Health

Omicron: January lockdown ‘cannot be ruled out’ as cases doubling every two days and numbers highest in London

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ases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant are doubling every two to three days with London and Scotland at the epicentres of the spread, a leading epidemiologist revealed on Wednesday.

Professor Neil Ferguson said a January lockdown could not be ruled out if hospitalisations spiral over Christmas and into the New Year.

It comes as the Government is considering fresh measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including vaccine passports and the return of working from home advice.

Booster jab bookings opened for seven million people aged 40 and over on Wednesday and the wait for a third dose has been cut from six months to three amid growing concern about the new strain.

Professor Ferguson said he would like to see ministers introduce stricter rules while the third jab campaign was ramped up.

“Case numbers are doubling at least every three days maybe even every two days at the moment,” he told BBC 4’s Today programme.

“To put that in context it is the same if not faster than we saw with the original strain of the virus in March of last year, so it is a concern.”

He added: “There is a rational just epidemiologically to try and slow this down to give us more time to principally get boosters into people’s arms, because we do think that people who are boosted will have the best level of protection, but also to buy us more time to better characterise the threat.

The first lab tests on the Omicron strain in South Africa suggest it can partially evade the Pfizer jab.

However, existing vaccines should still protect people who contract the variant from severe Covid cases, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said.

The UK has some 440 infections identified so far – with over 100 of these discovered in London – and it is “likely to overtake” the dominant Delta variant before Christmas.

Professor Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), last year became known as “Professor Lockdown” when his work was key to introducing the first national lockdown in March 2020.

When asked if the UK could see similar restrictions imposed in January, he said “it is difficult to rule out anything” and “it might be possible at the current time”.

He added that Omicron had been “detected it almost every region” in the UK but cases are highest in London, as a the city which sees the largest number of visitors from abroad, and Scotland where the variant could have been “seeded” during the COP26 climate change summit last month.

The Government yesterday discussed introducing further restrictions. However the Cabinet is reportedly split over proposals about vaccine passports, working from home advice and mandatory mask wearing in more settings before further data is revealed,

Downing Street has been promoting the scaling up of the rollout of booster jabs as the best protection from Omicron and no decisions have yet been announced on tougher measures.

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