UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his gratitude to South African scientists who identified the new variant. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his gratitude to South African scientists who identified the new variant. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

UK already ahead of new variant after discovering two cases

By Thobeka Ngema Time of article published Nov 28, 2021

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DURBAN - While President Cyril Ramaphosa is yet to meet the National Coronavirus Command Council following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, and rumours swirling around that Ramaphosa will address the nation on Sunday night and impose stricter lockdown restrictions, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already held a press conference and the country has tightened travel restrictions.

Johnson also confirmed temporary measures which will be introduced from next week as a precaution to slow down the spread of the variant while they gathered more information.

These measures are:

  • All international arrivals must take a Day 2 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
  • All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace.
  • Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport from next week. All hospitality settings will be exempt.

On Saturday, Johnson held a Covid-19 press conference where he revealed that they received news of the Omicron variant last Wednesday.

“I want to express my deep gratitude to scientists in South Africa who identified this new variant and shared this information widely and immediately. This variant is spreading around the world, with two cases so far identified here in the UK,” Johnson said.

He said there were many things that they did not know at this early stage but their scientists were learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly, and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.

Johnson said first they needed to slow down the seeding of the variant in their country.

Second, they needed to slow down the spread of the variant in the UK.

Third, they needed to bolster their protections against the new variant.

Johnson added that they had the fastest roll-out in Europe and now the fastest booster campaign in Europe, with almost 16.8 million boosters in people’s arms, and though case numbers have remained relatively high, they were seeing falling hospitalisations and falling numbers of deaths.

In another statement, the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK said after overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that two cases of Covid-19 with mutations consistent with B. have been identified in the UK.

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

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

Additionally, as of 4am on Sunday, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, eSwatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola were added to the travel red list. Travellers who have returned from these four countries in the last 10 days must isolate and get a PCR test. UKHSA is following up on recent arrivals from these countries.

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

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said: “We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.”

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are able to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread. We are particularly grateful to public health colleagues in South Africa for early sharing of information on the Omicron variant to support global health security.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister’s office and Johnson issued a statement informing UK residents that Johnson and President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke on Friday afternoon.

Johnson said they discussed the challenges posed globally by the new Covid-19 variant and ways to work together to deal with it and reopen international travel.

“The Prime Minister commended South Africa’s rapid genomic sequencing and leadership in transparently sharing scientific data,” read the statement.

It further stated that the leaders reaffirmed the close alliance between the two nations, exemplified in the Just Energy Transition partnership agreed at COP26, and they agreed to stay in close contact as we deal with the ongoing threat from the global pandemic.

Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on Saturday night, United States secretary of state Antony Blinken said: “I spoke with South African Foreign Minister Pandor @DIRCO_ZA to express our deep appreciation for the professionalism and transparency of the South African government and South Africa’s scientists in our shared fight against Covid-19.”

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