Omicron latest news – New Covid travel rules TODAY as variant rapidly spreads through UK with 336 cases now confirmed

FACE mask rules are set to be extended into the New Year as Boris Johnson announced that Xmas is ON- and fights to avoid imposing tougher rules.

Last week emergency laws made face coverings mandatory in shops and on public transport until December 21.

However Whitehall sources have told the Daily Mail they are likely to be in place for another three weeks from that date, giving scientists more time to assess if new variant Omicron is more harmful than other strains. Rules on pre-travel Covid tests and a compulsory ten-day quarantine for anyone who has been in contact with an Omicron case are also expected to be extended.

A decision on whether to extend the measures is expected on December 18.

Read our Omicron live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Joseph Gamp

    Education minister vows to “do everything” to keep schools open amid Omicron concerns

    Nadhim Zahawi has vowed to do “everything in my power to keep schools open” amid concerns over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

    The Education Secretary told MPs that face-to-face learning must be prioritised, and advised schools to hold nativity events in the run-up to Christmas.

    Conservative MP Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) had claimed children are being treated in an “unethical and frankly inhumane way” in some schools owing to directors of public health going beyond Government guidance on Covid measures.

    Speaking in the Commons, Mr Zahawi told education questions: “Reducing transmission in schools is of the utmost importance to me and I will do everything in my power to keep schools open.”

    He said guidance has been provided over testing arrangements for when schools return in January.

    Conservative MP Kate Griffiths (Burton) also pressed the Secretary of State on CO2 monitors as they “can help staff quickly identify where ventilation needs to be increased in classrooms”.

    Mr Zahawi said: “Over 99% of eligible settings have now received a CO2 monitor, with over 320,000 now delivered. Final deliveries will be made before the end of term.”

  • Joseph Gamp

    Man drove at 122mph after going to Wales for a haircut during lockdown

    A man drove at speeds of 122mph after going to Wales for a haircut during lockdown.

    Robert White, 30, from Taunton, was also found to be driving under the influence of drugs when he was caught by police on the M5 in Somerset on March 17 this year.

    He has now been disqualified from driving for 32 months and, at Taunton Magistrates' Court, was fined £120 and ordered to pay £75 in court costs and a £34 victim surcharge, Avon and Somerset Police said.

    He was, at the time, given a fixed penalty notice for breach of Covid regulations as the second national lockdown was in place in England.

    Pc Owen Davies, of the roads policing unit, said: "White's driving on that day was reckless in the extreme. Not only was he driving at 122mph in a 70mph zone, but he was also under the influence of drugs at the time.

    "If he'd been involved in a collision while driving at that speed, it would have resulted in catastrophic consequences."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Martin Kemp dressed up as father Christmas for booster ad campaign

    Martin Kemp has dressed up as Father Christmas for a festive film encouraging the public to get vaccinated against coronavirus this winter.

    The video shows the actor and musician preparing for Christmas by booking an MOT for his sleigh, polishing his boots and trimming his beard.

    Kemp, who turned 60 in October, is also seen getting his coronavirus booster before heading out with a sack full of presents.

    He said: "We all know the run-up to Christmas can be one of the busiest times of the year – buying presents, decorating the tree, eating mince pies with family and friends.

    "I can't stress enough how important it is to tick your Covid-19 booster or flu jab off your 'to do' list this festive season, among all your other preparations, to ensure that you can enjoy Christmas with your loved ones.

    "It's quick and easy and will keep us all protected as best as possible this winter. Now go book your jabs – Father Christmas said so!"

  • Joseph Gamp

    Omicron variant spreading through the UK, Sajid Javid warns

    THE Omicron variant is spreading in communities across the UK, Sajid Javid revealed today.

    The Health Secretary announced there are now 336 cases of the new Covid strain in the country.

    In an update to MPs this afternoon, he said some of those infections aren't linked to international travel.

    And he warned the new mutant strain could "knock us off our road to recovery" if it turns out to be vaccine resistant.

    It came after Boris Johnson admitted he couldn't rule out snap Covid restrictions over Christmas and Downing Street said the PM would make an announcement before MPs break up for their holidays on December 16.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Theresa May warns Government against stopping and starting sectors of economy

    Former prime minister Theresa May has warned the Government against responding to new variants by "stopping and starting sectors of our economy".

    Mrs May was joined in the House of Commons by other senior Conservatives on the backbenches who questioned the Government's response to the Omicron variant – particularly when it comes to travel restrictions.

    Conservative former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers criticised the Government's decision to impose "new expensive requirements" for international travel.

    Former transport secretary Chris Grayling urged the Health Secretary to "face down the more conservative elements of the scientific community, do the right thing and keep the restrictions as minimal as possible".

    Mr Grayling said the new travel restrictions were "a real blow" for the industry.

    Mrs May said: "The early indications of Omicron are that it is more transmissible but potentially leads to less serious illness than other variants.

    "I understand that would be the normal progress of a virus. Variants will continue to appear year after year.

    "When is the Government going to accept that learning to live with Covid, which we will all have to do, means we will almost certainly have an annual vaccine and that we cannot respond to new variants by stopping and starting sectors of our economy which leads to businesses going under and jobs being lost?"

  • Joseph Gamp

    Why have the new rules on testing been introduced?

    The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant, increasing the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel.

    The HSA said that as of Saturday a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK – 25 of them in England.

    It takes the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK to 160.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Extension of booster jab campaign to running by December 13

    It comes after NHS England said that its ramped up booster jab programme would be in place by December 13 amid reports that people are struggling to get a booking.

    In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government announced it was extending the offer of a booster to all adults, with the time between the second and third jabs to be cut from six months to three.

    However, the booking service for the jabs has yet to be updated.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Tory MP criticises 'new, expensive travel requirements'

    Conservative former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers criticised the Government's decision to impose "new expensive requirements" for travel.

    She said: "What are we going to do to help the travel sector and when are we going to get to a stage where we deal with Covid without having to damage so significantly important parts of our own economy?"

    Sajid Javid said she is right to talk about the "challenges" faced by the travel sector, adding: "Not just the measures that have been taken here at home but, of course, the travel sector has been hit hard because of the international measures that have been taken by so many countries. Not just the UK-based decisions.

    "I think the answer really lies in making quick decisions about Omicron."

    The Health Secretary reiterated that the Government "will update the House and hopefully have much more data by next week and hopefully if that data is helpful, pressures can be eased".

  • Joseph Gamp

    Britain reports more than 51,000 new Covid-19 cases

    Britain on Monday reported 51,459 further cases of COVID-19 and 41 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

    That compares with 43,992 cases and 54 deaths reported a day earlier.

    Earlier, Britain's Health Security Agency said it found 90 new cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, taking the total number identified so far to 336.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Extra quarantine hotel spaces being made available

    Extra quarantine hotel spaces are being made available for people returning from red list countries in response to reports of shortages.

    There have been reports that some people have been unable to return to the UK because of a lack of rooms.

    The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "They are standing up additional rooms, effectively, for quarantine hotels."

    The "relatively swift emergence of the Omicron variant" had meant the need to reintroduce the red list.

    The Department of Health and Social Care had been keeping rooms "in reserve" which are now being used, the spokesman said.

    "We are adding further capacity to that as well," the spokesman added.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Education minister vows to "do everything" to keep schools open amid Omicron concerns

    Nadhim Zahawi has vowed to do "everything in my power to keep schools open" amid concerns over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

    The Education Secretary told MPs that face-to-face learning must be prioritised, and advised schools to hold nativity events in the run-up to Christmas.

    Conservative MP Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) had claimed children are being treated in an "unethical and frankly inhumane way" in some schools owing to directors of public health going beyond Government guidance on Covid measures.

    Speaking in the Commons, Mr Zahawi told education questions: "Reducing transmission in schools is of the utmost importance to me and I will do everything in my power to keep schools open."

    He said guidance has been provided over testing arrangements for when schools return in January.

    Conservative MP Kate Griffiths (Burton) also pressed the Secretary of State on CO2 monitors as they "can help staff quickly identify where ventilation needs to be increased in classrooms".

    Mr Zahawi said: "Over 99% of eligible settings have now received a CO2 monitor, with over 320,000 now delivered. Final deliveries will be made before the end of term."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Dame Sarah Gilbert says another outbreak could be ‘more lethal’ than first pandemic

    Another pandemic will threaten human lives and could be “more contagious” and “more lethal”, one of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine inventors has warned.

    Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture, said the scientific advances made in research against fighting deadly viruses “must not be lost”.

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

    She went on to say: “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.”

  • Joseph Gamp

    Policing minister slams 'travel apartheid' comments as 'very unfortunate language'

    Policing minister Kit Malthouse said while he understands the difficulties caused by such measures, the phrase "travel apartheid" is "very unfortunate language".

    He told Today: "It's very unfortunate language to use.

    "We understand the difficulties that's created by these travel restrictions, but we're trying to buy a little bit of time so that our scientists at Porton Down can work on the virus and assess how difficult it's going to be for us to cope with as a country."

    Announcing the measure on Saturday, the Government said the vast majority of cases in the UK have clear links to overseas travel from South Africa and Nigeria.

    At that stage officials said that, over the previous week, 21 Omicron cases reported in England originated from Nigeria.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Croatia confirms first two cases on Omicron

    Croatia confirmed on Monday its first two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the state health institute said.

    "We are not sure about the source of the infection as neither of those two people had travelled abroad. We believe they got infected at a business meeting at which both participated," said Bernard Kaic, an epidemiologist at the state health institute.

    Guests from abroad had been present at the business meeting, he added.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Sajid Javid to update MPs in Commons this afternoon

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid will update MPs on the latest Covid-19 developments in a Commons statement on Monday afternoon.

    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.

    It comes after the health secretary this weekend announced tougher travel rules.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Boris Johnson defends new Omicron travel rules

    On a visit to Merseyside on Monday, Mr Johnson told reporters: "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."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Extension of booster jab campaign to running by December 13

    It comes after NHS England said that its ramped up booster jab programme would be in place by December 13 amid reports that people are struggling to get a booking.

    In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government announced it was extending the offer of a booster to all adults, with the time between the second and third jabs to be cut from six months to three.

    However, the booking service for the jabs has yet to be updated.

  • Joseph Gamp

    UK vaccination programme ‘a national mission’

    In a statement, Mr Javid called the vaccination programme a “national mission”.

    “Christmas is around the corner and it’s absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets their booster jab to top-up their immunity before spending time with loved ones,” he said.

    “While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

    “This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can.”

  • Joseph Gamp

    Omicron starting to impact shopper behaviour

    The emergence of the new coronavirus Omicron variant is starting to impact shopper behaviour, researcher Springboard said on Monday.

    It said that in the week to Dec. 4 whilst shopper numbers in central London rose by 0.5% versus the previous week, its Central London "Back to the Office Benchmark" fell 2% and there was a 3.8% drop in footfall in regional cities outside of the capital.

    Springboard said footfall in UK retail destinations as a whole rose by 0.7% in the week versus the previous week.

  • Joseph Gamp

    No.10 facing pressure to explain Xmas party during restrictions

    The policing minister conceded he knows "nothing about" a Christmas party held in No 10 during coronavirus restrictions but said he believes no rules were broken.

    Kit Malthouse said on Monday he would take Downing Street's insistence that all regulations were complied with during the reported bash on December 18 at "face value".

    He also suggested there may have been circumstances such as distancing between attendees that would have permitted the gathering – despite London being in Tier 3 banning social mixing indoors at the time.

    No 10 is under growing pressure to explain what happened in Downing Street last year, as the Metropolitan Police said it was considering complaints submitted by two Labour MPs.

    The Daily Mirror reported two events took place in No 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season, including Boris Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November's lockdown.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Labour leader warns people to not be dissuaded from Covid booster shots

    Sir Keir Starmer urged people not to allow "misinformation" to put them off getting their Covid-19 vaccinations, after he received his booster jab.

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

    He said: "I would encourage absolutely everyone who is eligible to come forward and have their booster. Don't be taken in by the misinformation.

    "Come forward, have your booster, think of yourself, think of others, think of your communities. Places like this are open. It's quick, it's easy. Please do it."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Starmer urges Government to 'do what it can' to lower pre-departure tests

    Sir Keir Starmer 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 Monday.

    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."

    He added: "I also want to see the Government doing whatever it can to bring the price of these tests down because lots of people… (are) getting really hammered by prices that can't be justified."

  • Joseph Gamp

    People with flu-like symptoms advised to self-isolate

    Professor Tim Spector said people with cold-like symptoms should isolate for the first few days while they are most contagious.

    "That's when you're most contagious, that's when you're most likely to transmit," the professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London told Times Radio.

    "Whether it's a respiratory virus, you're just giving someone a cold, or you might be giving them Omicron or Delta, then it's those first few days.

    "And so we should really be encouraging people not to come in to the office, not to go to that Christmas party if they're feeling unwell.

    "Take a test and then, when the symptoms subside, then they can come out – it doesn't have to be 10 days but just those first few days are probably the most crucial.

    "I think we need to get that message out there if we're going to really have an impact in the next few weeks."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Russia reports fist cases of Omicron variant

    Russia has today reported its first confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Russian news agencies reported, in two people who returned from South Africa.

    Interfax cited consumer health regulator Rospotrebnadzor as saying that 10 people who returned from South Africa had tested positive for COVID-19.

    RIA said Omicron had been detected in two arrivals from South Africa.

    It comes after Vladimir Putin ordered the government to prepare an action plan to fight Omicron last week, saying it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

  • Joseph Gamp

    No.10 facing continuing pressure to explain Christmas party during restrictions

    The policing minister conceded he knows "nothing about" a Christmas party held in No 10 during coronavirus restrictions but said he believes no rules were broken.

    Kit Malthouse said on Monday he would take Downing Street's insistence that all regulations were complied with during the reported bash on December 18 at "face value".

    He also suggested there may have been circumstances such as distancing between attendees that would have permitted the gathering – despite London being in Tier 3 banning social mixing indoors at the time.

    No 10 is under growing pressure to explain what happened in Downing Street last year, as the Metropolitan Police said it was considering complaints submitted by two Labour MPs.

    The Daily Mirror reported two events took place in No 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season, including Boris Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November's lockdown.

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