Boris Johnson told ministers that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be “more transmissible” than Delta.
The Prime Minister briefed his cabinet on the latest situation on Tuesday, as a scientist warned that cases of the Omicron variant in the UK are expected to soon be higher than in some African countries on the travel red list.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the characteristics of Omicron, but the first indications were that it is more transmissible than Delta.”
But the spokesperson said there had been no Cabinet debate on whether to present Plan B to control the virus this winter.
Mr Johnson later said “the time has come” for people to receive a reminder.
“The recall program is the fastest in Europe, I think we’ve done more recall than any comparable country,” he told reporters.
“That doesn’t mean he couldn’t go faster.”
He added: âI would definitely tell people that now is the time to get it and of course from Monday we will contract the interval so you go down to three months and that will cause a big increase in the program too.
It comes as Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said early data suggested coronavirus mutation cases were doubling every other day, putting him on track to overtake some of the 11 countries. hence travelers to the UK are now required to quarantine, to try to prevent community transmission.
New rules came into effect in the early hours of Tuesday, requiring all travelers to take a pre-departure test before heading to England. They will not be able to travel if they are positive.
Professor Spector told BBC Breakfast that there was “very little point” in having travel restrictions if the number of cases exceeded the number of Red List countries.
He said: âThe official estimate is around 350 odd Omicron cases, and because current tests lack a lot of them, it’s probably at least 1,000 to 2,000, I’m guessing at the moment.
“And we’d expect that to double about every other day at the moment, so if you do your math – suppose it’s 1,000 right now, and you think it’s going to double every other day, you can see that these numbers are going to be quite (high) certainly in about 10 days.
âAt that point, we’ll probably have more cases than they will in some of these African countries.
“So I think maybe these travel restrictions have their place at the start, when the cases are really low here and very high in the other country, but when we strike that balance there is little point in have them, in my opinion. “
As of Tuesday, 437 cases of Omicron had been confirmed in the UK, 333 in England, 99 in Scotland and five in Wales.
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said he believes Omicron will take over from Delta in the UK as the dominant variant of the coronavirus ‘within weeks’ .
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today show: “I think we can now say that this variant is spreading faster in the UK than the Delta variant at the same time, and that’s something that I think , was not clear until very recently.
“The fact that so far we haven’t seen a lot of serious cases of Omicron, maybe because it infects these people with some immunity, and that’s good news that they didn’t not tons of serious illness, but I think it’s too early to assume that Omicron is fundamentally sweeter than, say, Delta. â
Professor Spector added: ‘If the first reports do come to fruition – we don’t know for sure, we have virtually no data in this country where we have high vaccination rates – but if we assume that it does. is not more serious and perhaps softer than Delta, but it is much more transferable.
âSo that means maybe twice as many people are going to pass it on when someone receives it in a crowd.
âThis will be good news for the individual as we have fewer cases going to the hospital, and this is in part due to our high vaccination rates.
âBut it also means that you will end up having more deaths and problems, because almost everyone is infected or re-infected.
âAnd so, that means for the country as a whole it could be worse news but better for the individual.
âSo that’s absolutely no reason for complacency. “
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on Monday that none of the Omicron variant cases identified to date have resulted in hospitalization.
Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said on Tuesday he expected a “big wave” of Omicron to hit Wales, while Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon predicted a ” continued and potentially rapid increase in cases “of the variant in the days to come.
Meanwhile, the UK has reported its highest weekly count of new Covid-19 cases since January.
A total of 336,893 new cases have been reported in the past seven days, including 45,691 on Tuesday, government figures show.
This is the highest number for a seven-day period since the week of January 16, when 339,956 were reported.
Weekly cases during the second wave of the virus peaked at 417,620, for the seven days through January 9.