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 - Sputnik International, 1920
Omicron COVID Strain
The new COVID variant was initially detected in South Africa and Botswana and sparked major concerns due to its high number of mutations (32). The WHO dubbed the strain Omicron and warned it may prove to be more transmissible and dangerous than other coronavirus variants.

UK May Announce NHS Reshuffle to Tackle Omicron Variant, Sajid Javid Says

© REUTERS / TOM NICHOLSONBritain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 29, 2021
Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 29, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.11.2021
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On Friday, the UK banned flights from six southern African nations, including South Africa, over the spread of Omicron, a new strain of the coronavirus that has already been dubbed “a variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation.
In an extensive interview with the Daily Mail, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid focused on a raft of issues related to a new variant of COVID-19, arguing that the country may avoid a new lockdown thanks to the successful vaccine roll-out, PCR testing, and the return of mask-wearing, among other measures.
“We were the first country to identify the significance of this variant, we are talking every day about it and I am being constantly updated on it”, Javid stressed, adding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson “absolutely” agreed with him that the government should act “very quickly” on the matter.
During the interview, Javid said that the government would make a slew of health announcements next week, including some pertaining to the National Health Service (NHS).
According to him, Downing Street is currently mulling a shakeup of the healthcare body that may see the creation of a new Territorial Army-style national force of “NHS reservists”.
People queue to enter an NHS Covid-19 vaccination centre in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre in east London on February 15, 2021 as Britain's largest ever vaccination programme continues - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.11.2021
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The health secretary explained that the new force will comprise retired medics and logistics specialists who can swing into action if the NHS comes under strain this winter, or if the booster vaccine programme needs supercharging.
Javid made it clear that he is particularly determined to tackle the NHS waiting list, which currently stands at 5.8 million and is estimated to double.
“No one knows the long-term impact of actions taken around the pandemic in Britain and abroad. We will learn more about this over time but what I do know is, especially when it comes to health, it's not just about COVID”, he said.
Returning to coronavirus-related topics, the health secretary told the Mail that “the good news is that we know a lot more about vaccines than we did at the start of the [COVID-19] pandemic”.
“In theory the MRNA platform should be able to develop something for trial within days. Of course it has to be vigorously tested, but what we can say today is that vaccines can be developed in months now where pre-pandemic, if you'd asked me or anyone else, it would have been years”, he said.

Touching upon the contact tracing of those who have potentially been exposed to the new COVID variant, Javid argued that the process will be carried out with the help of “world-leading test and trace architecture”.

“A really good example of our surveillance capability is the fact that we are the first country to identify the threat of this particular new variant. And in terms of testing, there are hundreds and thousands of tests taking place every day [in the UK]”, he pointed out.
When asked whether he thinks the new strain has increased the chances of another lockdown in the country, Javid said, “not yet”.
“When I first took up this job, I said we need to learn to live with this virus like we live with flu. We accept that flu comes round every year, sadly people die because of flu and we have given the best help and protection that we can to society, but we don't stop society to deal with flu. Today we already have flu vaccines that deal with multiple strains and there is no reason to think that you can't do that with COVID”, Javid asserted.
He suggested that if residents of countries across the world “can get regular coronavirus vaccines” over the next few years, “then I think we will live completely normal lives again and there is every reason to look forward to that”.
On the origins of COVID-19, the health secretary said that “there are a lot of questions that still haven't been answered”, recalling that the first World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation into the issue, “as they've said themselves, is not complete, they want to do more work”.
A petrol attendant stands next to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.11.2021
Omicron COVID Strain
WHO Says No Need for Panic Over Omicron Coronavirus Strain as Much Remains Unknown
"We do support WHO, others need to gain access to the information that they need and I do think that it's right for the longer term for us to learn everything we can about the origins of this one to better protect against the next one when it comes, which one day there will be another challenge, I'll be honest about that, and the more we learn this time round the better protected we'll be in the future”, Javid underlined.
He spoke after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures to contain the spread of a new COVID strain after two cases of the Omicron variant were registered in the country. The steps include mandatory face coverings in shops and public transport as well as PCR tests for travellers entering England.
This was preceded by the UK temporarily banning flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries over fears about the new strain, which was earlier described by the WHO as “a variant of concern” since it may be more transmissible and dangerous.
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