Omicron: Virus expert urges people to take precautions as cases of new Covid variant confirmed in UK

  • Watch our extended interview with Dr Bharat Pankhania

A West Country virologist has advised people to take extra precautions after cases of the new Omicron Covid variant were confirmed in the UK.

The new variant was first detected in South Africa and was reported to the World Health Organisation on November 24.

Since then, cases have been confirmed in the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom.

On Friday (November 26) the WHO declared Omicron as a 'variant of concern', triggering a new wave of travel restrictions and precautionary guidance from multiple countries.

In a press conference on Saturday (November 27), Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out the UK's plans to combat the new variant.

Travel restrictions, including mandatory quarantine for those returning from countries of concern and PCR tests for all UK arrivals, and rules on face coverings in shops and public transport are being reintroduced.

New guidance and travel restrictions come into force on Tuesday 30 November.

Bath-based Dr Bharat Pankhania, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, said more details about the new variant will come to light in the coming weeks.

Dr Pankhania said differences in the spike protein of the Omicron variant have caused concern - but that everyone should remain calm and take steps to keep themselves and others safe.

"What we can do together, unified, is to get your vaccines," he said.

"If you're due one, get your booster and further more reduce case numbers by wearing a good quality FFP2 mask, avoid crowds and avoid poorly ventilated places."

Dr Pankhania also suggested focusing on travel restrictions might be the wrong tactic to prevent further cases.

"The virus that we are trying to reduce its arrival and spread in the United Kingdom could have originated anywhere - it's just been detected in Africa," he explained.

"Because it could have originated anywhere we need to be very precautionary with any arrivals from any part of the world."

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