Covid news - live: Omicron to be dominant variant ‘within weeks' as India warns of ‘massive third wave'

Asia's Tech News Daily

Omicron is likely to become the dominant variant of coronavirus in the UK “in a matter of weeks,” a top scientist has warned.

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said that omicron is spreading faster in the UK than the Delta variant.

Asked about the implications of that, he told BBC Radio 4: “Well, we don’t know and that’s the really critical question, of course, is how many of those cases of which there will likely be a large number will lead to severe disease?

India’s leading doctors’ association has warned that the country could witness another devastating wave if additional measures aren’t introduced to prevent an outbreak of the omicron variant.

It has asked the Indian government to announce “additional” doses of vaccines for medical staff as the country is yet to take a decision on booster jabs.

“If we do not take adequate measures, we may have a massive third wave,” the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said. India has so far reported 23 omicron cases.

Key Points

  • Omicron spreading within the community, says UK Health Secretary

  • Only one in 10 Covid infections checked for omicron, says Javid

  • New York mandates Covid vaccine for all private offices and children over 5

  • Indian doctors warn of 'massive' third wave due to omicron

  • China reports increase in Covid cases

UK could have more omicron cases than red list countries in 10 days, scientist warns

08:15 , Thomas Kingsley

Professor Tim Spector, from the covid Zoe app, said that in around 10 days' time the UK could have more cases of omicron than some countries it had put on the travel red list.

The professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London told BBC Breakfast: “The official estimates are about 350-odd omicron cases, and because the current testing is missing a lot of those, it's probably at least 1,000 to 2,000 I would guess at the moment.

“And we are expecting this to be doubling about every two days at the moment, so if you do your maths – say assumed it's 1,000 at the moment, and you think it's going to be doubling every two days, you can see that those numbers are going to be pretty (high) certainly in about 10 days time.

“By that time, we'll probably have more cases than they will in some of those African countries

“So I think these travel restrictions do perhaps have their place initially, when cases are really low here and really high in the other country, but when we reach that equilibrium, there's very little point in having them in my opinion.”

Omicron to be dominant UK variant “within a matter of weeks,” top scientist warns

07:59 , Thomas Kingsley

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said he thought omicron would take over from delta in the UK as the dominant variant of coronavirus “within a matter of weeks”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “I think we can now say that this variant is spreading faster in the UK than the delta variant at the same time, and that's something that I think was unclear until very recently.

“I am pretty confident that it's going to take over (Delta) probably in a matter of weeks.”

Asked about the implications of that, he said: “Well, we don't know and that's the really critical question, of course, is how many of those cases of which there will likely be a large number will lead to severe disease?

“And a number of people including Dr Fauci (chief medical adviser to US president), as you mentioned, have hypothesised that this variant may be more mild or less likely to cause severe disease than previous variants of the virus.”

New UK travel rules come into force

06:48 , Stuti Mishra

All international arrivals to the UK are now required to have taken a pre-departure Covid test as per the latest guidelines that came into force at 4am (GMT) this morning.

New rules designed to slow the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus will mean anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the red list will be required to take a pre-departure test a maximum of 48 hours before leaving, regardless of their vaccination status.

If they test positive, they will not be allowed to travel.Scotland and Wales have said they will implement similar measures.

The decision on pre-departure tests followed calls from Labour to implement the process and comes amid warnings that the time between infection and infectiousness could be shorter with the new variant.

Geraldine Scott explains everything you need to know about travelling to the UK with new rules in effect:

Nepal reports first omicron cases

06:35 , Stuti Mishra

Nepal has detected its first two cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus, its health ministry said on Monday.

It is the third South Asian country to report cases of omicron as the presence of the new variant has now been confirmed in over 40 countries.

A 66-year-old foreigner, who had entered Nepal from a country with confirmed omicron cases on 19 November, and another 71-year-old person who was in close contact with him, tested positive for omicron on Sunday, the ministry said in a statement.It did not identify their nationalities.

“Both of them are in isolation and getting healthcare under the supervision of health workers,” the statement said.Sixty-six other people who had contacts with them were traced and all tested negative, it added.

Nepal recently banned travellers from eight African countries and Hong Kong over fears about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

100 foreigners ‘go missing’ as India records 7,000 new Covid cases

06:16 , Stuti Mishra

India has been struggling to track visitors since it tightened international travel rules in the wake of the new omicron variant, with over a hundred new arrivals reported missing near Mumbai.

Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KMDC) chief Vijay Suryavanshi said as many as 109 out of 295 recent foreign returnees to the township in Thane district, who were supposed to go through a mandatory quarantine, were untraceable currently with their mobile phones switched off and some addresses found locked.

Earlier on Saturday, authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said 13 passengers who entered India have “disappeared” in the city of Meerut, 74 kilometres from Delhi, after providing false addresses and contact information. Seven of them travelled to India from South Africa.

India tightened its border restrictions last week making testing mandatory for all foreign returnees irrespective of vaccination status and a mandatory quarantine for people coming from “at risk” countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.

India has so far detected 23 cases of the omicron variant, with the latest Covid case numbers announced by India’s health ministry on Tuesday standing at 6,882, a significant drop from 8,306 cases a day before.

ICYMI: New York mandates Covid vaccine for all private offices and children over 5

05:30 , Stuti Mishra

New York has tightened its Covid-19 restrictions, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old and for workers at all private-sector companies as cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant in the US increase.

The city has set a deadline for all businesses to mandate vaccination proof for their employees before 27 December, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Children between the ages of 5 to 11 years must get at least one dose by 14 December and those 12 and older need to be fully vaccinated by 27 December to enter public places like restaurants and take part in group activities like sports.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” Mr de Blasio said in a statement.

China reports increase in Covid cases

05:17 , Stuti Mishra

China reported 94 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, up from 61 a day earlier, its health authority said on Tuesday.

Of the new infections, 60 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 38 a day earlier.

The new local cases were reported by local authorities in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Zhejiang.

China reported 14 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, compared with 44 a day earlier.

The country hasn’t reported cases of the new variant yet but authorities say they are ready to rapidly identify it.

“We have established the testing capacity for mutant strains to prevent and control omicron,” Yang Peng, an official at the Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted by SCMP as saying.

ICYMI: Only one in 10 Covid infections checked for omicron, says Javid

05:00 , Stuti Mishra

As few as one in 10 confirmed Covid cases are analysed for the omicron variant, health chiefs have admitted, as “community transmission” of the strain was confirmed.

Only half of UK testing facilities are able to carry out genetic sequencing of positive PCR tests, which is needed to identify the variant feared to be more transmissible and, to some extent, vaccine-evasive.

It means only 10-20 per cent of positive results are sequenced, although a further 10 per cent are assessed for the absence of the S gene, cases which are likely to be omicron.

The health secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged the gap in sequencing and told MPs he is “expanding” other omicron testing methods to all centres, but was unable to say when that will happen.

The admission came as Mr Javid said there were 336 confirmed omicron case across the UK – a number which is likely to be a severe underestimation.

Rob Merrick has more:

ICYMI: Omicron spreading within the community, says UK Health Secretary

04:45 , Stuti Mishra

The Omicron variant of coronavirus is now circulating within the community, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Mr Javid told MPs on Monday that “multiple regions of England” were seeing cases of the variant that were not linked to international travel.

And he said he could not guarantee the variant would not “knock us off our road to recovery”, as he said the “the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron”.

Earlier, Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia had warned the Omicron variant could be spreading faster than a previous variant, Delta.

Here are the highlights from the health secretary’s address:

Indian doctors warn of 'massive' third wave due to omicron

04:31 , Stuti Mishra

The Indian Medical Association has warned that India could witness a devastating third wave if additional measures, including boosters and faster vaccination, aren’t introduced as soon as possible to prevent an outbreak of the omicron variant.

“At a time when India is limping back to normalcy, this is a great setback. If we do not take adequate measures, we may have a massive third wave,” the top doctor’s body told a press conference.

“It’s important that all healthcare workers and frontline workers should be given vaccine booster doses to enhance their immunity,” the IMA president Dr JA Jayalal was quoted as saying.

India has reported 23 cases of the omicron variant so far after its first two cases were reported last week. Some of the cases relate to individuals who haven’t travelled abroad recently.

The body also demanded that the government expedite the proposal of vaccinating children over the age of 12. India has now vaccinated 50 per cent of its adult population with two doses, but is not currently considering rolling out inoculations to minors.

It means that only 34.6 per cent of India’s total 1.4 billion population has been fully vaccinated, with almost 60 per cent having received their first dose.

04:02 , Stuti Mishra

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live blog covering the Covid-19 pandemic for Tuesday 7 December.

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