Thursday, 2 December 2021

The Omicron Variant

This week the Prime Minister set out a proportionate set of actions to tackle the newly identified Omicron Variant of Covid-19 that was first discovered in Southern Africa.  It includes new temporary and precautionary measures that will allow scientists time to better understand how the new strain of the Covid virus has developed. This was an extremely difficult decision.  None of us wants to return to the sorts of restrictions we have had to endure over the last two years, however, there are some uncertainties around the new variant, so we need to make the space to better understand it.
These measures include making face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport and requiring all travellers to take a PCR test when arriving back in the UK, on or before day two of their arrival. We have also placed South Africa, Botswana, and other African nations on the red list as a precaution to prevent unnecessary spread of this variant.
The main concern is that the Omicron variant contains a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. Urgent work is ongoing internationally to fully understand how these mutations may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments, and transmissibility. Vaccines remain our best line of defence and experts remain confident that our current vaccines will provide protection against the new variant, but the extent of this continues to be investigated.
However, our extensive vaccination programme and test, trace and isolate system continue to be the most effective way of reducing transmission, along with practicing good hygiene, keeping spaces well ventilated, and wearing a face covering in enclosed or crowded spaces. Over 16 million people have already come forward for their booster jabs, and we have seen a fall in hospitalisations and deaths. All adults who have not yet received their first or second dose of the vaccine, or those who are eligible for their booster should be encouraged to come forward to help protect themselves and others.
Both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have been clear that these measures will only be in place for as long as is strictly necessary and not one day more. If it proves to be the case, as many initial investigations indict, that the Omicron Variant of COVID-19 is no more deadly or significant that the Delta variant, these restrictions will be reversed. As such, the government has committed to a review three weeks from now.
Cornwall has been particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic, and with the existing pressures on our health service we have to act with caution when considering the risks on new variants. However, it is important to understand that vaccination is our best way out of this pandemic and put us firmly back on the road to normality. As such, I strongly encourage you to have both your first and second vaccine and your booster when called up.

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