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Health minister tries to calm booster jabs booking scramble as she says GPs will contact people


NHS leader today demanded the Army be called back in to administer 500,000 jabs a day outflank the Omicron variant after GPs warned that face-to-face appointments with patients will have to go of they are expected to help.

The Government’s vaccines advisers have expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 despite those already eligible struggling to get one before Christmas or having to travel 35 miles or more to their nearest vaccination centre. 

Figures show a third fewer mass vaccination hubs are in operation compared to earlier this year, while overwhelmed NHS staff say they will struggle to help with getting jabs in arms due to winter pressures, with pharmacies picking up most of the slack but only offering appointments in around a month’s time. 

Yesterday’s announcement saw the NHS’ website crash under the weight of people trying to book an appointment, and the 119 phoneline overwhelmed, leading to Health Minister Gillian Keegan today urging people to wait to be contacted by their GP. 

Delivering 3.5million jabs per week until February has caused panic in the health service, with two NHS leaders telling the Health Service Journal’s Dave West that ‘the Army should be brought in to help’. Soldiers are currently helping deliver the vaccine in Scotland but not in England. As well as putting jabs in arms, they also co-ordinated distribution of the vaccines and set up vaccination centres before being largely stood down in the spring.

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won’t be boosted until mid-February if it continues at the current rate. But ministers are aiming to carry out 500,000 Covid booster jabs a day in an effort to outpace the Omicron variant.  

Boris Johnson is expected to set out more details about the rollout at a Downing Street press conference later.  But ministers are set for a collision course with GPs, who say they have no time to do the jabs because of Sajid Javid’s targets, including a return to face-to-face appointments. 

Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee, said: ‘We are bound by these contracts. We have been calling for that to be lifted for months now. We are a burnt out workforce.

‘What we are asking for a refocus of clinical priorities. We simply cannot deliver everything. We need to focus on clinical need. At this moment on time, the focus has to be on rolling out a monumental vaccination and booster programme and all hands on deck. We can deliver that but we are distracted by scattergun priorities. We do need to be released from contractual responsibilities’. 

She added: ‘There is this obsession with undeliverable targets. Since April all our contractual targets switched back on and that correlates with practices withdrawing from the vaccination scheme because we simply do not have the workforce’.  

Gillian Keegan told Sky News: ‘In the next couple of days we’ll have the plan’, adding the aim is to vaccinate 3.5million people a week – up from 2.5million currently. People will be contacted in five-year age brackets, she said, meaning the 35s to 39 group will be next.

Ms Keegan said the booking of booster jabs for all adults would open in age order and the systems would be up and running ‘in the next couple of days’. People will be called by GP in age order, she said, adding: ‘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.’  

 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said today over-18s in the UK would be invited for a third Covid jab in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant. The move prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people (pictured)

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said today over-18s in the UK would be invited for a third Covid jab in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant. The move prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people (pictured)

The Government is ‘very much hoping that we can keep Christmas on track’, health minister Gillian Keegan said.

She told Sky News the position this year was much different due to the vaccine rollout.

She said: ‘Of course Christmas is on track, and actually what everybody wants for Christmas is if you haven’t had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven’t had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven’t had your booster, come and get it when you’re asked.’

Ms Keegan added that the chances of having to isolate over Christmas were ‘pretty low’. 

She also 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.’ 

Meanwhile, No10’s spokesperson today said it was keeping the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ ‘under review’, paving the way for people to need all three doses to be considered properly immunised.  

Britons are currently considered to be ‘fully vaccinated’ if they received their second dose of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna at least two weeks ago. 

If boosters were required to be considered completely immunised, all adults in the UK may require third doses to go to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres as well as to work in health or social care. 

Pictured: Brian Bull (left), 83, and Jennifer Hodgkinson (right), 79, faced problems getting their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website, they said, and claim they have been turned away from clinics they thought were walk-ins

Pictured: Brian Bull (left), 83, and Jennifer Hodgkinson (right), 79, faced problems getting their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website, they said, and claim they have been turned away from clinics they thought were walk-ins

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won't be boosted until February 13 if the rollout continues at its current rate

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won’t be boosted until February 13 if the rollout continues at its current rate

Moderna CEO warns vaccine antibody levels could be up to EIGHT TIMES lower against Omicron variant 

The current crop of Covid vaccines may not be as effective against the Omicron variant, according Moderna’s chief executive.

Stephane Bancel told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company is researching the variant and trying to determine how much of a risk it poses to Americans.

He fears that the antibodies Moderna’s Covid vaccine provides to fight against the virus could be eight times lower against the new strain.

The variant, which emerged last week, is believed to be the most infectious yet and could have the ability to evade vaccine protection. 

Mr Bancel said: ‘There are two key things that we don’t know yet and will find out in [coming] weeks.

‘One is vaccine efficacy. What is the impact of this new variant on the vaccine efficacy, and we should know that in around two weeks.’ 

‘We believe this [variant] is highly infectious… it seems to be much more infectious than Delta.

‘Given the large level of mutation it is highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccines, all of them, is going down.’

The JCVI previously advised the over-40s, health workers and those at high risk from Covid to get a booster to ‘help them maintain high levels of protection against hospitalisation, severe illness or dying over the winter’.

But today it said 18 to 39-year-olds will also be offered third doses, in descending age groups in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant.

Experts fear the strain — scientifically known as B.1.1.529 — is more infectious than Delta and can dodge vaccine protection because its mutations make it look so different to previous versions of the virus. 

And due to the risk posed by the Omicron variant the third injection can be given from three months after the second dose, slashing the minimum wait from six months. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid immunisation at the JCVI, said: ‘Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant. 

‘This is an important way for us to reduce the impact of this variant on our lives, especially in the coming months. 

‘If you are eligible for a booster, please take up the offer and keep yourself protected as we head into winter.’

But since the booster programme was expanded to over-40s on November 15, dozens of people have reported spending hours on the phone to their GP or the NHS booking service, with one woman only getting through on her 92nd call.

And some eligible elderly patients were told their next available appointment was in a month’s time.

Red tape is also hampering the rollout, with one 94-year-old blind woman turned away from a jab centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, as she arrived a day early. 

Patients are being encouraged to use the NHS walk-in finder for their nearest centre, supposed to be within ten miles.

But some have been told they must travel tens of miles to get their vaccine as many GP surgeries and pharmacies do not offer top-up jabs. 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer struggled to get their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, was due for his jab nearly a month ago but is turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: ‘The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.’

And figures last month revealed there are a third fewer mass vaccination hubs in operation compared to when the original two-dose Covid vaccine programme was at the peak of its powers in April.

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date 

The NHS moved away from the flagship centres, many of which were set up temporarily in sports stadiums, shopping centres and museums, with local pharmacies and GP surgeries picking up more of the load.

‘Shambles’: Patients slam the rollout of third doses 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer struggled to get their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, was due for his jab for nearly a month ago but was turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: ‘The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.’

They were directed to a rugby club but ‘they weren’t holding sessions that day’. 

He added: ‘We see so many advertisements from the NHS telling us to get our boosters, but it’s very hard to actually do it.’

And the rollout has been a ‘shambles’, said a retired police officer forced to go in person to his West Yorkshire GP to book his booster.

Keith Woodland, 74, who has an irregular heartbeat, was unable to book after he got an NHS text telling him to get a third jab. 

‘After calling 119 I tried again but the system was down. I was told the surgery might have the wrong details about me.’ 

He said: ‘It’s a shambles. All these senior politicians who say people aren’t booking jabs – when we can’t do it anyway.’

Current bumps in the rollout could be exacerbated by NHS capacity, with GPs and nurses stretched thin with winter pressures, meaning they may be unable to help get jabs into arms. 

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, last month hinted GPs were struggling to get involved in the booster programme because they were already juggling a surge in demand for appointments and the flu jab campaign.

And the announcement today could spur on the 12.6million over-40s eligible for a booster jab that have not yet come forward, meaning the overwhelmed health service could struggle to keep up with demand for third doses.

But ministers are aiming to return to the early days of the vaccination campaign which saw 600,000 people jabbed a day. 

A senior government source told the Guardian ministers are aiming for a ‘significant acceleration’ in the booster vaccination drive, which would see 500,000 jabs administered a day, or about 3.5million a week, compared to the current 2.4 boosters a week. 

‘That is the early plan but it won’t happen overnight,’ the source said.   

And the Prime Minister’s official spokesman hinted Britons may need the top-up dose in the coming months to be considered ‘fully vaccinated’. 

Under Plan B — which would see the Government tell people to work from home and introduce vaccine passports if the NHS faced unsustainable pressure — Britons could be required to prove they are fully vaccinated to enter certain settings, such as restaurants, pubs and cinemas. 

Asked whether adults in the UK will be required to have three Covid injections to be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Well, as I have said before, that is something we are keeping under review and obviously we will take clinical advice on what is appropriate.

‘We recognise obviously there may be changes to our approach based on what we discover about this new variant. But we would update if there are any plans to change that definition.’

Asked whether people would be given sufficient notice if the change was introduced, they said: ‘Yes. We would need to make sure it was done in advance and communicated clearly.’

England does not currently have vaccine passports in place, but rules came into effect last month requiring social care workers to be fully vaccinated to continue working in the sector. And the same rule will come into effect for frontline NHS staff from April.

It is not clear whether frontline workers would need all three jabs as part of the ‘no jab, no job’ policy that saw thousands leave the social care sector earlier this month. 

Rules are already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland requiring people to show they are fully vaccinated or tested negative to go to nightclubs, bars and large-scale events.

Covid boosters for everyone over 18: Wait for third jab is slashed to three months and children aged 12-15 can now get second shot as two more Omicron variant cases are detected in London – but daily Covid cases, deaths and hospital admissions FALL

  • Covid booster jabs are to be offered to all over-18s from three months after their second dose, scientists say 
  • NHS England will open bookings in stages with older adults prioritised for top up vaccinations 
  • Some 12million people in England are now eligible to get a booster dose, official figures from the NHS show 
  • But there are already fears everyone who is currently eligible won’t be able to get the top up before Christmas 

All Britons over the age of 18 were today made eligible for Covid booster vaccines as ministers try to shield against an incoming wave of the Omicron variant — as more cases of the super strain were detected in Scotland and England.

The gap between second and third doses has also been chopped in half to three months with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam claiming that boosters had ‘never been more urgent’.  

Today’s expansion means 50million Britons are now eligible for booster doses. Official data shows 17.5million have got their top-up jabs so far.

It’s unclear how the NHS will cope with the surge in demand for boosters. There have been dozens of reports of over-40s struggling to book one even before the drive was widened to younger age groups. 

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman admitted that the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ might have to be updated to include three doses, saying the Government was keeping it ‘under review’. 

The top-up drive will prioritise people based on their age so that those who are most vulnerable will be able to get their jab first. Previously, the roll out was only open to over-40s.

Professor Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, admitted it was likely that the Omicron variant would make vaccines less effective. But he said it was not all ‘doom and gloom’ because it could still protect against hospitalisation and death.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put ‘on steroids’ as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta.  

Delivering an update on the strain in the Commons today, he claimed that if the variant proves to be no more dangerous than Delta then ‘we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary’.

Some experts have claimed that Omicron might be so optimised for infecting people that it is less lethal than previous strains, and South African doctors say patients with the mutant virus appear to have much milder symptoms. 

From 4am tomorrow, face masks are to become compulsory in shops, public transport, hairdressers and beauty salons — with secondary schools also advised to enforce them in corridors and canteens. 

It came as Britain’s Covid outbreak shrank by every measure. The Department of Health said there were Covid cases fell five per cent in a week after another 42,583 positive tests were registered. Latest hospitalisations fell 12 per cent, and deaths dropped by a fifth.   

Everyone will be offered Pfizer or Moderna as a booster dose, even if they were originally vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

Those aged 12 to 15 years old will also be able to get their second Covid jab for the first time.

And immunocompromised patients who were given three vaccine doses as part of their primary course are set to be offered a fourth booster dose. 

It came as two more Omicron cases were confirmed in London — in Wandsworth and Camden —, both with links to travel from South Africa. 

It means 11 infections have been detected in Britain to date, as labs probe up to 225 ‘possible’ cases. Six cases were announced in Scotland this morning but ‘some’ had no links to travel, suggesting the mutant strain may already be spreading in the UK.

No10 experts fear the highly evolved Omicron strain, already thought to be spreading domestically, may ‘significantly’ reduce the effectiveness of two vaccine doses.

But they hope the extremely high protection offered by boosters will broaden immunity against the new strain.  

The Prime Minister today rejected calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to tighten up the UK’s response to Omicron further arguing the initial response to the variant is correct and will be reviewed in three weeks.

The two first ministers of Scotland and Wales had demanded Covid self-isolation rules be extended from two to eight days to curb the spread of the virus, and called for a COBRA meeting to thrash out a four nations approach.  

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date 

Pictured from left to right Professor Wei Shen Lim, head of the JCVI which design Britain’s roll out, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, and Dr June Raine, the head of the MHRA

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put 'on steroids' as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put ‘on steroids’ as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta

As Britain’s 11th case of the Omicron Covid variant was spotted:

  • South Africa has still recorded no hospitalisations and deaths from the mutant strain – but scientists will not know the risk it poses for another two weeks;
  • World Health Organization chiefs warned the Omicron variant poses a ‘very high’ global risk as Dutch police arrest a couple who fled hotel quarantine and boarded a plane out of the country;
  • Big city firms have started cancelling large-scale Christmas parties in favour of smaller gatherings amid uncertainty over the emergence of the new variant;
  • Education unions demand face masks are brought back to classrooms after the Government reimposes the coverings for Year 7 upwards in communal areas but not during lessons;
  • Boris Johnson says he will review Covid restrictions in three weeks after Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford call for quarantine for all UK arrivals to be increased to eight days;
  • Some 11 cases of Omicron have been detected in Britain to date. Some of the six in Scotland had no links to foreign travel, suggesting the variant may be circulating in the community. 

Professor Van-Tam told a Downing Street press briefing it was not all ‘doom and gloom’ and that boosters should still trigger protection against hospitalisation and death from the new variant.

But he added the sheer number of mutations on the virus meant it was ‘likely’ to significantly reduce vaccines ability to prevent infections.

Professor Van-Tam said: ‘On the effects of the new variants, and how well vaccine effectiveness will hold up, here I want to be clear that this is not all doom and gloom at this stage.

‘I do not want people to panic at this stage. If vaccine effectiveness is reduced, as seems pretty likely to some extent, the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease.’

What are the new Covid rules in England in response to the Omicron variant?

– Face masks will once again be compulsory in certain settings, including shops, public transport, hairdressers and beauty salons as of 4am on Tuesday. 

– Staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above are being advised to wear face masks in school communal areas like corridors and canteens. The same advice applies to colleges and universities.   

– Fully-vaccinated travellers who enter the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival. They can leave self-isolation once they test negative. There is no change for people who are not fully-vaccinated – they still have to spend 10 days in self-isolation. 

– Unvaccinated arrivals need to do a ‘fit to fly test’ three days before arriving in the UK and quarantine for 10 days. They also must take a Day 2 and Day 8 PCR test before coming out of isolation. 

– People who are identified as a contact of a suspected case of the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. Samples are being collected and analysed from everyone who has returned from southern Africa in the last fortnight and their contacts are being traced.

– The latest rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.  

Professor Van-Tam likened the battle against the virus to a football match.

He said the UK initially had 11 players to fight off the Wuhan virus following the rolling out of vaccines. 

The emergence of Alpha and Delta led to some injuries, he added, but that Omicron was like receiving a couple of yellow cards to key players.

He said: ‘We may be OK but we’re kind of starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players and if that happens — or it’s a risk that’s going to happen — then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime.’ 

Professor Wei Shen-Lim, the chair of Britain’s Covid vaccine advisory panel the JCVI, said they had extended the booster programme to ensure more people had the best protection possible against the virus.

He admitted there was likely to be a ‘mismatch’ between vaccines and variants, but said they should still be able to fend off serious disease. 

Britain’s current crop of vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — are designed to fight off the Wuhan virus, meaning they are less effective against other strains. 

Professor Shen-Lim told the Downing Street conference: ‘Viruses develop variants that are different to the original virus and increase the likelihood of a mismatch between the vaccine on the one hand and the variant on the other hand. 

‘The larger the mismatch between vaccine and variant the greater the likelihood that the level of protection provided by the vaccine will be lowered

‘From what we know about the variant [Omicron] so far it may be that the vaccines that we have at the moment may be less good than against the current circulating delta variant.

‘One way of reducing the impact of this mismatch between vaccine and variant is to increase the strength of the immune response provided by this currency vaccine.

‘In other words, if we can raise the level of the immune response generated by this current vaccine that higher level of immune response will reach out and provide extra protection to mismatched variants.’

He said they were slashing the time between second dose and booster shot from six months to three to ensure people had the best possible protection before a potential winter wave.

He said: ‘With any vaccine during a pandemic we get the greatest benefit of the vaccine both for individuals and society if the vaccine is deployed before the wave starts.

‘If we deploy a vaccine in the middle of a wave or even after the peak of a wave then the benefit from the vaccine is much lower. We therefore want to provide boosters early enough such that it is before any possible wave.

He added: ‘I am not here predicting there will be a wave of the new variant but should there be a wave we want to be in the best possible position.’

He urged anyone who is already eligible for a booster to get the jab to protect themselves and their families from the virus.

Some eight in ten over-70s have already got their third dose in England — or 6.4million people — but among over-60s less than six in ten have got their boosters, and for over-50s only a third are boosted. 

An estimated 23million people are now eligible for boosters in England but have not received their top up jab.

Some 14.9million doses have been dished out so far and, at a rate of 2.1million boosters a week, figures suggest it will take until mid-February for England to complete its second drive. This is near the end of winter. 

Over-50s were told they could get their top up jab from six months after their second dose more than two months ago. The drive was expanded to over-40s last week.  

 

Now large-scale Christmas parties are CANCELLED: Big City firms say festive bashes are off for the second year running

UK firms are cancelling mass Christmas parties as fears mount over the new Omicron variant — as the UK hospitality industry said bookings were being scrapped and plans changed due to the ‘chilling’ talk of Plan B.  

The emergence of the new Covid-19 strain has forced companies to scrap parties for large numbers of people, turning instead to smaller departmental gatherings as the pandemic threatens the festive season for a second year.  

Law firm Osborne Clarke in London said they were now opting for ‘low key festivities’ rather than ‘big shindigs’.

The firm’s managing partner Ray Berg told MailOnline: ‘We asked our people and their preference is for local team-level celebrations, so we’re opting for low key festivities rather than big shindigs this year. 

‘Given the emergence of a new variant I think we made the right call, no one wants to have a second lockdown Christmas.’ 

And while the UK’s hospitality sector said businesses recovering from the pandemic had ‘invested heavily’ in making their venues safe for the public with measures including ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, events planners said the Omicron variant was causing concern.  

One senior events planner in London said they were now ‘on the cusp’ of clients stalling with balance payments for New Year’s parties. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons today that he had asked the JCVI to review the scope of the booster programme because of the new variant.

He said their recommendation called for a ‘huge step up’ for the vaccination programme, almost doubling the numbers currently eligible.

He said: ‘With this new variant on the offensive these measures will protect more people more quickly and make us better protected as a nation.

‘It represents a huge step up for our vaccination programme, almost doubling the number of people who will be able to get a booster dose to protect themselves and their loved ones.

‘And I know that we are asking more from NHS colleagues who’ve already given us so much throughout this crisis, but I know that they will be up to the task.

‘The NHS will be calling people forward at the appropriate time so that those who are most vulnerable will be prioritised.’

He said ‘in the coming days’ he will set out more details on how the advice is being put into action.

Some 11 Omicron cases have been reported in Britain so far, and scientists are concerned that it has mutations linked with higher transmissibility and a possible reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday had instructed the JCVI to review the booster programme urgently given the evolving situation with Omicron after the first cases of the variant were reported.

Though Johnson’s government controls health policy in England alone, JCVI has informed the rollout of Covid vaccines in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The panel reiterated that Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine were the preferred vaccines to use in booster shots.

Of the two new cases spotted in London, one was identified in Camden and the other in Wandsworth.

The UK’s Covid outbreak shrunk by every measure today, with deaths plummeting to the lowest number in seven weeks, but the new Omicron variant appears to be spreading domestically. 

Department of Health data shows 42,583 people tested positive for Covid in the last 24 hours, down by 5.2 per cent on the 44,917 infections confirmed last week.

It comes amid growing concerns about a new strain of the coronavirus, which experts fear is more infectious than Delta and could evade vaccine protection due to the record number of mutations it has.

Meanwhile, 35 deaths within 28 days of a positive tested were recorded, down 22.2 per cent on the 45 registered last Monday.

Covid death figures are always lower on Monday due to registration delays over the weekend, but the daily fatality toll is the smallest recorded since October 11, which was also a Monday, when 28 were registered.

Meanwhile, 769 people were admitted to hospital last Tuesday, the latest date figures are available for, a drop of 12.7 per cent on the 881 people who sought NHS care seven days earlier.

The trend in Covid hospitalisations and deaths lags two to three weeks behind the pattern seen in cases, due to the time it takes for someone to become seriously ill after catching the virus.

Meanwhile, 50.9million Britons aged over 12 have now had their first dose (88.6 per cent), while 46.3million are double-jabbed (80.6 per cent) and 17.8million (31.1 per cent) have had booster injections.

It comes as the Prime Minister’s spokesman said it was safe for people in England to go into the office, as people in other UK nations were urged to work from home to curb the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday reminded people to ‘work from home if possible’, as six cases were confirmed there. The advice is the same in Northern Ireland.

In Wales, working from home is encouraged under current guidance.

On Monday the PM’s spokesman said it was up to employers to decide on the ‘right balance’ for them, when it came to whether staff worked from home or the office.

Jurisdiction over coronavirus restrictions is devolved, meaning Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s policies apply to England, and may differ from the rules elsewhere in the UK.

Asked whether employers were still being encouraged to get people back into the office, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘Our position has not altered from what it was previously.

‘We (are) obviously keeping the evidence of this variant under review and we will take action if necessary, but currently we don’t think there are any other changes required.’

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognise the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body's immune system struggles to recognise it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body's cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognise the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body’s immune system struggles to recognise it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body’s cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness 

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer are already working on Covid vaccines that could tackle the Omicron strain, if it poses a problem for the current crop of vaccines, and they could be ready in the first half of 2022

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer are already working on Covid vaccines that could tackle the Omicron strain, if it poses a problem for the current crop of vaccines, and they could be ready in the first half of 2022

He added: ‘In line with the guidance, we’ve said that it is safe for people to return to work. It is up to individual employers to decide what is the right balance for (them).’

Asked if the Government viewed Scotland’s decision to ask people to work from home as disproportionate, the spokesman said: ‘It’s up (to) the Scottish government to decide what approach they think is suitable.’

Sajid Javid failed to rule out any future lockdown when urged to do so by a Tory MP, but insisted putting the ‘booster programme on steroids’ is the main form of defence.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) told the Health Secretary: ‘None of us underplayed the threat of any new variant and, as (Mr Javid) said today, Covid is not going to go away. It’s not, it’s here for the rest of our lives.

‘The country is learning to live with this disease, it is the only way forward.

‘Can he please reassure me, the House and the country that he will never, ever go back to locking this country down?’

Mr Javid replied: ‘No-one wants to see those kinds of measures, but (Mr Drax) I’m sure will agree with me that, first let me agree with him that Covid is with us to stay and we need to learn to live with it, and the best way I think we can do that is with the primary form of defence that we’ve got, which is our vaccination programme, and I hope he agrees with me that we’re absolutely right to basically put the booster programme on steroids because that will really help us.’

Conservative backbencher Sir Desmond Swayne suggested wearing face coverings to provide protection from the virus is ‘mumbo jumbo’.

He told the Commons: ‘Over the last few months there has been a useful controlled experiment on face coverings given the different policies pursued in Scotland and England. What estimate has he made of the result? It’s mumbo jumbo isn’t it?’

The Health Secretary said that if Sir Desmond ‘is suggesting that there are mixed views on the efficacy of face coverings in helping to fight this pandemic, he would be right’.

But he said there are reports which show ‘in certain settings how face coverings can help’.

What ARE the new Covid rules? Government says travellers can take PCR test on or BEFORE day two meaning they can take one at airport soon as they land in UK – as mask and self-isolation rules also start tomorrow

By Mark Duell for MailOnline

All people arriving in England from tomorrow will need to have a PCR test on or before day two after they land – meaning they could take one at the airport as soon as they touch down and be free from self-isolation requirements within hours.

Everyone entering the country from abroad from 4am will have to take a PCR test by the second day after their arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.

It is one of a series of new rules including the return of face masks in shops and on trains, which will come into force tomorrow amid fears over the Omicron variant.

Previously, fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test – and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the PCR must be taken ‘on or before day two’, while Government advice says it must be ‘taken before the end of day two’.

This means that those paying £119 could feasibly take a PCR test upon landing at Heathrow and get the results within just three hours – ending their self-isolation. 

But that has led to concerns that people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.

Amid those fears, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days. 

Arrivals in England who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for ten days.

Meanwhile face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers from 4am – but not in pubs and restaurants.

In another change in the rules, people identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

The regulations will be laid in Parliament today before they come into force tomorrow – and MPs will get a retrospective vote within the next four weeks.

Here, MailOnline looks at what the changes in the rules will mean for you:

TRAVEL RULES

Fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken by the second day after they arrive. 

When do the travel rules on testing change?

The travel rules on testing will change in England at 4am tomorrow (Tuesday). The answers below are given for those arriving in the country after that time.

IF FULLY VACCINATED 

What must you do if you arrive in England and are fully vaccinated?

If you are fully vaccinated by 4am tomorrow, you must self-isolate, take a PCR test before the end of day two after you arrive and can only leave self-isolation once you have a negative result.

What was the previous situation? 

Previously, fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test – and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result. 

Can you book a test to take at the airport?

Yes, you can pre-book a PCR test to take at airports such as Heathrow in advance of landing, although these sites tend to be only open within specified periods rather than being 24-hour. You must still self-isolate until you get your negative result.

Can you take a PCR test at the airport and be free from isolation within hours? 

Yes. For example at Heathrow Airport, you could book at ExpressTest with Cignpost from £59 for next-day results by 10pm; or a £119 test for results within three hours. 

You can end your self-isolation period once you have your negative result – meaning that you could be free within only three hours of landing.

What are the concerns about this rapid testing period?

There are fears that people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has urged Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days – but the Prime Minister is unwilling to do this. 

Can you travel by train or bus to the place where you will self-isolate? 

Yes. Travellers must self-isolate at home until they get their result, although they can get to their quarantine location by public transport following their arrival. 

Can you use a lateral flow test?

No, lateral flow tests will not be accepted from 4am tomorrow – it must be a PCR test.

What must you do before you travel to England?

You have to book and pay for a PCR test to be taken before the end of day two in England, and complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive in England.

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Does England ask for a ‘fit to fly’ certificate before flying back in?

No, you just need to have your PCR test booked and passenger locator form filled out. You do not need to have a negative test result before you fly into England.

Can you use an NHS test for your PCR?

No, you must use a private test provider – and you will have to enter your test booking reference number on your passenger locator form.

What if you are in England for less than two days?

It does not matter – you will still need to book and pay for a day two test.

What is the definition of day two?

Day two is the second day after you arrive. The day you arrive is day zero. So if you arrive in England on a Friday, day two is a Sunday.

Do you have to quarantine until you get the test result?

Yes. You must self-isolate in your home or the place you are staying until you receive the result.

Where can you quarantine? 

The Government’s official advice says you can quarantine at an address such as your own home, with friends or family, or in a standard hotel or other temporary accommodation.

You must quarantine at the address you provided on the passenger locator form. 

You do not have to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel – because these are for only for people arriving from countries on the red list (see section below).

You must quarantine in one place for the full quarantine period, where you can have food and other necessities delivered.

Can you mix with other people while in quarantine at a hotel or home? 

The Government says that as soon as you arrive at your place of quarantine, ‘you should, as far as possible, avoid contact with other people in the place where you’re quarantining to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19’.

It adds: ‘You should stay in a well ventilated room with an outside window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

‘If you’re staying in a hotel or guest house, you must stay away from others who did not travel with you. You must not use shared areas such as bars, restaurants, health clubs and sports facilities.’

What if the test results are delayed?

You must still self-isolate until your test result is known or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

What if the test result is unclear?

If you took a PCR test and the result is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You can choose to take another private test – and, if the result is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

What if the test result is positive?

If you took a PCR test and the result is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day of the test is day zero.

What if the test result is negative?

You can end your period of self-isolation.

How do you qualify as fully vaccinated?

You must have proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine.

You must have had your final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days before you arrive in England. The day you had your final dose is day zero.

You do not need to have had a third ‘booster’ jab in order to be defined as fully vaccinated. 

Who can have issued proof of vaccination?

Proof can be issued by either a) the UK vaccination programme; b) the United Nations vaccine programme for staff and volunteers; or c) an overseas vaccination programme with an approved proof of vaccination for travel to the UK.

How can you check which vaccines are approved?

Check which vaccines are approved and the list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination by clicking here.

Are there non-vaccinated people who can follow fully vaccinated rules?

Yes. Even if you are not fully vaccinated, the fully vaccinated rules apply if you are 1) under 18; 2) taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) or SRA; or 3) unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and you are resident in England.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed in the UK?

If you are fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you can prove your vaccination status using either the NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales; the NHS Scotland COVID Status app; the COVIDCert NI in Northern Ireland; or an approved paper certificate.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed outside the UK?

Check what proof is required for the country or territory where you were vaccinated by clicking here.

IF NOT FULLY VACCINATED 

What if you cannot prove you are fully vaccinated under the rules in England?

If you cannot prove that you qualify under the fully vaccinated rules, you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated.

What do you have to do before arriving in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

Before you travel to England you must take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you arrive; and book and pay for day two and day eight PCR tests, to be taken after arrival in England. You must also complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive.

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

What do you have to do after you arrive in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

After you arrive in England you must quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for ten full days; take your Covid-19 PCR tests which must be booked before you travel; and take the first test on or before day two and the second test on or after day eight. The day you arrive is day zero.

What happens if you are not fully vaccinated and in England for less than ten days?

If you are in England for less than ten days, you need to quarantine for the time you are here – and you still need to book day two and day eight PCR tests, but only need to take these if you are still in England on those days.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is positive?

If your day two test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You do not need to take the day 8 test if your day 2 test is positive.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is positive?

If your day eight test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is negative?

If your day two test is negative, you must continue to isolate and then take your day eight test.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is negative?

If your day eight test is negative, you can stop quarantine on whichever is later – either 1) day ten, with day zero being the day you arrived in England; or 2) when you receive the day eight test result.

An example of this is that if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day nine, you must continue to quarantine until the end of day ten. But if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day 12, you must quarantine until the end of day 12.

What if the test results are unclear?

If the result of your day two test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero.

If your day eight test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

You could also choose to take another private test. If that test result is a negative result, you can stop self-isolating on whichever is later – either 1) day 10, with day zero being the day you arrive in England; or 2) the day you received the negative replacement test result from the additional test.

Does the Test to Release scheme still apply?

Yes. If you need to quarantine, you may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private Covid-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Under the Test to Release scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five. If the result is negative – and the result of your day 2 test result was negative or inconclusive – you can end your quarantine.

CHILDREN 

Do children have to quarantine upon arrival in England?

No. Children aged 17 and under do not have to quarantine on arrival in England. This applies whether they are vaccinated or not.

Do children have to take a Covid test upon arrival in England?

Children aged four and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Those aged five to 17 do not have to take a Covid-19 test before travel to England.

However, those aged five to 17 they must take a test on arrival in England – before the end of day two at the latest (arrival day is day zero). 

From tomorrow, five to 17-year-olds must take a PCR test.

EXEMPTIONS

What if you are travelling from Ireland or other parts of the UK into England?

If you’re travelling to England from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you do not need to complete a passenger locator form, take any Covid-19 tests or quarantine on arrival in England.

This only applies if you have not been outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in the ten days before the day you arrive in England. 

Are some people exempt from the restrictions because of their job?

Yes, if you do one of a series jobs listed here you may qualify for an exemption from one or more of the Covid-related travel restrictions.

These jobs include aircraft pilots and crew, BBC broadcasting transmission network and services roles, border security duties and coach drivers.

What if you are travelling abroad (outside the Common Travel Area) from England?

You should check foreign travel advice for all countries you will visit or travel through, to see if you will need to show proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test and quarantine on arrival. The rules vary between countries.

For example, Switzerland has effectively ‘red listed’ Britain by subjecting arrivals to ten days of self-quarantine. Britons arriving in the country will have to show proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test and then self-isolate. 

Spain also announced a ban on unvaccinated British tourists after Portugal said it would demand proof of a negative test even for double-jabbed visitors.

RED LIST 

Does the red list still apply?

Yes, there are different rules if you have been in a red list country or territory in the ten days before you arrive in England. Red list rules apply whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

What countries are on the red list?

Ten African countries have been added to the UK’s red list since Friday.

South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe moved onto the red list at 12pm last Friday (November 26). 

Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia moved onto the red list at 4am yesterday (November 28).

Can you travel into England from a red list country?

Yes, but if you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either are a British or Irish National, or have residence rights in the UK.

What must you do before you travel to England?

Take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you travel to England; book a quarantine hotel package (see below), including two PCR tests and complete a passenger locator form.

What is the cost of a quarantine hotel package?

One adult in one room for ten days (11 nights) is £2,285. The additional rate for one adult (or child over 11) is £1,430, while the additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 is £325. You do not have to pay for children under five, but they must also complete the quarantine. 

FACE MASKS 

Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers – but not in pubs and restaurants. 

What will the new rules on face coverings be?

From 4am tomorrow, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other retail settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport.

What are the current rules – before 4am tomorrow?

As it stands, there are no rules on wearing face coverings in shops although some retailers ask that you do. On transport, there are also no rules apart from on the Transport for London network where they are mandatory. 

However, it is not illegal to travel on London transport without a mask – but you can be asked to leave the network if you are not wearing one.

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today 

What will the fine be for non-compliance from tomorrow?

British Transport Police are expected to advise passengers on the new rules, but breaches could feasibly see £200 fines.

London TravelWatch has said the requirement will have to be ‘properly enforced to give out the signal that the rules have changed’. 

Will exemptions on face coverings still apply?

Yes, all the normal exemptions for health and other reasons will still exist.

Will you have to wear a mask in pubs or restaurants?

No, the rules won’t be extended to hospitality venues in England. Health Minister Edward Argar said this was for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury's in Kent earlier this year

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury’s in Kent earlier this year

What about in schools?

The Department for Education has told schools and colleges in England that students in year 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas.

The new guidance – which came into force today, unlike the other guidance on shops and public transport which begins at 4am tomorrow – says staff, visitors and pupils are ‘strongly advised’ to wear a face covering in communal areas, unless they are exempt.

However there is no guidance on pupils having to wear face masks once seated in their classroom. 

And what about universities? 

Department for Education guidance also states that face coverings should be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors. 

SELF-ISOLATING

People identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status. 

Who do the new self-isolation rules apply to? 

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

How will you know if you are a contact of a suspected Omicron case?

The Government says you will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

In order for officials to know when you have Omicron they need to genome sequence a positive test sample, which could take several days.

Currently, sample analysis is being targeted in areas where cases of the variant have been spotted. And everyone who has returned from southern Africa in the last fortnight has their test sequenced.

But there is already a suspicion that the strain is spreading domestically, so many cases might already be going missing.

And with around 44,000 Britons testing positive each day, it will be impossible for scientists to determine whether every positive sample is Omicron.

And due to the delay in confirming a positive PCR test, a person infected may have passed the virus on to a contact who does not find out until days later.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise. 

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

Could we be heading for another Pingdemic?

The Pingdemic over the summer was caused by people’s NHS Covid-19 app ‘pinging’ them to say they had been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.

This time, if Omicron causes a huge spike in numbers of cases, it could mean large numbers of people are again stuck at home in what may be branded ‘Pingdemic 2.0’.

WHAT NEXT? 

How long will the new rules last?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the measures will be reviewed in three weeks, which would be the last Saturday before Christmas.

Could the restrictions get tougher?

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales today called on Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days — as Scotland confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant including some with no links abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately to curb the spread of the virus in a warning sign that England could soon face more restrictions.

Surge testing will also be deployed in areas of Scotland where the super-strain has been detected amid fears it could already be transmitting in the community.

Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have asked for an emergency Cobra meeting to come up with a ‘tougher four nations approach’ to control the spread of the variant. 



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