Watch: Omicron symptoms are 'mild', says doctor who spotted it
Omicron, first detected in Botswana, has sparked alarm among scientists over fears that it could be more contagious than other variants and resistant to vaccines.
But Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said the UK is overreacting, adding that symptoms are “extremely mild”.
She told the Andrew Marr Show that she first discovered the variant in a man in his early 30s who displayed symptoms of tiredness and a mild headache.
Dr Coetzee said: “What we are seeing clinically in south Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – that’s where I’m practising – it’s extremely mild. For us, that’s mild cases.”
When asked if the UK was “panicking unnecessarily”, she said: “I think you already have it there in your country and you’re not knowing it, and I would say, yes, at this stage I would say definitely.
“Two weeks from now maybe we will say something different.”
At a press conference on Saturday Boris Johnson said that masks will be reintroduced in shops and on public transport and that all travellers into the UK would have to take a PCR test on the second day after arrival.
Those who tested positive for Covid-19 will have to isolate for ten days.
On Sunday, health secretary Sajid Javid said the new rules about mask-wearing would come into effect on Tuesday.
Speaking about face coverings he said: “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.”
Watch: What do we know about the Omicron variant?