Ministers Expect To Know "A Lot More" About The Omicron Variant In Two Weeks
The government is confident that it will have found out "a lot more" about the Omicron variant in a fortnight's time, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday morning, Javid said the "key thing" when it comes to understanding the impact of the new variant is whether it is more dangerous than the Delta variant, and that scientists could have more insight into that in two weeks.
"It might take a bit longer than three weeks, it might be a bit sooner than three weeks," Javid told Kay Burley.
"We're confident that, actually, maybe within two weeks that we can know a lot more about this."
In three weeks time ministers will review temporary measures brought in yesterday to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa.
For at least the next three weeks, mask wearing is compulsory on public transport and in multiple indoor settings, while all travellers to the UK are required to take a PCR test on their return, and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Additionally, people who come into contact with someone infected by the Omicron variant, are required to isolate regardless of their vaccination status.
Javid said three weeks was a "sensible date" to review the measures because it gives scientists enough time to answer vital questions like the transmissability of the new variant and how vaccines perform against it.
However, "we might not even need to wait three weeks" for that information, the Health Secretary said.
"Our scientists and the best scientists in the world are working through it, we're working with our G7 colleagues," he added.
"We're working internationally, we're working at pace at home and I think in a couple of weeks we will know a lot more about this variant."
The government has insisted that the measures brought in on Tuesday are a proportionate response to the risk posed to the Omicron variant, of which there are so far 22 confirmed cases in the UK.
But ministers are facing calls from Labour to further tighten its border policy.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper yesterday wrote to Javid and Home Secretary Priti Patel, calling for people to be required to take Covid tests before travelling to the UK.
Under the rules brought in yesterday, international travellers must take a test upon arrival.
The current system is "wholly insufficient to identify or prevent growing numbers of arriving cases Omicron spreading in the community," Cooper and Streeting wrote.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night said all eligable adults would be offered a booster jab by the end of January in a bid to limit the impact of the Omicron variant.
Vaccination centres will be "popping up like Christmas trees," Johnson said. The government aims to administer 3.5m third doses of the vaccine every week, up from around 2.5m currently being administered, with at least 400 military personnel being deployed to support the NHS.
"It is time for another great British vaccination effort. We have done it before, and we are going to do it again, and let's not give this virus a second chance," he said in a Downing Street press conference.
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