Omicron may be infecting 4,000 BRITONS a day

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As many as 4,000 Britons may be catching Omicron every day with the super-variant on track to replace Delta in in a matter of days, official data suggests — as the mutant pushes Scotland’s Covid cases to a three-month high.

The highly-evolved virus is now behind 8.5 per cent of coronavirus cases across England and 13.3 per cent north of the border, and is doubling every two to three days.

With an average 48,000 Britons testing positive for Covid every day, it suggests more than 4,000 of them are the new Omicron variant — even though fewer than 1,000 cases have been confirmed. 

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a ‘tsunami’ of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a ‘severe challenge’.

At a press conference in Edinburgh, she said: ‘The fact is we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of the new Omicron variant. To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.’  

Public health chiefs expect Omicron to outstrip Delta nationally by Christmas and even sooner in the epicentre of London, with its rapid spread prompting No10 to resort to its Plan B strategy. 

But Ms Sturgeon believes the variant to become dominant much more rapidly north of the border, adding: ‘I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.’ 

Public Health Scotland projections estimate that Omicron will be dominant by Tuesday and will make up virtually every infection by December 20. 

A senior member of the Government’s scientific advisory group SAGE yesterday warned that Omicron was spreading even faster in the UK than it is in South Africa — where cases have rocketed 10-fold in a fortnight. 

Confidential UK Health Security Agency data showed that Omicron may now be behind 8.5 per cent of infections. The figures are based on the proportion of PCR tests failing to detect a specific gene, an early indicator of the variant. PCRs look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection, but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them. The analysis was done by Professor Alastair Grant, a Covid modeller at the University of East Anglia, who has access to the secret statistics 

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK's Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a 'tsunami' of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a 'severe challenge'

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a ‘tsunami’ of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a ‘severe challenge’

Omicron makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases in Scotland and is doubling every two to three days

Omicron makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases in Scotland and is doubling every two to three days

Public Health Scotland estimates the new variant will be dominant next week, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all Covid cases, and make almost all new infections by the end of the year

Public Health Scotland estimates the new variant will be dominant next week, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all Covid cases, and make almost all new infections by the end of the year

The above map shows the ten areas that have the most confirmed and suspected Omicron cases in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency. West Northamptonshire is the country’s hotspot for the mutant strain, although eight in ten areas on the list are in London

The UKHSA found that cases rose in 90 per cent of local authorities last week in England. It comes amid the spread of the Omicron variant

The UK Government hopes Plan B restrictions will be enough to slow the spread of the mutant strain, buying the NHS precious time to dish out millions more booster jabs. 

The first part of Boris Johnson’s Plan B came into force in England today, with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches. 

New work-from-home guidance will come into effect on Monday, and MPs will vote the next day on the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large venues. 

But officials are already drawing up a ‘Plan C’, which would see care homes slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants.

Nicola Sturgeon launches new Covid crackdown by forcing everyone who lives with infected to isolate even if they test NEGATIVE 

Nicola Sturgeon today announced entire families in Scotland will have to self-isolate for 10 days if one member of the household tests positive for coronavirus as she unveiled new Covid restrictions and warned the nation is facing a ‘tsunami’ of Omicron cases.

The Scottish First Minister said that as of tomorrow ‘all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test’. 

Ms Sturgeon said she knew this would not be ‘easy’ and that there will be ‘careful exemptions for critical services’.

However, she insisted the move is ‘essential at this moment’ because of the rapid spread of the new variant. 

The SNP leader said non-household contacts of a positive case should continue to self-isolate, pending a PCR test and if that test is negative they can leave isolation as long as they are double-jabbed.   

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon also urged people in Scotland to defer work Christmas parties as she said limiting ‘unnecessary contacts’ is the ‘sensible’ thing to do to slow transmission of the disease. 

It came as it emerged that the UK Government is already working on a ‘Plan C’ of Covid restrictions, just days after Boris Johnson triggered his ‘Plan B’. 

Michael Gove is due to hold a COBRA meeting this afternoon with the first ministers of the devolved administrations to discuss the latest Covid data and the UK response. 

Ms Sturgeon told a coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh at lunchtime that as of yesterday at 5pm there were 110 confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland and 10 days ago the number was just nine. 

She warned the latest figure is likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the data suggests the current spread of Omicron represents the ‘fastest exponential growth that we have seen in this pandemic so far’. 

Ms Sturgeon said the number of Omicron cases is doubling every two to three days and the variant could overtake Delta as the dominant strain ‘within days’.

She said the R number in Scotland – the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person – had been ‘hovering’ around one in recent weeks but the R number for Omicron is ‘likely to be well over two and possibly closer to three’ which could result in a ‘rapid rise’ in cases in the days ahead. 

‘The fact is we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of of the new Omicron variant, ‘ she said. 

‘To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.’ 

She added: ‘Indeed, I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.’

Controversial vaccine passports could also be extended to more venues as part of contingency measures being floated within Downing Street if Omicron proves to be as dangerous as scientists fear.

SAGE modelling warns Britain could face up to 1,000 hospital admissions a day by the New Year because of the mutant strain, bolstering calls for the UK to ramp up its booster vaccine drive. Health chiefs had also warned of a million cumulative cases by the end of 2021. 

Scientists can estimate Omicron’s spread with PCR tests without sequencing every case. These search for three genes to detect an infection, but the variant is missing one, known as the ‘S’ gene. Researchers can estimate which ones are Omicron because Delta has all three.

An evidence paper published ahead Ms Sturgeon’s briefing today showed that 13.3 per cent of all PCR tests had the S gene dropout, the equivalent of one in eight. It suggests more than 600 Scots caught Omicron in the last 24 hours.

It said: ‘Based on the data presented in this paper which is up to and including December 9, it is highly probable that Omicron will outcompete Delta and become the dominant variant within Scotland very quickly, with the potential to cause high case numbers.’ 

The document stated the rate at which cases of the new variant double is between 2.16 days and 2.66 days and that the R rate could be 3.

England has yet to publish the same data but it is being circulated within Government. Professor Alastair Grant, a modeller from the University of East Anglia who has access to the confidential data, warned of a similar story. 

He claimed the R rate, which measures the spread of the virus, may be as high as four in England. This suggests every person who catches the virus will pass it on to four others.  

Professor Grant’s analysis also suggested there may have been 7,000 Omicron infections in the UK since November 20, more than eight times the official tally.

Britain has confirmed only 817 infections to date but Government scientists admit the true total may be more than 20 times higher because only a fraction of PCR tests are sent on for further analysis.

West Northamptonshire is the Omicron capital of England, where 83 confirmed or suspected infections with the mutant strain have been detected.

Regionally, London is the epicentre with eight of the ten areas with the most infections with the mutant strain. These are Croydon (up to 10 cases), Hackney (14), Lambeth (16), Newham (22), Brent (14), Greenwich (16), Wandsworth (13) and Lewisham (26).

Professor Kevin Fenton, public health director for London, has warned that the mutant strain could be behind more than five in ten cases in the capital within two weeks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are very concerned about its spread. 

‘Although we have limited diagnostic capabilities to identify the variant at the moment, the samples that we’re taking are confirming that we are seeing a growth in the number of cases every two to three days. 

‘At this rate we should be seeing thousands of diagnosed cases by next week and certainly in the next two to four weeks it should account for the majority of cases that we see in the city, so we are taking this extremely seriously.’

It comes as it was claimed today that care homes could be slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants under a tougher ‘Plan C’ being considered by ministers. 

A Government source said it was ‘very likely’ care home residents could be banned from seeing more than three visitors over the festive period to prevent another explosive outbreak in the sector.

And as shops, pubs and restaurants warn of the millions they face losing at their busiest time of year under Plan B measures , officials are already working on a potential ‘Plan C’ package.  

This includes having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues. 

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force on Thursday with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches.

The looming threat of even tighter restrictions comes amid fury at Mr Johnson’s decision to impose Plan B measures yesterday, on the same day that he tried to grapple with the fallout of the Downing Street Christmas party scandal. 

England's Covid outbreak remained flat last week with around one in 60 people infected on any given day despite the super mutant Omicron variant being detected, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed today

England’s Covid outbreak remained flat last week with around one in 60 people infected on any given day despite the super mutant Omicron variant being detected, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed today

The ONS data shows Covid cases increased in people in school Year 7 to school Year 11 and for those aged 25 to 49 years old

The ONS data shows Covid cases increased in people in school Year 7 to school Year 11 and for those aged 25 to 49 years old

No10’s Plan C to fight Omicron could limit care home visits BEFORE Christmas 

Care homes could be slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants under a tougher ‘Plan C’ being considered by ministers.

Controversial vaccine passports could also be extended to more venues as part of the contingency measures being floated within Downing Street if the Omicron super variant proves to be as dangerous as scientists fear. 

A Government source said it was ‘very likely’ care home residents could be banned from seeing more than three visitors over the festive period to prevent another explosive outbreak in the sector.

But campaign groups warned the plans could be ‘devastating’ and ‘heartbreaking’ with many families forced to pick loved ones on what could be their last Christmas. 

Other curbs would include having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues.

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches.

He is set to face a ‘war’ with his backbenchers when the measures are voted on next week. They reacted furiously to the planned introduction of vaccine passports next week – and took aim at the ‘conflicting’ guidance on working from home and socialising. 

At least 50 Tories have publicly expressed concerns, and a senior Conservative said Mr Johnson needed to ‘get a grip’.   

Ringleaders have told MailOnline that it will be the biggest mutiny yet, with at least 60 expected to defy the government whip.     

It comes after the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly Covid surveillance report found cases were now rising in nine of ten local authorities in England amid the spread of the variant.

They found infections were ticking up in all age groups, and were highest among 10 to 19-year-olds and 20 to 29-year-olds. Across England, infections also rose in every region.

But the country’s biggest Covid symptom-tracking study yesterday claimed infections in the UK grew by just four per cent last week despite warnings Omicron is quickly outstripping Delta.

King’s College London scientists estimated 83,658 people caught the virus on average each day in the week to December 4, up from 80,483 the seven days prior. 

Cases are stagnant or falling in all over-55s thanks to the booster rollout but are rising in all younger age groups, especially children who make up about 30,000 daily cases alone, they said. Broken down within the UK, London, the South East and Wales saw cases rise.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE symptom study, said that while it was too early to see Omicron in the data, he warned the NHS could be overwhelmed if cases of the super-strain begin to skyrocket as predicted.

He said the evidence — alongside claims it may be more mild than other strains — was no reason to be ‘relaxed’, adding: ‘The higher rate of transmission even in the vaccinated could have devastating consequences… Hundreds of people continue to die every week as we head into our second Christmas of this pandemic.’

Professor Spector, who has been calling for more restrictions since September, welcomed Boris Johnson’s Plan B announcement last night but feared it is ‘too little, too late’.

From next week, people in England will be advised to work from home, wear face masks in cinemas and theatres, and use vaccine passports for large events. 

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