Professor Mark Woolhouse from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government said it is “too late to make a material difference” to the course of the emerging variant because it is already well placed in the country. But other advisers have insisted that we need not panic either way because the variant is not as deadly as a recent swelling of fear might suggest.
The Government announced on Saturday that it is introducing yet more measures to combat the Omicron variant.
From Tuesday, all travellers arriving in England will have to take a pre-departure Covid test.
But Professor Woolhouse told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that imposing new restrictions now is akin to “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
He said: “If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave” – not transmission from outside the community.
Before this, Stuart Keeble, Suffolk’s Director of Public Health, insisted that this is no cause for panic and that people should not be cancelling their plans over Christmas.
He told a meeting of council and health leaders: “This is a new variant and clearly it has got people concerned, but we shouldn’t be panicking.
“We mustn’t be surprised that we will see the spread of the Omicron variant in Suffolk.”
He added that, while there may be cause for additional Covid testing, “we shouldn’t stop seeing friends and family, and it isn’t that we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas”.
Other advisers have highlighted that the number of reported cases far less significant than the potential threat of the variant – that is, the likelihood that it will land those infected with it in hospital, if not kill them.
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Here too, the need to resist panic has been stressed.
Professor Calum Semple of the Government’s advisory group SAGE said on Omicron last week: “This is not a disaster, and the headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.”
Pfizer and Moderna also highlighted that they will be able to “very quickly” update their vaccines “if they need to” because of Omicron – though it does not yet look likely that they will need to.
This comes after the World Health Organisation said on Saturday that there had been zero reported Omicron deaths, despite the variant having been detected in almost 40 countries.
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Admitting that “we simply don’t yet know enough” about the variant last week, Boris Johnson announced a range of new restrictions in a press conference last week.
This included the reintroduction of mask mandates, which forms part of the Government’s winter ‘Plan B’.
Since then, a deal has been struck with doctors’ unions incentivising GPs to ditch important routine appointments in favour of boosting the Covid vaccine roll-out.
Professor Karol Sikora, a leading authority on cancer, told Express.co.uk that this was deal “ridiculous” and warned that it could put lives at risk by stopping diseases including cancer from being spotted early, when chances of survival are at their highest.
Toby Young, Editor of the Daily Sceptic, added that it was “typically short-sighted” of the Government to “prioritise the prevention of a disease that 99.77 percent of people recover from and neglect the prevention of more serious diseases”.