Omicron restrictions needed for at least two months warns top health boss

Chief of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Susan Hopkins, has told MPs Plan B restrictions should extend into the new year.

It came as she explained to the Health and Science Committee why boosters were are the nation's only hope against rising Omicron cases, and why the new variant has caused such concern.

Incoming coronavirus rules and restrictions were voted on by MPs this afternoon. When asked how long she thought rules would be in place, Dr Hopkins said: "We would need some level of restrictions in place for the next four to eight weeks."

Since Friday, the public must wear a face-covering unless exempt in most public venues, including cinemas and theatres.

Government advice has asked Brits to work from home where they can to help stop the spread of Omicron – with yesterday seeing a record number of Covid jabs given.

Large venues are now required to introduce vaccine passports as a condition of entry, with a negative test in the last 48 hours or proof of vaccination needed upon entry.

From today, the government has axed the 10-day self-isolation period for anyone exposed to the Omicron variant and replaced it with a new seven-day testing regime.

Brits have been urged to receive their booster jab as soon as they can to protect people from picking up the new variant.

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The push for jabs comes after Cabinet ministers were warned hospitals could be overwhelmed by Omicron cases by the middle of January.

Ministers were given the worrying warning that so many NHS doctors and nurses will be off sick by January 15 that some hospitals could be forced to shut.

The PM and Government medics told the virtual cabinet this morning that even by "the most conservative" estimates things are looking "very bad" when it comes to cases.

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the growth of Omicron cases in the UK is "now mirroring the rapid increase we're seeing in South Africa," and that "The current observed doubling time is around every two days.

"Although yesterday we reported there were 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, the UKHSA estimates that the number of daily infections was 42 times higher, at 200,000.

"Scientists have never seen a Covid-19 variant that's capable of spreading so rapidly so we have to look at what we can do to slow Omicron's advance."

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Dr Paul Burton, chief medical officer of Moderna, has also warned the government of rising Omicron cases.

"In the near future, these two viruses are going to coexist," Dr Burton said.

"Omicron is going to infect people with a very strong background of Delta.

I think Omicron poses a real threat – the doubling time at three days is far faster than we've seen.

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"People can harbour both viruses, and that could be possible here. it certainly could be [much worse]."

He added that the two viruses "could share genes and swap genes over".

It's not clear if this would make an infection worse, but could provide problems for further variant developments, Dr Burton said.

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