UK Convenes Urgent G7 Ministerial Meeting Over COVID Variant Omicron as WHO Urges Not to Panic
05:51 GMT 29.11.2021 (Updated: 21:39 GMT 18.10.2022)
The UK has already placed ten African countries on its red travel list due to the new strain of COVID-19 recognised by the World Health Organisation as "a variant of concern".
The UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced that "an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers will be convened" later on Monday "to discuss the developments on Omicron
", a new variant of the coronavirus.
The gathering, which will be held "under the UK presidency", comes after a third Omicron case was recently confirmed in Britain, when an individual tested positive after travelling to London.
28 November 2021, 14:51 GMT
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that a person, who had already left Britain, had links to travel in southern Africa and that targeted testing is now being conducted in places the individual visited, including the central London borough of Westminster.
UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries, for her part, argued that "it is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing".
She insisted that vaccination is "critical" to help UKHSA bolster its "defences against this new variant", urging people to wear face coverings in crowded places, including public transport and shops, "to ensure we all help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread" of Omicron.
Johnson Announces New Measures to Curb COVID
The remarks came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced fresh measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 following the detection of two cases of the Omicron strain in the UK.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, Johnson said that those arriving in Britain would now have to take a PCR test for the coronavirus on the second day and self-isolate until they have received a negative test result.
28 November 2021, 08:20 GMT
Anyone who tests positive with a suspected case of the new variant is obliged to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their vaccination status, according to Johnson.
The prime minister also confirmed the reintroduction of face masks on public transport and shops, adding that they will not be required in hospitality venues.
He stressed that the new measures would be "temporary and precautionary", and that they would be reviewed in three weeks.
"We need to slow down the spread of this variant in our country and buy time for our scientists to find out what we're dealing with. We don't yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection", BoJo added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)
has, meanwhile, asserted that there isn't enough data yet to state that the new Omicron coronavirus variant is more dangerous than the Delta strain.
"The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors", the WHO said in a statement.
This was echoed by Melita Vujnovic, the WHO's representative in Russia, who told the YouTube show "Soloviev Live" that "it seems to me that there should be no panic, as we do not know yet […] if this virus bypasses a vaccine, how much it will decrease effectiveness of any vaccine - we do not know this, at the moment".
On Friday, the UN health agency identified the new strain, first detected in South Africa, as one of concern, as it is reported to be more transmissible and possibly more dangerous. The WHO dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
The new variant prodded Britain to impose a travel ban on ten African nations, among them Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.