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TravelGuides – WHO: Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ or symptomless and existing vaccines should provide protection

TravelGuides – WHO: Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ or symptomless and existing vaccines should provide protection

Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there is no evidence the new variant has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness, a World Health Organization official claimed today.

A spokesperson for the global health agency said early data suggests the mutant strain is better at infecting people than Delta, even the fully vaccinated.

But there is no signal that existing vaccines will be any less effective at preventing hospitalisations and deaths, the official, speaking anonymously, told Reuters. 

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It is unclear what evidence the WHO is referring to, but the comment mark the first official hint that the Omicron super-strain may not wreak as much global havoc as initially feared.

So far 172, Omicron cases have been confirmed in South Africa and doctors there maintain that patients with the new variant are presenting with milder symptoms than previous strains — even though daily cases have soared 400 per cent in a week to 4,373 yesterday.

Botswana — the country in which Omicron is believed to have emerged — today revealed that 16 out of 19 of its confirmed cases were asymptomatic.  

But Covid hospitalisations are starting to rise in the South African epicentre of Gauteng province, which is raising questions about how mild the variant truly is.

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The province recorded 580 hospitalisations this week, in a jump of 330 per cent from 135 hospital admissions two week ago, according to official Government data. 

But just a quarter of South Africans have had two Covid vaccine doses, which makes interpreting the data challenging. In the city of Tshwane in northern Gauteng, 87 per cent of hospital admissions this week were among the unvaccinated.

For comparison, 70 per cent of people in the UK are double-jabbed and the figure is as high as 80 per cent in some European nations.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the WHO, later told a press conference that ‘surveillance bias’ could be underestimating the severity of Omicron, because young people have been the main spreaders of the strain.

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Last night, Israeli officials claimed that a booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine provides up to 90 per cent protection against severe illness from Omicron.

But experts warn it will be at least two weeks until they have a better understanding of what impact the variant could have.

And SAGE, No10’s scientific advisors, warned Britain should brace for a ‘potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations’ this winter if the worst estimates about Omicron turn out to be true.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties 

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer are already working on Covid vaccines that could tackle the Omicron strain, if it poses a problem for the current crop of vaccines, but they won't be ready until mid-2022

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer are already working on Covid vaccines that could tackle the Omicron strain, if it poses a problem for the current crop of vaccines, but they won’t be ready until mid-2022

The UK and US are both recording much higher levels of infection than South Africa - the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak - but cases are rising sharply and are up 400 per cent in a week

The UK and US are both recording much higher levels of infection than South Africa – the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak – but cases are rising sharply and are up 400 per cent in a week

South Africa's case numbers are likely to be an underestimate because the country is doing far fewer tests than the UK, but a comparable number to the US

South Africa’s case numbers are likely to be an underestimate because the country is doing far fewer tests than the UK, but a comparable number to the US

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Just a quarter of South Africans have had two Covid vaccine doses compared to almost 60 per cent in the US and 70 per cent in the UK

This map shows the pace of surging infections in the country. In Gauteng, the epicentre, they are rising week-on-week by more than 300 per cent alongside its neighbours the North West and Limpopo. Scientists say the variant is likely already in every province of the country, although it is unclear at present how many cases are linked to the strain

This map shows the pace of surging infections in the country. In Gauteng, the epicentre, they are rising week-on-week by more than 300 per cent alongside its neighbours the North West and Limpopo. Scientists say the variant is likely already in every province of the country, although it is unclear at present how many cases are linked to the strain

The above graph shows the seven-day average for the change in Covid cases week-on-week. It reveals that cases are now rising in every province of South Africa. It is not clear how many are linked to Omicron, but scientists there say the variant has already spread to every province of the country

The above graph shows the seven-day average for the change in Covid cases week-on-week. It reveals that cases are now rising in every province of South Africa. It is not clear how many are linked to Omicron, but scientists there say the variant has already spread to every province of the country

The unnamed WHO official said there is lots unknown about the virus, but most cases are ‘mild’.

It comes after Botswana’s health ministry revealed it had detected 19 Omicron cases in the country and 16 among the group had no symptoms of the virus.

Boosters ARE effective against Omicron: Israeli scientists claim Pfizer’s jab provides up to 90% protection

People who get a booster Pfizer Covid vaccine or who had their second jab within six months should still be highly protected against Omicron, Israeli health chiefs claim.

Without citing any data, Health minister Nitzan Horowitz yesterday said there was ‘room for optimism’ and that existing vaccines will shield against severe illness from the super-strain, based on ‘initial indications’.

Hours later, a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron, only slightly less than Delta. 

The Channel 12 news broadcast also claimed the super variant is just 30 per cent more infectious than Delta — much lower than initially feared.

or comparison, Delta is 70 per cent more infectious than the Alpha strain, which it outpaced earlier this year.  

Dr Pamela Smith-Lawrence, acting director of Health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said the majority of the 19 infected people have already tested negative. 

And the two people who reported feeling unwell had ‘very, very mild’ symptoms, she said.

It is ‘unfair’ to treat Botswana as ground zero of the new variant, Dr Smith-Lawrence added.

And doctors in South Africa, where most confirmed cases are concentrated, last week reported that Omnicron cases were suffering mild symptoms.  

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and less severe symptoms than those infected with Delta.

Symptoms included tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But no patients reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties, she said. 

But hospitalisations in South Africa have soared 403 per cent in a week, which leading virologist Tulio de Oliveira described the surge in infections as ‘scary’. 

A total of 42,664 tests were conducted in yesterday, with 4,373 new cases reported, data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa revealed — equating to a 10 per cent positivity rate. 

For comparison, the UK daily Covid cases dropped 6.5 per cent in a week, while around four per cent of those tested were infected with Covid.

Infections in South Africa have increased 92 per cent compared to the 2,273 cases recorded on Monday and a massive 403 per cent week-on-week increase, with 868 cases recorded last Tuesday.

Scientists in the country have warned that the vast majority of people who end up being hospitalised with the Omicron variant are unvaccinated.

Some 23.8 per cent of South Africa’s entire population is double-jabbed, compared to 67.9 per cent of Britons, according to Our World in Data.

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In total 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been detected in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to foreign travel

In total 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been detected in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to foreign travel

Meanwhile, Israeli health minister Nitzan Horowitz yesterday said there was ‘room for optimism’ about the variant and existing vaccines will shield against severe illness from the super-strain, based on ‘initial indications’.   

Hours later, a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron, only slightly less than Delta. 

SAGE calls for compulsory five-day isolation and ‘fit to fly’ tests for all UK arrivals

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty. 

The Channel 12 news broadcast also claimed the super variant is just 30 per cent more infectious than Delta — much lower than initially feared.  

For comparison, Delta is 70 per cent more infectious than the Alpha strain, which it outpaced earlier this year. 

A spokesperson for the country’s Health Ministry last night said it was not yet in possession of this data. 

But if the reports are confirmed it will be a massive relief to the UK which last night launched a mammoth booster programme for all adults, using Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs, with the hope of curbing the mutant variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all 53million adults in the UK will be offered a third dose by the end of January.

Some 22 Omicron cases have been detected in the UK. The figure is expected to grow and there is thought to be transmission of the strain within the community already. 

Meanwhile, No10’s scientific advisors SAGE today warned Omicron could cause a ‘significant wave’ on hospitalisations in a worst-case scenario.

The expert panel called for all UK arrivals to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, because current travel curbs are allowing a ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty. 

Ministers are accused of scaring families and business into cancelling Christmas THEMSELVES: Firms tell staff to WFH until January and call off festive parties while SAGE pushes for FIVE-DAY travel quarantine – but is it all part of Boris’s plan? 

Ministers were today accused of scaring businesses into sending staff home through December and cancelling Christmas parties because of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 as SAGE scientists called for all UK arrivals to be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are fully vaccinated.

Boris Johnson has said that face coverings must be worn in shops and on public transport from yesterday – though not in hospitality venues – and insisted there was no need for companies to send staff home to avoid a Christmas lockdown.

But there was chaos yesterday after UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief Dr Jenny Harries said people should limit socialising to slow the spread of the variant. This sparked suspicion among Tory MPs that she was being set up as the fall guy by ministers who are too scared to admit further restrictions are likely.

Critics say the Government’s latest coronavirus rules on masks, blanket quarantine for Omicron contacts and gloomy language about the threat of the new variant is actually encouraging a semi-lockdown by stealth despite just 22 cases of the new strain detected so far. Deaths, infections and hospitalisations were all down yesterday.

Boris Johnson has been accused of giving mixed messages as businesses allowed staff to work from home until 2022

Boris Johnson has been accused of giving mixed messages as businesses allowed staff to work from home until 2022

Today Brewin Dolphin, one of the largest British wealth management firms in the UK, told staff in London they can stay away from the office from December 10 until January 7, MailOnline can reveal. Staff should not ‘feel uncomfortable declining’ invites to events before December 25, bosses also said.

Google has emailed UK staff urging them to ‘move any planned in-person social gatherings until 2022’ and limiting them to no more than 15 people. Ronan Harris, Vice President and MD for Google UK & Ireland also told workers that business meetings and events must be approved by a company director.

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And despite Government guidance saying otherwise, many UK companies employing hundreds of thousands of staff have scrambled to reinstate office restrictions including mask wearing in communal areas such as corridors and lifts.

Christmas parties are also being axed – costing pubs and clubs billions of pounds – and if the parties are still going ahead attendees are being told by their bosses to take a lateral flow test on the morning of the event and wear masks. Schools cancelled nativity plays and fairs while councils axed Santa visits for vulnerable children.

Pubs and clubs have reported a slew of last minute cancellations since Mr Johnson’s first TV press conference on Saturday as hospitality businesses lined up to warn the Prime Minister that the chilling effect of Covid restrictions will cost the economy ‘billions’ in the run-up to Christmas. Many big businesses are not holding big parties this year. Those that are will demand a negative covid test result for all attendees.

And there was even more confusion today after Health Secretary Sajid Javid encouraged millions of people to be ‘sensible’ and ‘cautious’ and take a lateral flow test before going to Christmas events to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope has claimed the Prime Minister’s regulations, which are enshrined in law until March, are ‘part of a scaremongering propaganda campaign that is really designed to restrict or stop interaction between social animals. They’re designed to suppress freedom of the individual and suppress social contact, and they’re doing that through unreasonable fear-mongering.’

Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: ‘I have received several emails from travel companies in my constituency whose potential bookings have dropped off a cliff because of the cost of PCR tests’, adding encouragement back towards working from home will be devastating for businesses relying on office workers.

The row over the new covid regulations, enshrined in law until March, came as:

TravelGuides – WHO: Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ or symptomless and existing vaccines should provide protection

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