Omicron Covid variant has spread in UK community, confirms Sajid Javid

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  • Coronavirus
    Coronavirus
  • Sajid Javid
    British politician (born 1969)
Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid

There is now "community transmission across multiple regions of England" of the omicron variant of Covid-19, Sajid Javid has told MPs.

The Health Secretary told the Commons: "The omicron variant is continuing to spread here and around the world.

"According to the latest data there are now 261 confirmed cases in England, 71 in Scotland and four in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases across the UK to 336.

"This includes cases with no links to international travel. So, we can conclude that there is now community transmission across multiple regions of England."

The Health Secretary updated MPs on the latest Covid-19 developments in a Commons statement.

It follows decisions over the weekend to require pre-departure tests for people travelling to the UK as part of the effort to contain the Omicron variant.

06:53 PM

Today in brief

That's all from us, but here's a look back at today's key developments:

There is now "community transmission across multiple regions of England" of the omicron variant of Covid-19, Sajid Javid confirmed. The Health Secretary told the Commons: "The omicron variant is continuing to spread here and around the world."

He added that "21 cases in England alone" are linked to travel from Nigeria.

People with cold-like symptoms should work from home and avoid Christmas parties in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to Professor Tim Spector.

New York City employers will have to mandate Covid vaccinations for their workers under new rules announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Meanwhile, Italy has banned unvaccinated people from going to the theatre, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events, under new rules introduced today.

And Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert has warned a future pandemic could be "more contagious" and "more lethal" than Covid, urging against complacency when preparing for new disease threats.

Scroll down for more Covid updates from today.

06:33 PM

'Taking a vaccine should be a positive decision', says Javid

In response to a question about unvaccinated people putting a strain on the NHS, Sajid Javid said: "Taking a vaccine should be a positive decision, and with the exception of NHS settings or social care settings, no one should be forced to take a vaccine."

He added that people who haven't yet been vaccinated should know "that they are not just endangering themselves, but they are endangering wider society".

06:30 PM

UK 'second only to the US' in genome sequencing capability, says Javid

Mr Javid says that genome sequencing is “crucial to identifying variants” and adds that the country is second only to the US in terms of its capability.

06:17 PM

Javid defends decision to add Nigeria to travel red list

In response to questioning about why Nigeria had been added to the Government’s travel red list, Mr Javid reiterated that the African country had been added due to 21 cases of the omicron variant in England being linked to travel from Nigeria.

“It is appropriate that whenever we have the data, we must act to protect British public health," Mr Javid said.

06:07 PM

'The UK can be proud of its commitment to vaccine donations,' Javid says

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has told MPs that the UK "can be proud of its commitment to vaccine donations to the developing world".

"We've got a commitment of 100 million by June 2022," he added.

06:02 PM

Annual Covid vaccinations may be part of 'living with the virus', says Javid

In response to a question by former prime minister Theresa May about when the Government was going to learn that it “cannot respond to a new variant by shutting sectors of the economy”, Mr Javid said: “We have to learn to live with this virus ... Perhaps it will lead to annual vaccinations."

05:54 PM

‘Our strategy is to buy ourselves time,’ Javid tells MPs

"We are leaving nothing to chance," said Health Secretary Sajid Javid as he addressed MPs this afternoon.

"Our strategy is to buy ourselves time and strengthen our defences while our world-leading scientists assess this new variant and what it means for our fight against Covid-19," he added.

05:53 PM

100 private Covid test providers removed from government website

Mr Javid announced that 100 private Covid test providers had been removed from the Government's Covid testing website in recent weeks.

He added that 20 had been removed this weekend for showing misleading prices.

05:53 PM

'We don't yet have a complete picture of whether omicron causes more severe disease,' says Javid

Sajid Javid has told MPs that it remains unclear whether the omicron coronavirus variant causes more severe disease, and "indeed how it interacts with the vaccines."

"And so we can't say for certain, at this point, whether omicron has the potential to knock us off our road to recovery," he said.

05:46 PM

Measures ‘won’t be kept for a day longer than necessary’ says Javid

The health secretary reiterated the importance of ensuring that any curbs on people’s freedom were “absolutely necessary”, and insisted that the current measures are “temporary”. An update will be provided to the House of Commons next week on the measures, Mr Javid added.

05:45 PM

There is now 'community transmission' of omicron across England, confirms Javid

There is now community transmission of the omicron variant across England, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs.

This confirmation comes as an additional 90 cases of the omicron coronavirus variant were reported in the UK, bringing the total to 336.

05:40 PM

10,000 more paid vaccinators to form part of booster jab effort

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged that 10,000 more paid vaccinators will be deployed in an effort to boost the Covid-19 vaccine booster programme.

This is in addition to 350 military personnel to be deployed in England, he added, as well as 1500 pharmacy sites in England.

05:39 PM

Window of infection may be shorter for omicron than delta variant, says Javid

Mr Javid said that a recent scientific analysis suggests that the window of infection may be shorter for omicron than for the delta variant. However, he adds that there is no "clear picture" on whether the variant causes more severe disease or how it is impacted by vaccines .

05:37 PM

Omicron cases linked to travel from Nigeria, says Javid

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that "21 cases in England alone" are linked to travel from Nigeria.

He also referenced high levels of travel between Nigeria and South Africa as a factor in the decision to add Nigeria to the travel red list.

05:36 PM

Negative PCR or lateral flow test mandatory for entry to UK, Javid confirms

Sajid Javid confirms that these travel measures "will bring disruption", but says "we're taking this early action now so we don't have to take tougher action later on".

He stressed that "these are temporary measures" while the government continues to understand the omicron variant.

05:35 PM

Government taking 'balanced and proportionate' border measures, Javid says

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tells MPs that the government is taking "balanced and proportionate" measures at the border, including adding Nigeria to the travel red list.

He added that "some people" have experienced issues accessing hotel quarantine, and the government plans to expand the number of hotel rooms available to travellers.

05:16 PM

Rare heart condition triggered by Covid vaccine is 'mild and resolves quickly', say scientists

A rare heart-related health condition induced by the Covid-19 vaccine is mild and resolves quickly, according to scientists.

Myocarditis is a condition which is characterised by inflamed cardiac muscle and can weaken the flow of blood around the body. The most common cause is infection and in those cases it can be serious, and even fatal.

Data show that coronavirus vaccines increase the risk of a person developing myocarditis, with the risk highest in young boys and after the second dose.

A group of experts from across the US reviewed 139 cases of vaccine-induced myocarditis from across the US in people aged 12 to 20, with the average age being 16.

Nine out of ten cases were in boys and after second doses.

Of the 139 people who went to hospitals with the complaint, less than one in five were admitted to intensive care and none died.

Joe Pinkstone has more here.

04:43 PM

UK records 51,459 new Covid cases and 41 deaths

The latest Covid-19 figures show that 51,459 new cases were recorded in the UK yesterday, an increase of 7,467 on the previous day’s figure (43,992).

There were 41 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

A total of 51,118,266 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by December 5, Government figures show. This is a rise of 21,955 on the previous day.

Some 46,557,413 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 27,166.

A combined total of 20,580,644 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 290,165.

04:28 PM

Over 300 omicron cases reported in UK

An additional 90 cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been reported in the UK, bringing the total to 336.

The UK Health Security Agency said 64 of the latest cases were from England, 23 from Scotland and three from Wales.

There have been no reported omicron cases in Northern Ireland.

04:15 PM

Norway to introduce new Covid restrictions, health minister says

Norway's health minister has announced that new restrictions will be introduced, as the country battles rising Covid cases.

Ingvild Kjerkol told Norway’s public broadcaster, NRK: “Tomorrow, we will come up with a new measure because we have got a situation with a lot of infection with the Delta variant. In addition, we have the omicron variant that spreads quickly,”

“These measures will be felt in our daily lives,” she said.

03:58 PM

Fury grows within travel industry after U-turn on pre-departure Covid tests

Travel industry bosses have blasted the Government’s reintroduction of pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers returning to the UK.

The measure, which was announced over the weekend and comes into force at 4am on Tuesday, comes despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps telling The Telegraph just a few days earlier that such a move could “kill off the travel sector again”.

Alistair Rowland, chief executive of tour operator Blue Bay Travel, said: “Saturday’s news has come as a blow to the travel industry and to those holidaymakers who are abroad right now enjoying some much-needed winter sun and who didn’t factor into their plans, or budget, the requirement for a Covid-19 test before they fly home.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, added: “Once again we are at the mercy of a Government who can’t communicate with each other”. She called the measure “a fatal bullet for many travel agents.”

03:33 PM

EU agency clears arthritis drug for severe Covid cases

The European Union's drug regulator has cleared the arthritis treatment tocilizumab for use in patients hospitalised with severe Covid, saying it reduced the risk of death.

The anti-inflammatory drug made by Swiss pharma giant Roche should be used with steroids for critically ill patients, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.

The World Health Organization and the United States have already endorsed the treatment, sold by Roche as RoActemra in Europe.

The EMA recommended extending tocilizumab's use to include treating adults with Covid who are receiving "systemic" steroid treatment and require extra oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

The European Commission must now formally approve the Amsterdam-based watchdog's recommendation.

03:18 PM

India braces for third Covid wave after omicron found in megacities

Mumbai
Mumbai

India is scrambling to prepare for a third wave of Covid-19 after cases of the omicron variant were detected across many of its major cities over the weekend, writes Joe Wallen from Mumbai.

There are now 21 confirmed cases of omicron – a rise from just two on Friday – but the variant has been detected in several of the country's densely populated megacities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Jaipur and Pune, prompting fears it will spread widely.

So far the majority of detected cases have been in travellers arriving from African countries, including South Africa, where the variant was first detected. However, doctors told the Telegraph they had no doubt the omicron variant was already spreading across the country – although it could take up to one month to confirm cases by genetic sequencing.

“It’s almost certain that omicron is spreading within the community in India. While we don’t know how extensively or how fast, we do know there have been cases detected without any link to international travel,” said Dr Swapneil Parikh, one of India’s leading Covid-19 experts.

Read more here.

02:59 PM

Vaccine mandate made compulsory for all businesses in New York

New York City employers will have to mandate Covid vaccinations for their workers under new rules announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The vaccine mandate for private businesses will take effect on December 27 and is aimed at preventing a spike in infections during the holiday season and colder months, the Democratic mayor said.

"We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it's causing to all of us," Mr de Blasio said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe.".

"All private-sector employers in New York City will be covered by this vaccine mandate as of December 27."

New York City will also require proof of vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 for indoor dining, entertainment, and fitness establishments, he said.

The city was moving to impose the mandate on private sector businesses even as federal courts have temporarily blocked an attempt by President Joe Biden to do the same nationally for larger companies.

02:41 PM

Slovakia’s health minister proposes extending lockdown until December 16

Slovakia's health minister has said he will ask his cabinet to extend a lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of Covid infections by one week until December 16.

Health minister Vladimir Lengvarsky told a news conference that he would propose partial reopening from December 17, but initially only for people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus.

Slovakia introduced a national lockdown that shut most shops and services on November 25, amid a new wave of coronavirus cases.

Under current lockdown rules, Slovaks are allowed to attend school and work but non-essential movement between districts is banned, as well as most events.

The country reported 3,419 hospitalised patients as of yesterday, above levels the government deems critically stretching capacities. More than 80 per cent of hospitalised patients are not fully vaccinated, according to government data.

02:24 PM

More cases of omicron variant detected in Scotland

Scotland has recorded 23 new cases of the omicron variant in the past 24 hours, with the overall number rising to 71.

The new figures, published by the Scottish Government today, show that there were 3,894 total coronavirus cases recorded and no deaths in the past 24 hours.

The daily test positivity rate rose to 12.8 per cent, up from 9.6 per cent the previous day.

The total Covid-19 death toll in Scotland – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – remains at 9,649.

On Sunday there were 591 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, up five on the day before, with 43 in intensive care, down two.

A note on the daily figures said the statistics are higher than expected due to a backlog of tests.

02:13 PM

Pandemic caused surge in malaria deaths, says World Health Organization

Covid disrupted malaria services and led to a marked jump in cases and deaths, the World Health Organization has said.

Data from the WHO’s latest World Malaria Report suggests that there were an estimated 14 million more malaria cases in 2020 than the previous year, and 69,000 more deaths.

Around two-thirds of these additional deaths were linked to pandemic-related disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to suffer from the highest rates of malaria, accounting for about 95 per cent of all malaria cases and 96 per cent of all deaths in 2020.

Anne Gulland has more here.

01:45 PM

Future pandemic could be “more lethal” than Covid, warns vaccine inventor

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert 
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert

A future pandemic could be "more contagious" and "more lethal" than Covid, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert has warned, urging against complacency when preparing for new disease threats.

Delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture Dame Sarah, the co-creator of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, said the scientific advances made in research against fighting deadly viruses "must not be lost".

"This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods," Dame Sarah said. "The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both."

She went on to add: "We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.

“The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost."

Sarah Newey has more here.

01:28 PM

How Covid might affect your heart

New research suggests those who fall seriously ill with coronavirus may subsequently suffer cardiac issues, writes John Naish.

After surviving Covid infection, most people simply recover to get on with their lives. But UK scientists are uncovering a hidden legacy. Stark evidence is emerging that many thousands of Britons who suffered serious illness when infected have been left with debilitating heart damage as a result of the virus attacking their major organs.

Covid has been considered to be primarily a lung infection. However, early results from large-scale national studies now suggest that up to one in eight hospitalised patients subsequently has signs that the virus has injured their hearts.

Colin Berry, professor of cardiology and imaging at the University of Glasgow, is leading one such study. His team has assessed a random sample of 161 recovering Covid patients, 90 per cent of whom had been hospitalised, and one in five of whom had needed high-level or intensive-care treatment. At between one and two months after discharge, their hearts, lungs and kidneys were medically scanned.

Read more here.

01:03 PM

‘Inedible’ hotel quarantine food in pictures

Food
Food
Food
Food
Food
Food
Food
Food

Cold food, people crying and requesting a 20-minute daily walk around a bleak car park isn't what most people would associate with a hotel stay.

But this is now the quarantine reality for people returning to the UK from South Africa.

Read more from Gareth Davies here.

12:40 PM

Japan confirms third case of omicron variant

Japan reported its third case of the new omicron variant, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed to take strict measures based on a worst-case scenario of a possible resurgence of infections.

Kishida said in a policy speech that he was taking no risks after previous criticism that Japan was too relaxed in its anti-virus measures.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the third confirmed case of the omicron strain is a man in his thirties who tested positive upon arrival from Italy at Tokyo's Haneda airport on December 1. The man has since been in isolation.

The Japanese authorities had already confirmed two cases of the omicron variant in travellers who arrived to Japan in late November.

12:23 PM

Take a test before you leave the house, urges Scotland’s deputy first minister

The deputy first minister of Scotland has encouraged people to do a Covid test every time they leave the house.

John Swinney
John Swinney

John Swinney told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme that he takes a lateral flow test every time he leaves his house, and urged others to do the same.

“We want people to increase the frequency of the use of lateral flow tests, away from the two times per week to much more frequently when they are socialising and interacting with others.

“Personally, I am now doing a lateral flow test every day I am going out with the prospect of meeting other members of the public outside my household.

“I would encourage others to do exactly the same, because that gives me confidence I’m protecting my household and it gives me confidence I’m protecting other people.”

12:06 PM

Poland to announce further pandemic curbs this week

The Polish Prime Minister has said his government will present a new package of pandemic restrictions this week in response to the omicron variant.

"Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow at the latest, we will present a second (package) related to the Christmas situation, and as reaction to the virus omicron mutation because the situation is not looking good... We have many deaths," Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

"We will strengthen the vaccination mechanism, making it compulsory for some jobs. We are considering this and we will certainly discuss stronger restrictions in certain places for people who are not vaccinated."

Pandemic restrictions in Poland are currently relatively limited. They include the wearing of masks in enclosed spaces and limits on the number of people allowed into public venues such as restaurants.

Only 54 per cent of Poles are fully vaccinated, lower than the 66.4 per cent average in the European Union.

11:53 AM

Argentina reports first case of omicron variant

Argentina has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a traveller from South Africa, the country's health ministry has announced.

The passenger is a 38-year-old resident of the western Argentine province of San Luis, who arrived on November 30 from South Africa on a flight via the United States and has been in isolation since.

The omicron variant has spooked global markets and led to renewed border restrictions. Argentina joined Brazil, Mexico and Chile on the list of Latin American countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.

The patient involved, who was fully vaccinated, had given a negative PCR test prior to travelling and another negative antigen test upon arrival in Buenos Aires, the ministry said.

The person tested again after finding out colleagues at a work event in South Africa had tested positive for Covid.

11:37 AM

'Inedible' food, tears and 20-minute daily walks around a car park - the grim reality of hotel quarantine

Hotel
Hotel

Cold food, people crying and requesting a 20-minute daily walk around a bleak car park isn't what most people would associate with a hotel stay.

But this is now the quarantine reality for people returning to the UK from South Africa, writes my colleague Gareth Davies.

One such couple serving time at one of the government-appointed hotels is Kate and Alex Freed.

After getting married in September, they booked their traditional post-nuptial trip to South Africa.

But the honeymoon period is well and truly over, stuck in an "awful" hotel overlooking Heathrow serving "inedible" food.

Perhaps the most grim condition is that they have to request to go for a walk outside.

Read more here.

11:13 AM

Labour leader urges government to lower price of Covid travel tests

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Government to do "whatever it can" to lower the price of Covid-19 pre-departure tests for travellers.

The Labour leader made the comments at the Macey Chemist vaccination centre in London.

On Saturday, it was announced that all travellers arriving in England will be required to take a pre-departure test from Tuesday.

Sir Keir said: "I would have liked to see the Government act more quickly. As ever, they are behind the curve. As soon as we saw the scientific evidence saying that (there) should be pre-departure tests, we called on the Government to do this last week. The Government delayed, as they always do.

"They've done it now, that's a good thing. But the Government needs to get ahead instead of being behind."

10:59 AM

Russia reports its first cases of omicron

Russia has reported its first confirmed cases of the new omicron variant, in two people who had returned from South Africa.

Russia’s consumer health regulator said that 10 people who returned from South Africa had tested positive for Covid-19. Omicron had been detected in two of these arrivals, reported Russian news agencies.

President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the Russian government to prepare an action plan to fight omicron, saying it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

The country has reported 1,184 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.

10:38 AM

Unvaccinated Italians barred from venues

Italy has banned unvaccinated people from going to the theatre, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events, under new rules introduced today.

Only those who have recently recovered from Covid-19 are exempt from the rules, which represents a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.

New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a 'Green Pass' showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test now required even on local services.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.

However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbours, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.

10:14 AM

Pandemic in pictures

Kingston, Canada:

Medical student Morgyn McKerlie draws outs Covid-19 vaccine of a drive-thru vaccine clinic - Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press 
Medical student Morgyn McKerlie draws outs Covid-19 vaccine of a drive-thru vaccine clinic - Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

Zhangjiakou, China:

A man locks a gate to prevent people entering a restricted area of Prince Ski Town,, as winter sports events are held in preparation for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The games will be held inside a bubble to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to the rest of the country  - Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images
A man locks a gate to prevent people entering a restricted area of Prince Ski Town,, as winter sports events are held in preparation for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The games will be held inside a bubble to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to the rest of the country - Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

Ronda, Spain:

Spanish legionnaires, wearing protective face masks, take part in a parade during a military ceremony in downtown Ronda - REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Spanish legionnaires, wearing protective face masks, take part in a parade during a military ceremony in downtown Ronda - REUTERS/Jon Nazca

10:05 AM

One in four people with cold-like symptoms have Covid, expert warns

People with cold-like symptoms should work from home and avoid Christmas parties in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to Tim Spector, from the Covid Zoe app - which tracks infections across the UK.

The professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London told Times Radio that between one in three and one in four colds are actually caused by Covid, and said Britain should be "much more open minded" about asking people with cold-like symptoms to isolate for "at least a few days".

"At the moment, we're estimating that somewhere between one and three and one in four colds are actually due to Covid," Prof Spector said. "And so that's quite a high rate of people that are currently not even bothered to get a lateral flow test, or getting a PCR test, going to parties and spreading it around.

"So if that transfers to Omicron then we're going to be compiling that problem much faster than we would need to."

He added: "We want to tell people that if you don't feel well that day, don't go out, don't go to work, work from home, because the start of that sniffle, the start of that sore throat, that headache could be a mild dose of Covid that is just breaking through your vaccine."

09:55 AM

Tony Blair: World must 'wake up' to need for universal genomic sequencing

The international community must do more to support universal genomic sequencing across the globe, especially to increase capacity in Africa, according to Tony Blair.

Launching a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the former prime minister said the omicron variant is "a wake-up call to the world on the need for universal genomic sequencing":

“Less than a quarter of the world has genomic sequencing capacity, and without it we can’t spot new variants early.

“By shutting down travel from countries like South Africa - the country which did the sequencing alerting the world to Omicron - governments are sending completely the wrong message. We need much more sequencing and maximum transparency to ensure variants are spotted and reported by governments worldwide as quickly as possible, without fear of negative consequences for doing so.”

The report calls for genomic sequencing to be expanded across Africa and connected to a global surveillance system, and said the continent must be supported to scale up testing capacity to process 100 PCR tests per 100,000 people per day.

09:40 AM

Watch: Pre-departure Covid-19 tests reintroduced for anyone travelling to the UK

09:26 AM

Covid ICU patients may take five years to 'reach normal lives again'

Critical care consultant Dr Zudin Puthucheary said it could be five years before Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) patients "reach their normal lives again". The member of the Intensive Care Society Council raised concerns that there are not enough staff to rehabilitate patients who are treated in ICUs.

He told Sky News: "People who have chosen to be unvaccinated make up the vast majority of patients on the intensive care unit at the moment, and certainly most of our pregnant patients are unvaccinated.

"These are the young people - the vast majority of them do survive, 60% of our patients are currently surviving.

"But that survival comes with a huge cost and that needs rehabilitation. We don't have the staff, have the resources to rehabilitate these patients, and it may be up to five years before they reach their normal lives again.

"But 40% of these people are dying, and they don't need to die had they been vaccinated."

Asked about winter pressures on the NHS, he said: "Things aren't great in hospitals right now. As we gear up for winter, we have intensive care units that are full, wards that are full and a dropping number of stuff."

09:14 AM

Keir Starmer gets a boost

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer receiving his Covid booster vaccination at a pharmacy in London. -  Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer receiving his Covid booster vaccination at a pharmacy in London. - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

09:04 AM

Boris Johnson denies travel restrictions introduced too late

Boris Johnson has denied scientists' allegations that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of omicron is like "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted".

Visiting police in Merseyside, the Prime Minister told reporters:

"No, I think what we're doing is responding to the pandemic. We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

"We're now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.

"I don't think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we're giving about Omicron in this country. We're still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations."

08:55 AM

First omicron cases detected in Thailand and Nepal

Omicron's spread is continuing. Thailand has detected its first case of the variant in an American citizen who had traveled to the country from Spain late last month, a health official said this morning.

The confirmed case in the man, who had arrived on Nov. ember29, makes Thailand the 47th country to have found the new variant, Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, told a news conference.

Opas said health authorities were conducting further tests of people who had come into contact with the man, but said all contacts so far were low risk.

Thailand has already banned travelers from eight African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe at the start of December amid concerns about the omicron variant.

Meanwhile Nepal also announced this morning that it has detected its first two cases of omicron.

We're keeping tabs on where the variant has been detected here:

08:42 AM

Nigerian high commissioner accuses UK of 'travel apartheid'

The Nigerian high commissioner to London, Sarafa Tunji Isola, said he agrees with the UN secretary-general who criticised measures imposed by various countries against African nations as "travel apartheid".

Asked about restrictions imposed by the UK, which come into force today, the commissioner told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

"The reaction in Nigeria is that of travel apartheid. Because Nigeria is actually aligned with the position of the UN secretary-general that the travel ban is apartheid, in the sense that we're not dealing with an endemic situation, we are dealing with a pandemic situation and what is expected is a global approach, not selective.

"(Omicron) is classified as a mild variant - no hospitalisation, no death. So the issue is quite different from the Delta variant. I mean, the position has to be taken based on scientific and empirical evidence. It is not a kind of panicky situation."

Related: Hundreds stranded in red list countries as quarantine hotels run out of space

08:31 AM

In pictures: Protests break out in Belgium over Covid measures

Belgian police fired water cannon on Sunday to disperse protesters opposed to compulsory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 8,000 people marched through Brussels towards the headquarters of the European Union, chanting "Freedom!" and letting off fireworks.

Demonstrators burn containers and things to block  - Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency
Demonstrators burn containers and things to block - Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency
People take part in an anti-coronavirus measures protest in Brussels  - OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
People take part in an anti-coronavirus measures protest in Brussels - OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Demonstrators confront riot police during a rally to protest against Belgium government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Image
Demonstrators confront riot police during a rally to protest against Belgium government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Image

Read our full report here.

08:21 AM

Labour will 'look into' reports Met weren't aware of Downing Street party

Anger over reports that No 10 held a Christmas party during restrictions last year is rumbling on, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said she will "look into" what communication there was with the Metropolitan Police about allegations a party took place in Downing Street.

Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said on Friday morning that she was not aware of any complaints being received on the issue at that stage.

But Ms Cooper told Sky News: "We may need to follow up on this but I just don't understand that response because you know, I understand that other MPs have raised it directly with her and also that it has been in the newspapers repeatedly.

"So I just simply don't understand this idea of them not being aware of it."

Pressed on the issue, the Labour MP said: "I wanted to find out what's happened because my understanding is that this has actually been raised with her and she has been sent questions about this by other MPs, by other London MPs. So I will look into what has happened here."

08:13 AM

Morning summary

Here's a quick look at the key developments to be aware of this morning:

  • In the UK, the omicron variant is “spreading rapidly” and could soon become the dominant Covid-19 strain, experts have warned, after case numbers surged by more than 50 per cent in a day.

  • Nearly two-thirds of housebound people are yet to receive Covid booster vaccines after many GPs opted out of delivering top-up jabs, The Telegraph can reveal.

  • Ministers are racing to expand quarantine hotels, as hundreds of Britons are stuck abroad in red-listed countries because the Government has run out of space.

  • Meanwhile Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert has warned that a future pandemic could be "more contagious" and "more lethal" than Covid-19, urging against complacency when preparing for new disease threats.

  • Elsewhere, Police fired teargas and used water cannons to disperse protesters pelting officers with cobblestones and fireworks as a demonstration in Brussels over government-imposed Covid-19 restrictions turned violent.

  • South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions, as the Omicron coronavirus variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa said today.

  • And Africa more broadly has little chance of overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic unless 70 per cent of its population is vaccinated by end-2022, yet "extreme vaccine discrimination" is leaving the continent behind, a report said.

08:02 AM

UK omicron Covid cases surge by 50 per cent in a day

The omicron variant is “spreading rapidly” in the UK and could soon become the dominant Covid-19 strain, experts have warned, after case numbers surged by more than 50 per cent in a day.

The number of confirmed cases in Britain rose to 246 on yesterday, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed, a rise of 86 in 24 hours, while “hundreds” more are likely to be circulating undetected.

There were 18 new cases in Scotland, with a rapidly escalating outbreak in the west of the country and the first confirmed case in the Edinburgh area, while the remaining 68 new infections were recorded in England.

While there is still uncertainty about the transmissibility of the strain and the extent to which it could prove resistant to vaccines, scientists warned that there was growing evidence that it spread far faster than the currently dominant delta variant.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, a government scientific adviser, told the BBC the omicron variant was "highly transmissible" and was spreading "very rapidly" in South Africa.

Daniel Sanderson has more details on this story here. And here's a look at the trajectory of the UK's outbreak:

07:58 AM

Minister to mask up and take test before rule-of-six Christmas party

Kit Malthouse has said he will be "masked up" and take a Covid test before joining a staff Christmas party with just five colleagues.

The policing minister told Sky News: "I will be taking my team for Christmas dinner next week out in the west end to support that industry.

"We will be masked up where appropriate and taking a LFT before going, as I did this morning... there will be six of us."

Last week Therese Coffee, the work and pensions secretary, urged people not to "snog" under the mistletoe, while others have cancelled their parties in favour of a Zoom bash.

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