75 more Omicron Covid cases detected in England as variant given ‘red’ status in UKHSA risk assessment
The new Covid-19 varaint has been rated ‘red’ for severity of infection by the UK Health Security Agency (HSA)
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The latest cases indicate signs of a “small amount” of community infection and bring England’s current total to 104.
Cases of the variant in England have now been traced in the East Midlands, East of England, London, the North East, North West, South East, South West and the West Midlands.
There have been 134 cases identified in the UK as a whole, including the first confirmed case in Wales.
In Scotland there have been a further 16 cases, including some linked to a Steps pop concert, while Northern Ireland is yet to record any cases.
Anyone who tests positive for the variant, plus people they have been in contact with, must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status.
The recent cases come as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said no deaths have been yet been linked to the the variant, despite cases being recorded across the globe.
Omicron has now been reported in at least 38 countries and is thought to be spreading by community transmission.
The United States and Australia are the latest countries to confirm locally transmitted cases , while South Africa’s overall Covid-19 cases has now surpassed three million.
‘Red’ status for infection
The new variant, first detected in South Africa, has been rated “red” for severity of infection in a risk assessment carried out by the HSA.
It has also been given “amber” status for transmissibility between people.
The HSA warned that the Covid-19 strain, which has more than 30 different mutations, was likely to reduce the protection from immunity provided by vaccines, and from natural immunity after an infection.
However, it stressed that there is still “insufficient data” to be sure about the effects of the variant and the latest assessment was presented with “low confidence”.
The health agency is now carrying out targeted testing at locations where positive cases are thought to be infectious.
However it acknowledged that there is so far “insufficient data” to reach firm conclusions and the assessment was presented with “low confidence”.
HSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “Increased case detection through focused contact tracing has led to more cases of the Omicron variant being identified and confirmed, as we have seen in other countries globally.
“We are continuing to monitor the data closely. Teams nationally and locally are working at pace to identify and trace all close contacts of every Omicron case.
“We have started to see cases where there are no links to travel, suggesting that we have a small amount of community transmission.”
Dr Harries also warned against any rush to question the effectiveness of vaccines, saying they are “critical” to the UK’s defence against Covid-19.
She added: “Thanks to very high levels of vaccine coverage we already have a robust wall of defence against Covid-19 as new variants emerge.
“We are working as fast as possible to gather more evidence about any impact the new variant may have on severity of disease or vaccine effectiveness.
“Until we have this evidence, we must exercise the highest level of caution in drawing conclusions about any significant risks to people’s health.”
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