, we’ve been living with a pandemic for a long time, people should continue to do things like make sure they have lots of fresh air, they wash their hands and take normal precautions, I think that’s entirely reasonable.

“But we’re not going to change the overall guidance. We don’t think that’s necessary. We don’t see anything to suggest that we need to go, for instance, to Plan B.

“But what we do need to do is take particular precautions against Omicron until we’ve worked out exactly what kind of a threat it may present.”

Booster jabs available to all adults in Wales, says deputy chief medical officer

12:59 , Elly Blake

Booster jabs will be available to all adults in Wales, said the country’s deputy chief medical officer at a news conference on Tuesday.

Dr Gill Richardson outlined the Welsh government’s strategy for its booster jab rollout, and said it had been making excellent progress so far with the majority of over-65s already having had a third jab.

She said: “We will vaccinate older people and those in at risk first” and “speed up by the rollout by reducing the minimum interval” between doses.

Dr Richardson also repeated her plea for those who have not already to get vaccinated, saying: “It is never too late”.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve already had Covid, as a vaccine will give you longer lasting protection against the virus,” she explained.

Boris Johnson says UK will 'throw everything at' new variant

12:55 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson has repeated his plea for the UK to make another big vaccine push to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

Speaking at a vaccination centre on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said: “I know people will be thinking ‘have we got to make another great surge like we did earlier this year?’ and I’m afraid the answer to that is yes.”

He said the UK will “throw everything at it” and he hopes the country will be able to re-enact its previous vaccine success.

Calling for people to get their booster jabs, he said it is “overwhelmingly likely” the current vaccines will still give “a lot of protection” against Omicron.

Downing Street news conference line-up confirmed

12:39 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson will be joined by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard at the 4pm news conference in Downing Street.

Watch: Commuters have their say over latest Covid measures

12:37 , Elly Blake

Public should follow guidance, says No.10, when asked if people should limit their social contacts

12:33 , Elly Blake

Downing Street has said the public should abide by official guidance after Dr Jenny Harries suggested people could limit their social contacts to curb the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

Asked if Dr Harries’ view that people should try to avoid socialising when they do not need to over the Christmas period was shared by the Prime Minister, his official spokesman said: “No. Our advice to the public is as set out at the weekend.

“We have put advice out on face coverings and on inward travellers and those who are identified as having the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Beyond that we haven’t set out any further guidance to the public.”

Asked if people should follow what he was saying or what Dr Harries was saying, the spokesman said: “The public should follow the guidance as set out by the Government and indeed the Prime Minister at the weekend.”

The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency suggested on Tuesday morning that people should not socialise unless necessary.

Read the full article here.

Number of children out of school due to Covid risen in last fortnight

12:29 , Elly Blake

The proportion of children out of school for Covid 19-related reasons in England has risen over the past fortnight, official figures show.

The Department for Education estimates 2.6 per cent of all pupils – around 208,000 children – did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on November 25, up from 1.6 per cent two weeks before.

The Department for Education updated its guidance on face masks in schools on Monday (PA Wire)
The Department for Education updated its guidance on face masks in schools on Monday (PA Wire)

Among pupils absent for Covid-19 reasons, the main reason was a confirmed case of coronavirus, with around 106,000 pupils off for this reason compared to 67,000 on November 11.

Some 89.3 per cent of students were in class on November 25 - down from 91.5 per cent on November 11.

What supermarkets have said about enforcing mask wearing

12:18 , Elly Blake

Supermarkets have released statements about the new Covid restrictions including mask wearing in their stores.

Iceland has said it will not ask its staff to police the mask rules among customers in the chain’s 900 UK stores.

Managing director Richard Walker said: “Safety of staff and customers is of course a priority.

“But the question isn’t whether or not we should mandate face masks, but whether we can mandate them.

“What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules.

“They are already working under significant pressure, particularly as we hit the busiest trading month of the year.”

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has emailed customers on Tuesday morning, when it became a legal requirement to wear masks in shops, to say they will need a face covering to enter stores, unless they are exempt.

Chief executive Simon Roberts said: “Throughout the week we’ll be putting new signs and posters up in all of our stores and we will have greeters and security guards at the front of our supermarkets to support our colleagues as we help everyone get used to the new rules.

“We continue to thoroughly clean trollies, baskets and checkouts and, as an extra precautionary measure, we have increased the fresh air circulating to make sure our stores are well-ventilated.

“We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe this festive season - thank you for your ongoing support.”

Meanwhile, Aldi UK chief executive Giles Hurley said people would need to wear masks - but gave no details of enforcement.

“The safety of our colleagues and customers is our number one priority.

“Following the latest government announcement, wearing a face covering will be mandatory for everyone that shops at Aldi from Tuesday 30 November, except for those who have a medical exemption.”

EU could approve Omicron shot in 3 months

12:04 , Daniel Keane

The EU drug regulator said on Tuesday it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of Covid within three to four months if needed.

Speaking to the European Parliament, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director Emer Cooke said it was not known if drugmakers would need to tweak their vaccines to protect against Omicron, but the EMA was preparing for that possibility.

“Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months,” she said.

“Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (...) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice.”

Rugby team stranded in South Africa confirm further positive tests

11:48 , Daniel Keane

An Irish rugby team stranded in South Africa has announced further positive Covid cases following routine testing.

Munster Rugby, who travelled to the country for a series of matches last week, are currently unable to return to Europe after widespread travel bans were imposed on swathes of southern Africa.

Nine players in the team’s camp have now tested positive, the club confirmed in a statement on Tuesday.

They said: “ Further positive cases have returned from yesterday’s round of PCR testing.

“We have tested again this morning. Players & staff are as well as can be in this challenging situation. Thank you for your best wishes.”

Watch: Dr Jenny Harries hopes new Covid measures prevent further restrictions

11:32 , Daniel Keane

Scientists ‘well prepared’ to tweak vaccines

11:18 , Daniel Keane

Scientists are “well prepared” to tweak the existing Covid vaccines to fight the Omicron variant, a SAGE adviser has said.

Prof Moss, from the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham, told Sky News: “We know that we may lose some immunity with this virus. So what is happening is we are boosting our immune levels to super-high levels with the plans that were introduced yesterday, and that should retain some protection.

“What we’ve seen with Covid is that things change very rapidly. And I think we need at least three weeks to assess this.

“We need excellent epidemiology and, within the laboratory, people are testing the resistance of the virus. So we will need that sort of time. And we will know a lot more before Christmas.”

Prof Moss said it was likely to take “around 100 days” to make the necessary changes and scale up production before getting jabs into arms.

Dutch authorities find Omicron case dating back 11 days

11:11 , Daniel Keane

Dutch health authorities say they have found a new Omicron Covid variant in local cases going back 11 days.

The infection appeared before two flights arrived from South Africa last week carrying the virus, health officials said.

“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on November 19 and 23,” the RIVM said. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited Southern Africa.”

Sainsbury’s reintroduces security guards in store as mask rules introduced

11:03 , Daniel Keane

Sainsbury’s has reintroduced greeters and security guards at the front of their stores to ensure shoppers comply with new rules on face masks introduced on Tuesday.

The food giant said it would also be putting up new signs and posters in store to encourage customers to wear a mask.

As part of measures introduced to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, anyone entering a shop, supermarket or public transport must wear a face covering.

Sainsbury’s said they would “continue to thoroughly clean trollies, baskets and checkout” as an “extra precautionary measure”.

Greece to make vaccinations mandatory for over-60s

10:52 , Daniel Keane

Greece will make vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and above, with those who refuse to get inoculated facing a fine of £85.

The measures will come into force from January 16 onwards.

It comes as the country battles a surge in infections, with just 63 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.

“Greeks over the age of 60 who have not been vaccinated must, by January 16, booked an appointment for their first dose, or else they will face a 100 euro administrative fine every month.”

Oxford says it can ‘rapidly update’ its vaccine to Omicron variant

10:41 , Daniel Keane

The University of Oxford has said that it can “rapidly” update it’s Covid-19 vaccine “if it should be necessary” amid rising concerns about the Omicron variant.

A spokesperson for the university said: “Due to the very recent discovery of the new B.1.1.529 (Omicron) strain of coronavirus, there are limited data available at this time.

“As with any new variant, we will carefully evaluate the implications of the emergence of B.1.1.529 for vaccine immunity.

“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different.

“However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated Covid-19 vaccine if it should be necessary.”


Mask policy helps politicians ‘show they are doing something'

10:28 , Daniel Keane

New rules on face coverings help politicians show they were “seen” to be doing something, an expert has said.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist from Nottingham Trent University, said: “I think this has very much to do with the desire to be seen to be doing something - I mean, it’s very visible effect.”

Prof Dingwall said that vaccines would make a “major contribution” compared to any of the other measures put in place to limit spread “except possibly working from home”.

“I think this is the only thing in my view that’s been really effective through the pandemic,” he added.

Moderna CEO’s comments spook global markets

10:12 , Daniel Keane

Investors have been spooked by an admission by drugmaker Moderna’s CEO that tweaking the vaccine to combat the Omicron variant “could take months”.

Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times that there was “no world, I think, where (the effectivenesss) if on the same level... we had with Delta.”

He said there was likely to be a “material drop” in the vaccine’s efficacy against the new strain.

Major European stock markets fell around 1.5 per cent in early trade, Tokyo’s Nikkei index closed down 1. per cent, crude oil futures shed more than per cent, and the Australian dollar hit a one-year low.

PM defends new restrictions

10:01 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has defended new Covid measures which came into force this morning.

"The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new (omicron) variant," he said.

"Vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted."

Students told to wear masks in Wales

09:52 , Daniel Keane

Universities, colleges and secondary schools in Wales have been told they should now wear masks indoors as concerns over the Omicron variant continue.

The Welsh Government issued the guidance on Tuesday evening that where social distancing cannot be maintained face coverings should be worn.

Education minister Jeremy Miles MS confirmed this was now the “national approach”.

“This is a temporary, precautionary measure that will be in place for the remaining weeks of term at which point the position will be reviewed. This should come into effect in all settings as soon as possible,” Mr Miles said.

Mask-wearing is up, say commuters

09:41 , Daniel Keane

Commuters have noted an increase in mask-wearing since new rules were introduced on Tuesday morning.

Aline Keuroghlian got the train from Cookham in Berkshire to London Paddington on Tuesday morning.

The 49-year-old travel PR said everyone was wearing face masks.

She said: “It looked like everyone was wearing face masks on the carriage, as far as I could see anyway. It looked like more people were wearing masks compared to last week.

“Last week, I was quite surprised by how few people were wearing them. The train is not so bad but the Tubes... I was really surprised, because I rarely get the Tube and I’d say that half the people were not wearing masks on the Tube then.

Khan: Mask-wearing in London has fallen because of lack of police powers

09:27 , Daniel Keane

Sadiq Khan has said mask-wearing on public transport in the capital has fallen because the police no longer have the powers to enforce it.

The London Mayor told Times Radio: “One of the reasons why wearing a face mask is so important is because one out of three people who have this virus may not realise that they’ve got it.

“You could be sitting next to somebody who is immunity-suppressed, who is vulnerable, who has been shielding, and you could inadvertently pass this deadly virus on to them.

“Before July 19, when we were able to use the British Transport Police and the Met Police service to enforce this, and also have the ability to issue fines - the compliance rates were far higher.”

First case of Omicron confirmed in France

09:19 , Daniel Keane

French authorities have announced the country’s first case of the omicron variant, in the Indian Ocean island territory of Reunion.

It comes after the presence of the variant was confirmed in Germany, the UK and Belgium.

Staff shouldn’t have to enforce mask rules, say retail bosses

09:09 , Daniel Keane

Retail staff should not have to enforce mask rules, retail bosses have said, as new rules on face coverings came into force across England on Tuesday.

Richard Walker, the boss of grocery chain Iceland, said: “My store colleagues can’t be expected to police those who refuse.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, which represents most big retailers, told the Guardian: “It is vital that we do not place hardworking retail staff in harm’s way, and enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities.”

Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, also told the newspaper: “It’s vital that [shop owners] feel supported by government at every level and by the police, if necessary.”

“We do hope that customers will recognise, like they did during previous restrictions, the government’s new guidelines when visiting their local independent shops.

“We’re urging shoppers to make sure they show respect to the shop owners and staff of every business they go to.”

Wear a mask or face £200 fine, London Tube passengers told

08:57 , Daniel Keane

Tube and other public transport users have been warned to wear a face mask or risk a £200 fine as the battle against the Omicron Covid variant is stepped up.

Sadiq Khan stressed enforcement of face covering rules on the Underground, buses and other services run by Transport for London would be “boosted” after they were made compulsory by the Government from 4am on Tuesday.

Mr Khan said: “Evidence shows that mask-wearing is the single most effective public health measure at tackling Covid.

“Provided with proper enforcement powers, TfL will now be able to work with policing partners and really boost compliance on the network, with the selfish few who refuse to wear a face covering facing a penalty fine, rather than just being denied entry to transport services.”

You can read our full report by our political editor Nicholas Cecil here.

 (Jeremy Selwyn)
(Jeremy Selwyn)

Families should attend be able to attend nativity plays despite variant

08:49 , Daniel Keane

Families should be able to attend school nativity plays despite the new variant of coronavirus, a health minister has said.

Asked on LBC about such events, amid reports some had been cancelled or restricted, Gillian Keegan said: “Well, yes, I think we’ve said ‘go about your plans’.

“I mean, obviously, you know, wear a mask, be cautious, you know, all the other... all the things that people usually put in place. To be honest, I think most people are being... have been sensible all along.

“But we’re not saying to people cancel your plans. And you know, I’m sure it’d be lovely to go to a nativity play right now.”

SAGE - Britons should work from home to reduce spread

08:39 , Daniel Keane

Britons should work from home to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant, a public health expert has said.

Dr Jenny Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) “has shown that if we have significant surges in Covid cases, then actually working from home is one of the key ones to implement and that’s why it is in Plan B”.

She added: ““But it’s probably worth just thinking through at the moment; although I’m sure we will have more cases announced, we do only have five confirmed cases (of the new Omicron variant in England) and 10 highly probable at the moment.

“So it’s a very early stage for this, I think, but certainly, if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do.”

‘Big build up’ to deliver booster jabs

08:26 , Daniel Keane

Asked about the current pressures currently facing the NHS, Professor Finn added: “The worry is that if you give somebody double work to do, they can’t do whatever else it was that they would have been doing.

“Here in Bristol where we’re actually recruiting people into the scheme, training people up to give vaccines to get extra pairs of hands, focusing not only on retired healthcare staff, but actually just members of the public who are willing and able to come forward.

“So there really is going to be a big build up to try and deliver this accelerated programme and I’m sure that is going on all over the country.”

Festive period is ‘a time for caution'

08:15 , Daniel Keane

Professor Finn said that now is a “time for caution” as he urged people to do “anything that they can do to reduce the risk” of catching Covid.

He told Sky News: “It goes on making sense that people should recognise that this virus has not gone away, and anything that they can do to reduce the risk to themselves, their families, and the people they’re in contact with makes good sense.

“So I’m very pleased that people are now being encouraged to wear masks when indoors at the moment, lateral flow tests are a very good way of finding out whether or not you’ve got the infection, so people should carry on doing those.

“But at this particular time, it is a time for caution.

“It’s a time for people to be careful to stay at home when they can to avoid contact with others just to help us get through this difficult period.”

Breaking: Prime minister to hold press conference

08:02 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson will give a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday afternoon after new measures were introduced to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid.

The prime minister will address the country after the 11th case of the new strain was identified in Scotland on Tuesday morning.

Top scientist warns Omicron could cause ‘major wave'

07:55 , Daniel Keane

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said that the UK had to "act immediately and not wait" after the discovery of the Omicron variant.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I do think we need to take this seriously.

"It is a possibility that this will not turn out to be a major problem but there are lots of signs that suggest that it might.

"It looks like it’s quite a transmissible virus. We don’t really yet know whether it causes worse disease. It may well not do that.

"But the main question is whether it’s able to evade the immunity that we’ve got to some extent from the vaccine so far and the infections we’ve all had.

"And so because of that, and because of the possibility of a major wave, the thing to do now is to act immediately and not wait."

Nine Omicron cases identified in Scotland

07:45 , Daniel Keane

Nine cases of the Omicron variant of Covid have now been identified in Scotland, the health secretary Humza Yousaf has said.

Mr Yousaf said there are now five cases in the Lanarkshire area and four in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, up from the six across the two areas announced on Monday.

Asked if there was any connection between Cop26 or a recent South Africa rugby match, he told BBC Good Morning Scotland: "There’s nothing that links these cases or indeed the variant back to Cop26 or indeed the rugby match."

It brings the total number of Omicron cases in the UK to 14.

EasyJet loses a billion as pandemic bites

07:36 , Daniel Keane

Airline easyJet has suffered annual losses of more than £1 billion for the second year in a row as the pandemic wrought further havoc on the travel industry.

The group posted statutory pre-tax losses of £1.04 billion for the year to September 30, against losses of £1.27 billion the previous year.

The group said it was “too early to say” what impact Omicron, the much-feared new strain of Covid, could have but confirmed it had seen an increase in transfers and some softening of trading in the current quarter.

It added: “We are still seeing good levels of new bookings for the second half and we still expect that the fourth quarter of 2021/22 will see a return to near pre-pandemic levels of capacity as people take their long-awaited summer holidays.”

Booking of booster jabs to open in age order

07:27 , Daniel Keane

Health minister Gillian Keegan added that the booking of booster jabs for all adults would open in age order.

She said: “So we’ll do the top age groups, you know, the older people first.

“I think probably what will happen is the next cohort will be invited forward and then they’ll be given, you know, some timeframes.

“But within the next couple of months... we are pretty good at this, standing up these operations, so we do know what to do but we just need to give the NHS a bit of time to operationalise... because we’re doubling the eligible people, more or less, who are due a booster now.”

Balancing restrictions for new variant is ‘difficult’, says minister

07:20 , Daniel Keane

Health minister Gillian Keegan has admitted it is "difficult" to get the balance of restrictions against the new variant of coronavirus right.

Speaking to Sky News, Ms Keegan was asked whether the Government was overreacting with the new measures introduced.

But she said: "We’re trying to get that balance and proportion and it is difficult because it’s unknown."

She said the measures would "buy some time" while scientists look into the Omicron variant.

She added: "We will review it in three weeks. That’ll give the scientists enough time to hopefully give us some insights."

Around the world

07:10 , Daniel Keane

- Australian authorities said on Tuesday that an international traveller who was most likely infected with the Omicron variant spent time in Sydney as officials rushed to track the person’s close contacts

- Japan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified government sources

- Ecuador will impose entry restrictions on travelers flying from or via a number of African countries and will request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries, President Guillermo Lasso said on Monday

- Canada has recorded two further cases of the Omicron Covid variant, bringing the total number to five. Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube also told reporters that 115 travelers coming from countries affected by the new variant, primarily South Africa, were called and asked to isolate and test

Vaccines ‘likely to be less effective against Omicron’, says Moderna CEO

06:59 , Daniel Keane

The head of vaccine producer Moderna said Covid jabs are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of Covid as they have been against previous strains.

“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times on Monday.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘this is not going to be good.”

Mr Bancel said the high number of mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, could allow it to resist the immunity conferred by vaccination.

He had earlier said on CNBC that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that does work against Omicron.

Recap: What are the new rules coming into force this morning?

06:53 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live coverage of the Covid pandemic.

Here is a quick rundown of the new Covid rules coming into force today:

- Face coverings are again compulsory in England in shops and settings such as banks, post offices, hairdressers, and public transport

- All travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result

- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status

- The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is now advising that all adults aged 18 to 39 should be offered a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection

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