Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief's socialising warning

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Getty Face masks.jpg

LIVE – Updated at 12:58

Britons are being urged to reduce the amount of time they spend socialising, with health officials warning this change could help to limit how quickly the new omicron Covid variant is able to spread.

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier that people ought to consider changing their “winter behaviours” and “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”.

Her advice was backed up by Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who later told Sky News the next few weeks should be considered “a time for people to be careful to stay at home when they can to avoid contact with others”.

It comes as the government’s measures to combat the variant came into force at 4am on Tuesday, with face masks becoming mandatory once again in England’s shops and settings such as post offices, hairdressers and public transport. In a tweet, the PM described the new rules – which include tighter border controls – as “proportionate and responsible” and said they “buy us time in the face of this new variant”.

Follow our live coverage below

Key Points

  • Cut ‘unnecessary’ social time to reduce spread of omicron, warn health officials
  • Face masks and PCRs: Covid measures return in England
  • New rules ‘proportionate and responsible,’ insists PM
  • Health minister: Government ‘hoping to keep Christmas on track’
  • Police officers to enforce face mask wearing in shops and on trains
  • ‘Boris Johnson doesn’t wear one’: Londoners react to mask return

PM to be joined by Javid and NHS chief exec at press conference

12:50 , Lamiat Sabin

Boris Johnson will be joined by health secretary Sajid Javid and NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard at the 4pm press conference in Downing Street, it has been announced.

The PM is expected to defend new measures brought in across England, after the discovery of the omicron variant, and encourage unvaccinated people to take up their jabs – including those eligible for booster vaccines.

New rules for travellers to Hong Kong, India, and Ecuador

12:40 , Lamiat Sabin

Hong Kong, India and Ecuador have introduced new strict rules for international arrivals in response to the omicron variant.

The rules involve many stipulations and exemptions – depending on which country a person is travelling from, and their vaccination status – so check out the report here by Helen Coffey for the full details:

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Hong Kong, India and Ecuador impose tighter entry restrictions for travellers

It comes after Japan, Morocco and Israel banned international visitors entirely amid fears that omicron could be more transmissible – and able to evade immunity – than the dominant delta variant.

Also, Switzerland has imposed a 10-day quarantine on all British travellers, while Spain has said only double-jabbed Brits will be permitted to enter the country.

‘Mask rule ought to apply to hospitality sector’ – Unite union

12:30 , Lamiat Sabin

Trade union Unite has called for face coverings to also become mandatory in pubs, cafes and restaurants after they were not included in the rule change.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “We must ask why hospitality is the only area in the public arena where face masks are not compulsory.

“Does the Government consider the health and safety of hospitality workers less of a priority than that of workers in other sectors?

“It is outrageous that hospitality workers are being left to police the wearing of face masks due to the lack of proper mandatory rules or effective legislation.”

Member of public suggests face masks ‘distraction’ from Tory sleaze

12:15 , Lamiat Sabin

Public opinion is still very much split on the use of face masks in public settings, as one man demonstrated this morning.

Marc Zinnendor, who was travelling from Paddington to Kingham, in Oxfordshire, told the PA news agency he has no intention of starting to wear a face mask again.

“I never wear them,” the 52-year-old said. “They don’t work, they’re just a distraction from the Peppa Pig World disaster and all the Tory sleaze accusations. I think [Boris Johnson] just wanted to get Covid back into the headlines, that’s my take on it. I work in strategy, that’s exactly what I would do.”

Mr Zinnendor, who works in telecommunications, described face masks as “courtesy coverings”, saying the rules on them don’t add up.

“It’s pretty pointless – you go on a train, you have to wear them, then you go to the office, you don’t have to wear them, you go to the restaurant, you don’t have to wear them, you go to a shop, you have to wear them,” he said.

“There’s no consistency in any of that.”

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent Commuters walk over London Bridge station on the morning face masks became mandatory once more in England (EPA)

ICYMI: Watch WHO say omicron variant shows how ‘perilous’ Covid is

12:01 , Sam Hancock

Greece to make Covid jabs obligatory for over-60s

11:44 , Sam Hancock

Greece is to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over, in a drastic move to stem a new surge in coronavirus cases.

The measure will come into force each month from 16 January, with anyone in that age group who is not vaccinated facing a 100 euro (£85) fine.

Greece becomes the second European country, after Austria, to make such a move.

Read the full report:

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Greece to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for over-60s

‘Hokey cokey’: Sadiq Khan urges government to keep up mask mandate

11:41 , Sam Hancock

The Mayor of London has warned the government against enforcing, and then changing, rules on mandatory face masks in England – as has been the custom in previous waves of Covid infections.

Said Khan said he didn’t want a “hokey cokey on mask wearing, where the government reviews and increases rules each time”.

“As far as I’m concerned, on public transport, because more often than not we’ve got to be confined and can’t maintain social distancing, let’s keep it mandatory – with the backup of the police and with the backup of fines.”

He continued that this should remain the case even if in three weeks time, omicron is discovered to be “less of a risk than people think”.

“Let’s not have a hokey cokey on masks”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan implores the government to keep the mask mandate on public transport even if Omicron is “not as bad as some fear”.#KayBurley

— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 30, 2021

Boris Johnson to address nation at 4pm

11:33 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson will give a Covid press briefing from Downing Street this afternoon, during which he is expected to defend new measures brought in across England and encourage unvaccinated individuals to take up their jabs.

He will also encourage those who have already received two doses of a jab to accept the offer of a third, so-called booster shot when it is given to them.

The PM will speak at around 4pm.

First suspected omicron case found in South Korea – report

11:31 , Sam Hancock

Over to South Korea now, where health authorities believe they have detected the first case of the omicron Covid variant as the nation moved to tighten its entry restrictions for Africa.

Officials conducted a genome sequencing test on a couple who recently arrived in the east Asian nation from Nigeria and had tested positive for Covid.

The couple, who were fully vaccinated, visited Nigeria on 14 to 23 November and tested positive last Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Tests were under way to establish if they have contracted the omicron variant, the KDCA said. The result will be announced on Wednesday.

(LEAD) First suspected case of omicron variant detected in S. Korea

— Yonhap News Agency (@YonhapNews) November 30, 2021

Britons risk waiting up to six months for booster jabs, prof warns

11:24 , Sam Hancock

A professor is warning that despite reduced interval time between second jabs and boosters, it will likely still be “a period of months” before some people are called forward.

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, pointed to issues such as a number of vaccine hubs having “reverted to their everyday use” and volunteers returning to work as reason for this.

“I don’t think it’s going to be possible to get the same kind of speed and capacity as we as we saw earlier [in the year],” the academic told talkRadio.

“So allowing people to get jabs from three months after their last dose, in practice, I suspect that most, mostly it will be for four or five, even six months.”

Having said that, Prof Dingwall said he “certainly” encouraged anybody who is invited “to come forward and to take up the offer” of a booster jab.

Uni of Oxford insists AstraZeneca vaccine can be updated ‘if necessary’

10:55 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (just before 10am) about potential new Covid vaccines, the University of Oxford has said it can “rapidly” update its jab with AstraZeneca “if it should be necessary”.

“Due to the very recent discovery of the new omicron strain of coronavirus, there are limited data available at this time,” a spokesperson for the university said, adding:

“As with any new variant, we will carefully evaluate the implications of the emergence of B.1.1.529 for vaccine immunity.

“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that omicron is any different.”

They insisted scientists at the university “have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated Covid-19 vaccine if it should be necessary”.

‘Continue with Christmas plans, but be cautious,’ says health minister

10:45 , Sam Hancock

‘Boris Johnson doesn’t wear one’: Londoners react to mask return

10:35 , Sam Hancock

Face coverings have become mandatory again on public transport and in shops in England, in an effort to slow the spread of the new omicron variant.

The rules returned from 4am on Tuesday, with those who refuse to comply facing fines of up to £200.

Londoners who spoke to The Independent this morning largely thought restrictions on face coverings should never have been relaxed in the first place.

Some, however, were adamant to continue not wearing a mask despite the threat of a fine for rule breakers.

Thomas Kingsley spoke to commuters this morning:

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

‘Boris Johnson doesn’t even wear one’: Londoners react to mask mandate return

Police officers to enforce face mask wearing in shops and on trains

10:25 , Sam Hancock

Police have announced they will be on hand over the coming days to remind members of the public not wearing masks to do so.

Asst chief constable Owen Weatherill, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said in a statement:

“Police forces will increase officer visibility where possible in high risk and crowded areas, such as towns and shopping centres, and near transport hubs. If officers encounter individuals not wearing a face covering on public transport or in shops, they will engage with them, explain the risks and encourage them to comply with the new rules.

“Forces will continue to enforce coronavirus regulations where it is necessary to do so. We will support transport and retail staff in ensuring people wear face coverings in line with the regulations.

“We will work closely with businesses and will continue to respond to incidents where individuals are violent or abusive towards staff or members of the public.“

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent An officer speaks to a member of the public riding an e-scooter (PA Archive)

Responsibility to wear masks put back on British public

10:15 , Sam Hancock

Last bit from health minister Gillian Keegan now, who said this morning mask-wearing will be down to “the good sense of British people”.

Asked how new rules around wearing face coverings on public transport will be enforced, Ms Keegan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, largely due to the good sense of British people who will hopefully listen to the rules, try to protect each other, and do what the right thing is.

“That’s largely how it’s always been. That’s pretty much what it’s always been, but the police do have powers to enforce.”

Ms Keegan said the UK has not been “completely draconian” with enforcement as some other countries have, but she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain it will be up to retailers and transport workers to decide whether they need police help.

“They will have to make the judgment when they should call the police or not,” she said.

How are you expecting shops & public transport to enforce mask-wearing? – @susannareid100

Gillian Keegan says it’s up to the police to enforce the laws and workers ‘will have to make the judgement of when they should call the police.’

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) November 30, 2021

Vegan dies of Covid after refusing vaccine over animal testing

10:08 , Sam Hancock

A vegan man who rejected the Covid-19 vaccine citing concerns about animal cruelty, died regretting his decision, his wife said.

Glynn Steel “begged for the vaccine,” his wife Emma Steel said, before he was shifted to life support. But by then it was too late for the medicine to be effective on him, she said.

“The last thing Glynn (Steel) said to me was ‘I have never felt so ill, I wish that I had the vaccine’,” Ms Steel, who is double-vaccinated, told reporters, adding that her husband “was a very gentle soul, he was a vegan and didn’t want the Covid vaccine because it was tested on animals”.

Just a week after being shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), a seriously ill Steel died of Covid-19 on 16 November, according to Ms Steel’s GoFundMe page set up to arrange funds for his funeral.

Arpan Rai reports:

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Vegan dies of Covid-19 after refusing vaccine over animal testing

Officials insist new omicron vaccine will be made if necessary

09:50 , Sam Hancock

A leading professor has insisted scientists are prepared for the possibility of a new vaccine to fight the omicron variant, “if we get to that situation”.

Asked about the prospect of developing new vaccines, should they be needed to tackle the new Covid variant, Sage member Prof Paul Moss told Sky News: “Well, as you know, the companies have already started – the gene has been cloned, but typically talking around 100 days.

“We’ve learned so much in the last 18 months – nobody felt we would get a vaccine within a year when the pandemic started, and we did – we got several.”

He continued: “So it will be accelerated and, of course, if we were in that severe situation – but I really hope that we won’t get to, by the way – we’re very well prepared. We know what to do.”

Speaking to the broadcaster later on, Labour MP Lisa Nandy remained calm and reminded viewers there are enough vaccines in the world to inoculate every adult.

“That’s not the challenge anymore,” the new shadow levelling up secretary said. “The challenge is to get them out across the world.”

Johnson insists new rules ‘buy us time in face of new variant’

09:40 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (8.12am), Boris Johnson has tweeted about the change in Covid rules today, repeating that new restrictions are “proportionate and responsible”.

The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new variant.

Vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 30, 2021

Watch: 12- to 15-year-olds to be offered second Pfizer dose in UK

09:31 , Sam Hancock

Covid inquiry must look at NHS 111 ‘mishandling’ – bereaved families

09:14 , Sam Hancock

The inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic should look at the “mishandling” of the NHS 111 service, families bereaved during the crisis have said.

In a scathing report, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said the service was inappropriately used to “alleviate the burden on the NHS” with “horrific” consequences, writes our policy correspondent Jon Stone.

The report, based on a survey of families, said many believed that the service “failed to recognise how seriously ill their relatives were and direct them to appropriate care”.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Covid inquiry must look at NHS 111 ‘mishandling’, bereaved families say

Rumblings of ‘unnecessary socialising’ amid rule changes

09:13 , Sam Hancock

A number of health officials have begun encouraging the British public to stop socialising unnecessarily, as the government attempts to curb the spread of the new omicron variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), plainly told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier people could do their bit by reducing the number of social contacts they have.

She said that “our behaviours in winter and particularly around Christmas [are that] we tend to socialise more, so I think that will need to be taken into account”.

Asked about working from home, Dr Harries seemed less clear. “We’ve seen that not everybody has gone back to work and I’d like to think of it more in a general way, which is if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay,” she said.

“So I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jobs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a three-month interval from their primary course.”

Meanwhile, Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), urged people to do “anything that they can do to reduce the risk” of catching Covid.

“It’s a time for people to be careful to stay at home when they can to avoid contact with others just to help us get through this difficult period,” he told Sky News, while encouraging people to take regular lateral flow tests and do all they can to “minimise the risk”.

Prof warns government and NHS to act ‘immediately’ against omicron

08:49 , Sam Hancock

Let’s get some expert commentary now. Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said the UK must “act immediately and not wait” after more cases of the omicron variant were discovered across the UK.

“It is a possibility that this will not turn out to be a major problem but there are lots of signs that suggest that it might,” he warned.

“It looks like it’s quite a transmissible virus. We don’t really yet know whether it causes worse disease. It may well not do that. But the main question is whether it’s able to evade the immunity that we’ve got to some extent from the vaccine so far and the infections we’ve all had.

Prof Finn also warned that the Covid vaccination programme “is all about speed”, which means the NHS will be up against it in the race to protect as many members of the public from omicron as possible.

He told the BBC: “So the two challenges are going to be the logistics of actually delivering so much vaccine in a very short time and of course, it’s important that people come forward and receive those jabs in good time so that they can build up that extra immunity that we need to be sure that we’re protected against this new variant.

“[It’s going to be a] challenging month ahead for the NHS.”

Professor Adam Finn from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation tells #BBCBreakfast Omicron needs to be taken seriously.

The booster vaccine rollout is being extended as part of efforts to tackle the new coronavirus variant.

— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) November 30, 2021

Nine cases of omicron in Scotland and five in England

08:36 , Sam Hancock

As on Tuesday morning, nine cases of the omicron Covid variant have been identified in Scotland, the country’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said.

He said there are now five cases in the Lanarkshire area and four in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, up from the six across the two areas announced on Monday.

Asked if there was any connection between Cop26 or a recent South Africa rugby match, he told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “There’s nothing that links these cases or indeed the variant back to Cop26 or indeed the rugby match.

“There’s nothing that indicates these cases or this new variant has come via the rugby or Cop26 but that work of course is still ongoing.”

Two new cases were also found in London overnight, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said earlier.

These figures bring the UK’s total number of omicron cases to 14.

Health minister: Government ‘hoping to keep Christmas on track’

08:28 , Sam Hancock

Back to health minister Gillian Keegan now, who has repeated claims made by Sajid Javid that the government is “very much hoping we can keep Christmas on track”.

She said the position this year was much different to last due to the vaccine rollout.

“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 told Sky News.

She added that the chances of having to stay away from family again over Christmas were “pretty low”, but did acknowledge there was a possibility some people could find themselves in self-isolation over the festive period – especially if they are exposed to the omicron variant.

“You could be self-isolating over Christmas”, says Health Minister Gillian Keegan, adding “Christmas is on track” despite the new Omicron variant of #COVID19.#KayBurley

— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 30, 2021

ICYMI: Watch Sajid Javid escort reporter to get Covid booster jab

08:20 , Sam Hancock

Better to ‘overreact’ than ‘underreact,’ says health minister

08:18 , Sam Hancock

Gillian Keegan, one of Britain’s health ministers, has defended new Covid measures being enforced today as an adequate response to an unfolding situation.

After telling Sky News “the scientists need a couple more weeks” to look at the omicron variant’s potential impact, it was put to Ms Keegan that the government could be “overreacting” with their decision to make face masks mandatory once more, and reintroduce PCRs for all UK arrivals.

“I’d rather overreact than underreact at this point,” the Tory MP snapped back at Sky’s Kay Burley.

She added: “We’ve been so here many times … and we’d rather be stronger to face any new variants.”

“I’d rather overreact than underreact at this point”

Health Minister Gillian Keegan says the UK “would rather be stronger to face any new variants”, adding scientists need a “couple of weeks” to study the Omicron’s impact on vaccines.#COVID

— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 30, 2021

New measures ‘proportionate and responsible,’ says PM

08:12 , Sam Hancock

Let’s hear from Boris Johnson now, who released a statement this morning about the necessity of the new measures.

The PM said:

“The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new variant.

“Based on everything we know, our vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.

“Not only will today’s steps help us slow down the variant’s spread, but they will help us protect each other and the gains we have all worked so hard for.”

Face masks and PCRs: Omicron measures come into force in England

08:11 , Sam Hancock

Measures to combat the new omicron Covid variant of coronavirus come into force on Tuesday, with face coverings compulsory in England’s shops and settings such as banks, post offices, hairdressers, and public transport.

All travellers returning to the UK must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced that all adults aged 18 to 39 will be offered a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection. Those aged 40 and over are already eligible for a booster vaccine.

In further advice, young people aged 12 to 15 will also be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

The NHS said it will shortly set out how staff will expand the booster programme.

Australia on alert for omicron community cases

07:03 , Namita Singh

Australian authorities are racing to track the contacts of a person suspected to be infected with the omicron variant after they spent time in the community visiting a busy shopping centre in Sydney.

The traveller arrived in Sydney last week before the latest border restrictions, and though the person was fully vaccinated, health authorities suspect they were likely infectious when they visited the shopping centre.

All passengers in the person’s flight have been directed to isolate themselves for two weeks regardless of their vaccination status. If confirmed, the total number of omicron cases in Australia will rise to six.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent International travellers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) arrive at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on 29 November 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

World squash championship in Malaysia called off

06:08 , Namita Singh

The men’s World Team Squash Championship in Malaysia has been cancelled due to concerns over the omicron variant, announced the World Squash Federation.

The tournament was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur between 7 and 12 December after it was moved from Tauranga, New Zealand in May. However, several countries imposed travel restrictions following the identification of the new variant, prompting the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) to inform the WSF of the decision to scrap the upcoming tournament.

“We’re extremely disappointed to announce that this year’s WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship has been cancelled. Together with SRAM, we have worked very hard to put the event on against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which had already caused us to move the event from Tauranga in New Zealand,” said WSF President Zena Wooldridge.

The upcoming WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championships have been cancelled.

WSF statement ⬇️

— World Squash (@WorldSquash) November 29, 2021

CDC urges all adults to get booster shot

05:38 , Namita Singh

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged all adults to get a booster dose if at least six months have passed since their second dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and two months after the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Today, CDC is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older,” CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

“The recent emergence of the omicron variant further emphasises the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against Covid-19,” she added.

“Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant. I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness.”

CDC is strengthening its recommendation on #COVID19 vaccine booster doses. Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after initial J&J vaccine. Learn more:

— CDC (@CDCgov) November 29, 2021

South Africa says it is seeing ‘very low hospitalisation’ from omicron

05:17 , Namita Singh

India’s health authorities have reportedly spoken to their South African counterparts about the situation with the outbreak of the omicron variant there, according to media reports.

South African health officials said that while they had found the new variant to be “highly transmissible”, it is also resulting in “very low [rates of] hospitalisation”, reported the Indian Express citing sources on the Indian side.

In their communication to the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Centre for Disease Control, the South African authorities reportedly said that omicron has resulted in no deaths so far and it only manifests itself in “the form of mild disease with extreme fatigue and throat irritation being the predominant symptoms”.

Patients are not experiencing symptoms like loss of sense of smell and taste or drop in oxygen levels, which was very widely observed in India and elsewhere as the delta variant spread across the world.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent A healthcare worker conducts a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test on a traveller at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on 27 November 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Biden says omicron ‘cause for concern, not panic’

04:47 , Namita Singh

President Joe Biden on Monday said that the new omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

Making it clear that he does not intend to lock down the country, the president in his address from the White House advocated for more widespread vaccination within the country and across the world.

“We need to do more than vaccinate Americans,” Mr Biden said. “To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well. America is leading that effort. We’ve shipped, for free, more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined — over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries.”

Mr Biden however, reiterated his commitment to vaccinating Americans first. “Not a single vaccine shot Americans send to another part of the world will ever come at the expense of any American,” he said.

“I will always make sure our people are protected first. But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.”

My simple message to folks worried about the Omicron variant: Get

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 30, 2021

LA begins enforcement of strict vaccine mandate

04:09 , Namita Singh

LA on Monday began the enforcement of one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the US, requiring proof of vaccine from everyone entering a host of indoor businesses. These will include restaurants, theatres, gyms and nail and hair salons.

While the latest order took effect from 8 November, city officials spent the past three weeks working to equip business owners with information and resources they would need to comply.

“Nobody wants to penalise anyone,” said Sharon Tso, the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst, whose office drafted the enforcement rules. “That’s why we’ve been prioritising education.”

A first offence will invite a warning, but subsequent violations could invite fines running from $1,000 to $5,000. Ms Tso said that the inspectors with the Department of Building and Safety will enforce the mandate, adding that the city might eventually get assistance from the LA County Department of Public Health.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent Travellers with their luggage walk past the Covid-19 Testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, California on 23 November 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Hong Kong bans non-resident arrivals from 13 more countries

03:37 , Namita Singh

Hong Kong banned the arrival of non-residents from four African countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the government said that while it will allow in vaccinated residents of the financial hub, those returning to the city will have to quarantine themselves for seven days at a government facility and another two weeks at a hotel at their own cost.

“Non-Hong Kong residents from these four places will not be allowed to enter Hong Kong,” the statement said. “The most stringent quarantine requirements will also be implemented on relevant inbound travellers from these places.”

The government said that non-residents who have been to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy in the past three weeks would also not be allowed to enter the city from 2 December onwards.

It added that the fully vaccinated residents from these countries will have to quarantine in a hotel for three weeks. Hong Kong had banned non-residents from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe last week.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent People leave the Regal Airport Hotel at Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong on 26 November 2021, where a new Covid-19 variant deemed a ‘major threat’ (AFP via Getty Images)

Wes Streeting made shadow health secretary

Monday 29 November 2021 22:15 , Liam James

Wes Streeting has been appointed as shadow health secretary just four months after he returned to the Labour frontbench after beating cancer.

In a tweet shortly after the announcement, he said: “Delighted to have been appointed as shadow health and social care secretary.

“This year the NHS saved my life and staff across health and social care are getting us through the worst pandemic in living memory.

Closing schools ‘last possible option’, says Zahawi

Monday 29 November 2021 21:30 , Liam James

Closing schools is the last possible option in the fight against the new omicron variant of coronavirus, the education secretary has said.

Nadhim Zahawi said he does not support the return of “bubbles” in schools – where whole classes or year groups could be sent home after a positive Covid-19 test – as it reduces attendance “significantly”.

His comments came as targeted testing of pupils began in two schools in Essex and Nottinghamshire after cases of the omicron variant were detected in the local areas.

On ITV earlier he was asked if closing schools was the “last possible option”, he said: “Absolutely.”

“Keep schools open: do all the things necessary, like face masks in communal areas… to protect the education in the classroom.

“Face masks are not a panacea… these are all interventions that just help you slow the virus… from accelerating too quickly.”

Omicron: Everything we know about the new Covid variant

Monday 29 November 2021 20:49 , Liam James

We’ve updated our guide on the omicron variant with the latest from today.

There’s about as much as here is to know in there, and we’re keeping it up to date as more is learned about this new variant.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Everything we know about the new ‘omicron’ variant

Inbound tourism firms ‘skating on thin ice’

Monday 29 November 2021 20:20 , Liam James

The number of international visitors to the UK is expected to be down 75 per cent in November and December compared with the same period in 2019, refelecting a loss of tourism revenue in the billions.

In a poll of members of tourism association UKInbound, 89 per cent said the number of international arrivals would be lower than 2019 figures.

Joss Croft, boss of UKInbound, said the inbound tourism sector was already struggling but the announcement of new Covid restrictions had sent “shockwaves” through the industry.

“With annual revenues down 93 per cent and international visitors expected to be down 75 per cent during a critical part of the year, Christmas, businesses are skating on thin ice,” he said.

Portugal reports 13 cases of omicron variant

Monday 29 November 2021 19:55 , Liam James

Portugal has detected 13 cases of the omicron variant, all involving players and staff members of Lisbon soccer club Belenenses SAD after one player recently returned from South Africa, health authority DGS said.

Omicron ‘not cause for panic’, says Biden

Monday 29 November 2021 19:26 , Liam James

Joe Biden urged Americans not to panic over the omicron variant of Covid-19 and said the US government was working with pharmaceutical companies to make contingency plans if new vaccines were needed.

The president said the country would not go back to lockdowns this winter, but urged people to get vaccinated, get their boosters and wear masks.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden told the press after a meeting with his Covid-19 team.

The US has yet to report a case of the new variant. It is known to be in North America though, with Canada reporting cases yesterday.

Spain reports first case of omicron variant

Monday 29 November 2021 18:58 , Liam James

Spain has reported its first case of the omicron variant.

The traveller was a 51-year-old who had flown back to Madrid from South Africa, via Amsterdam, said a statement from Madrid’s regional government.

“The patient has light symptoms and is undergoing quarantine,” the statement added.

Latest Covid data

Monday 29 November 2021 18:40 , Liam James

A further 42,583 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK on Monday, down from 44,434 last Monday.

A further 35 people had died from the virus by 9am on Monday, according to government data.

Jeremy Hunt says Omicron is ‘a symptom of the failure of Western countries to share vaccines around the world’

Monday 29 November 2021 18:22 , Liam James

Thousands join virtual queue to book Covid booster vaccine

Monday 29 November 2021 18:08 , Liam James

Thousands of people have been queueing to register for a Covid booster vaccine on the NHS website after it was revealed that all people aged 18 and over are to be offered a third jab to tackle the spread of the new omicron variant.

There were reports of people waiting in a queue to access the booking page for five minutes or more, with 3,000 held in a virtual line ready to book.

MPs to vote on new restrictions tomorrow

Monday 29 November 2021 17:54 , Liam James

MPs will debate and vote on new Covid restrictions in England, including face coverings in shops and public transport, on Tuesday.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, confirmed the scheduling in a statement to the House.

The rules will be reviewed in three weeks, by which time the government expects to have more information about the effect of the omicron variant on vaccinated people.

Sajid Javid refuses to rule out return to lockdown

Monday 29 November 2021 17:40 , Liam James

Health secretary Sajid Javid has refused to rule out a new lockdown in England in response to the threat of the omicron variant of Covid-19, writes Andrew Woodcock.

Mr Javid told MPs than no-one wanted to see a return to measures of the sort deployed when the coronavirus first emerged last year.

But he was unable to give a positive response to Tory MP Richard Drax’s plea for a pledge “that he will never ever go back to locking this country down”.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Javid refuses to rule out return to lockdown in response to Omicron variant of Covid

‘No plans’ to close schools early due to omicron, says health secretary

Monday 29 November 2021 17:30 , Liam James

The health secretary said he was not aware of any plans to close schools early for Christmas break due to concerns over the new variant.

Mr Javid said: “When it comes to the risk to children from Covid in general, it is a lot less, thankfully, than it is to adults.

“With regard to the specific new variant, we just don’t know enough about it yet to talk specifically about the potential impact on children.

“There are no plans that I am aware of that would require us to close schools early, I think that would be very detrimental to the education of children.”

Boris Johnson and two cabinet ministers attended event linked to Covid cases

Monday 29 November 2021 17:18 , Liam James

Boris Johnson and two cabinet ministers attended a conference in central London last week at which several attendees have since developed Covid infections and been contacted by NHS test and trace, writes Anna Isaac.

Last Monday, the prime minister addressed business leaders and trade experts at think tank the Centre for Policy Studies’ (CPS) Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade. The majority of attendees and the prime minister did not wear a face mask.

The Independent understands that there are at least five positive Covid cases linked to the event, three of which attended the dinner and one of whom was in close proximity to the prime minister.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Boris Johnson and two cabinet ministers attended event linked to Covid cases

Three weeks to wait for more vaccine info on omicron, says health secretary

Monday 29 November 2021 17:07 , Liam James

More scientific evidence of how Covid vaccines and boosters jabs are able to resist the Omicron variant will be available in three weeks, Sajid Javid has said.

Tory MP Steve Brine asked the health secretary how long it would be until scientists knew more about how the variant hits vaccine efficacy.

Mr Javid said the government had set up a three-week review as it believes that more information will be available by then.

Booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s

Monday 29 November 2021 16:49 , Liam James

Booster jabs should now be offered to all over-18s, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), has said.

The JCVI has also said gaps between the second Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots should be reduced from six months to three months.

Full report from Rebecca Thomas here:

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Covid booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s

SNP calls on Boris Johnson to hold Cobra meeting over omicron

Monday 29 November 2021 16:40 , Liam James

The SNP has called on Boris Johnson to convene an emergency Cobra meeting to show that he is “on top” of the emerging cases of omicron in the UK.

Richard Thomson, SNP MP for Gordon, asked Sajid Javid, the health secretary, if he would persuade the prime minister to hold a Cobra meeting with all four nations to show people that he is keepng abreast of developments.

Mr Javid replied: “In terms of meetings, and UK nations working together, I think that has been one of the successes of the UK response to this pandemic – the way that nations across the UK have worked together especially on vaccines, on testing, on surveillance and anti-virals – and it shows that we are stronger together.”

Monday 29 November 2021 16:31 , Liam James

Richard Drax, Conservative MP, asked the health secretary to commit to “never, ever” returning to lockdown.

Sajid Javid will only say that “no-one wants to see those kinds of measures”.

Monday 29 November 2021 16:26 , Liam James

Tory MP Des Swayne says face coverings are “mumbo-jumbo”.

In reply, Sajid Javid said there had been a number of reports from the UK Health Security Agency showing that face coverings were effective.

Health secretary agrees hospitality shutdown should be avoided

Monday 29 November 2021 16:22 , Liam James

Theresa Villiers, former environment secretary, asked if the government would avoid shutting down the hospitality sector in the event that restrictions were stepped up.

She said: “Millions of people have their livelihoods depending on this, they’re just getting back on their feet.

“Please let us not knock them down again.”

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said: “I agree absolutely.”

New York mayor issues ‘mask advisory’ as scientists warn of Omicron variant

Monday 29 November 2021 16:13 , Jon Sharman

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has issued a “mask advisory” for everyone in the city, urging New Yorkers to cover their faces as scientists warn of the new Omicron strain of the coronavirus, writes Nathan Place.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

NYC mayor issues ‘mask advisory’ as scientists warn of Omicron variant

Omicron’s emergence a failure of rich countries to share vaccines, says Hunt

Monday 29 November 2021 16:00 , Jon Sharman

The rise of the omicron variant of Covid-19 is “a symptom of the failure of Western countries to share vaccines around the world”, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The former health secretary told the Commons he backed Sajid Javid’s new measures to “buy time” in the investigation into omicron – which is a source of “known unknowns”.

He added: “Whilst I recognise the enormous contribution the UK has made through Covax, through the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and so on, is it not a moral and practical failure that richer countries have managed to vaccinate 60 per cent of their populations, when for poorer countries it’s just 3 per cent?”

Mr Javid responded: “It is important that all rich countries do everything they can to support vaccines and the donation of vaccines to developing countries.”

He said the UK has so far distributed 20 million of the 100 million doses it promised at Carbis Bay.

The WHO says 11 billion doses are needed to protect the world.

MPs will vote on new mask rules

Monday 29 November 2021 15:40 , Jon Sharman

Sajid Javid has confirmed a motion on approving the government’s new mask mandate has been tabled, and says Jacob Rees-Mogg will give more details to MPs later on.

The rules will be reviewed in three weeks, the health secretary said.

He said: “We won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.”

Omicron could impact treatment for Covid-19 as well as vaccine, says Javid

Monday 29 November 2021 15:38 , Jon Sharman

Sajid Javid has warned the omicron variant of coronavirus could impact the effectiveness of the Ronapreve treatment, and there is a “reasonable chance” it will affect vaccines too.

Cases of omicron, which so far total five in England and six in Scotland, are expected to rise, he added.

The health secretary was giving an update to MPs.

Two new cases of Covid variant found in England

Monday 29 November 2021 15:32 , Jon Sharman

Two new cases of the Covid-19 variant Omicron have been detected in England, making it a total of five, the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed.

Both new cases have been confirmed from individuals in London, one in Croydon the other in Wandsworth. The UKHSA has said both are linked to travel from South Africa, writes Rebecca Thomas.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Two new cases of Covid variant found in England

Data shows boosters increase immune response, says JCVI

Monday 29 November 2021 15:21 , Jon Sharman

While there are fears that the omicron variant might reduce the effectiveness of vaccines developed to counter the original “wild-type” Covid-19, a booster jab can help, according to the JCVI.

Wei Shen Lim, the body’s coronavirus vaccine chair, said booster jabs broadened people’s immune responses and so provided better protection even if there is a “mismatch” between the new variant and vaccine.

He made the comments as he announced the JCVI was recommending the booster campaign be extended to 18- to -39-year-olds.

Third doses should be given out in priority first to older people and those more at risk of severe disease, he added.

Omicron a cause of heightened concern for scientists, says JVT

Monday 29 November 2021 15:08 , Jon Sharman

The new omicron coronavirus variant is a reason for “heightened” concern for scientists, Jonathan Van Tam has said.

However, England’s deputy chief medical officer warned that fears about omicron should be tempered, for now, by the lack of detailed information about it.

Much research has yet to be done to determine how dangerous it might be, though this is taking place quickly.

“There are far more things we don’t know yet than things we do know,” he told a press briefing.

The number of mutations the new variant has – nearly three dozen – gives experts cause to be concerned about its impact on vaccine effectiveness, Prof Van Tam said.

Covid: Booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s and gap after second jab cut to three months

Monday 29 November 2021 15:03 , Jon Sharman

Booster jabs should now be offered to all over-18s, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations has said.

The JCVI has also said gaps between the second Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots should be reduced from 6 months to three months.

Although JCVI has advised all adults should now have their boosters it has advised the prioritisation of clinically vulnerable and older age groups as was done during the second and first phases of the vaccination programme.

Covid news – live: Omicron cases found in Scotland as No 10 distances from health chief’s socialising warning
© Provided by The Independent

Covid booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s

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