First case of Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in Liverpool - contact tracing is underway

Public Health Liverpool is working with the UK Health Security Agency to identify contacts of the individual, who is self-isolating.

The first case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in Liverpool.

It comes on the same day the Government promised the nationwide booster programme would be put “on steroids” to meet vaccine targets.

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The Liverpool infection is one of eight further cases of the Omicron variant identified in England on Tuesday.

Public Health Liverpool is working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to identify contacts of the individual, who is self-isolating.

Contact tracing is underway and all contacts will be followed up and requested to isolate and get tested as necessary, regardless of their vaccine status.

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Director of Public Heath Liverpool, Matthew Ashton, said: “Omicron is a new variant and we have more work to do to understand how easily this can be transmitted, and how well vaccines work to protect against it.

“In the meantime, it is important that we all play our part to slow its spread and prevent transmission by keeping COVID-safe. Vaccination is crucial – please get your first, second and your booster jab without delay.”

UKHSA said Tuesday’s seven other new cases are located in Barnet, Camden, Haringey, North Norfolk, Sutton and Westminster.

It brings the total number of cases detected in England to 13.

Vaccination and booster programme ramped up

Everyone eligible for a coronavirus booster jab will be offered one by the end of January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he promised “another great British vaccination effort” to tackle the Omicron variant.

He said at least 400 military personnel will help the NHS and volunteers deliver jabs, with centres “popping up like Christmas trees”.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “We’ve already done almost 18 million boosters across the UK but we’ve got millions more to do to protect the most vulnerable.

“We want to ramp up capacity across the whole United Kingdom to the levels we achieved in the previous vaccination effort.

“We’re going to be throwing everything at it in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster, as I say, in just over two months.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the booster programme would be put “on steroids” to meet the target.

He added: “This is a national mission and we all have a role to play if we want to give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones, the best thing we can do is step up, roll up our sleeves and get protected when the time comes.”

The need for action was underlined as the number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK reached 22, with that figure expected to increase further.

New COVID-19 restrictions in England

Face coverings are now compulsory again in shops and on public transport in England as part of new measures aiming to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The new measures came into place at 04:00 on Tuesday morning, with all travellers returning to the UK also required to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must also self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status.

Is Omicron more transmissible?

There were early warnings that the variant could be more transmissible, given how quickly it had spread in South Africa’s Gauteng province - where up to 90% of new cases are already Omicron.

The reason why many scientists believe it can spread faster is that ten of its 30 or so mutations are on the “spike” protein - the part of the coronavirus that acts a bit like a lock pick, changing shape to allow the virus to latch on to human cells.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that it is still too early to know for sure.

“It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta,” they said.

“The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.”