Omicron: Sajid Javid provides update as variant spreads in UK
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The ban will last for at least four weeks and will cover the entire Christmas and New Year period. The draconian measures were announced on Monday alongside the closure of gyms and mandatory working-from-home measures for those who can do so.
Norway has reported one of the large outbreaks of the Omicron variant in Europe, with 958 cases confirmed.
Speaking at a news conference, Norweigen Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, said: “There is no doubt – the new variant changes the rules.
“That’s why we need to act fast and we need to act again.
“For many this will feel like a lockdown, if not of society then of their lives and of their livelihoods.”
It is the fourth time Covid measures have been tightened in Norway in the past fortnight.
Just last week, the government announced a limit on the number of contacts people can have and reduced the number of hours hospitality venues could serve alcohol – but have now gone a step further.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) has warned if no action was taken then Norway – a country of 5.4 million people – could see up to 300,000 daily Covid infections by January.
In its report, the FHI said: “Already in December, the Omicron variant will cause an increase in the number of sick people, many hospital admissions, and a significant strain on the healthcare service and society, through widespread sickness absence.”
Daily Covid cases have surged from almost 500 per day in early October to a peak of 6,000 on December 6.
Line Vold, the head of infection control and emergency preparedness at the FHI, said: “The situation concerns us more than it did previously.
“We think Omicron will be the dominant variant in the coming days… We need to quickly introduce further restrictions.”
The UK has confirmed 4,713 cases of the Omicron variant – first discovered in South Africa – but the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates the actual figure could be 200,000.
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MPs will later today vote on the Government’s measures to move onto Plan B restrictions, with the Prime Minister braced for a large Tory rebellion.
The measures are still expected to sail through the Commons with the backing of Labour – and will increase the use of face masks in indoors setting and introduce so-called vaccine passports for larger venues.
Speaking in the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the growth of Omicron cases in the UK is “now mirroring the rapid increase we’re seeing in South Africa”.
He added: “The current observed doubling time is around every two days.
“Although yesterday we reported there were 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, the UKHSA estimates that the number of daily infections was 42 times higher, at 200,000.
“Scientists have never seen a COVID-19 variant that’s capable of spreading so rapidly so we have to look at what we can do to slow Omicron’s advance.”
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