UK raises Covid alert level
The UK has raised its Covid alert level from three to four – its second-highest – as transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus “is high or rising exponentially.”
“Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta, and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced,” read a statement from the government on Sunday.
Raising the alert level to four does not immediately introduce any new restrictions. Rather, it indicates that Covid-19 “is in general circulation" and that "transmission is high or rising exponentially.”
As of Sunday, there have been more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the new strain of Covid-19 in the UK, and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC that the first patients had been admitted to hospital with an Omicron infection.
Despite the government having expressed a concern that the variant might be more resistant to vaccines than previous strains, Zahawi said a “national endeavour” was needed to win the “race against Omicron” by getting more people vaccinated.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to address the public later on Sunday to speak about the UK’s vaccine booster program.
In addition to raising the alert level, the government has introduced ‘Plan B’ restrictions and is reportedly considering an even stronger suite of restrictions dubbed ‘Plan C,’ should the current controls fail to slow the spread of the new variant. People are currently being advised to work from home if possible, and, from Wednesday, the NHS Covid pass will be required to enter certain venues, such as large gatherings and nightclubs.
However, despite the government’s alarm, the Omicron variant by most accounts causes only mild to moderate symptoms in those it infects. Furthermore, in the weeks since it was first discovered in Botswana, the variant has not caused a single death, according to the World Health Organization.