The Omicron variant of the coronavirus led to the most significant surge yet in COVID-19 cases in the UK since the pandemic began. Ministers warned that Britain faces a “tidal” wave infection from the new variant as rapid transmission rates are reported in London and across the country.
With the sudden surge in coronavirus cases, many industries and transport networks struggle with a lack of staff as many are sick and need to self-isolate. The spread of the variant is also very alarming as it can exceed Britain hospitals’ capacity.
As of January 7, the UK Health Security Agency published data showing a total of 274,470 new Omicron cases. Since its discovery, there have been 365,376 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK.
Since last summer, the UK government has been steadily focusing on its COVID response around the vaccination programme and prevented reimposing restrictions until the new Omicron variant came to light.
According to the UK’s health minister Sajid Javid, Britain needs to strengthen coronavirus restrictions and speed up the booster vaccine shots as the Omicron variant continues to spread. He said this in line with the government’s effort to accelerate the national vaccination programme, to offer a booster dose to adults by the end of December.
In addition to the government’s effort to speed up the vaccination programme, the British government temporarily suspended the 15-minute observation period required for anyone receiving a Moderna or Pfizer jabs. Accordingly, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cut the interval between second and third doses, which was six months, then shortened to three. He also added that two doses of vaccines are no longer sufficient in giving adequate protection against the virus.
Regardless of the tidal wave of cases that the Omicron brought, the UK Prime Minister assured Britons that scientists are confident that administering a third dose, or a booster shot, can increase everyone’s level of protection back up.
Moreover, lawmakers approved implementing stricter rules on mask-wearing in indoor public spaces and mandatory COVID-19 passes for nightclubs to prevent the rapid spread of the variant until herd immunity is reached.
Currently, the region of England is under Plan B measures asking people to work from home, including compulsory face masks and COVID-19 vaccination passes or certificates for entry to large venues.
What are some of the current COVID-19 restrictions in parts of the UK amid the Omicron variant?
Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland imposed more onerous restrictions to prevent the further rise of coronavirus cases across the United Kingdom.
In Wales, only a maximum of six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, restaurants, and cinemas, while nightclubs will close from Sunday. Only 30 people can enter indoor events, and 50 people are the limit for outdoor events.
In Scotland, a social distancing of at least one meter will be required for significant indoor events where people are standing with attendance limited to 100 people. On the other hand, large events where people are sitting can accommodate 200 people. 500 is the maximum number of people allowed in an area for outdoor events.
In Northern Ireland, nightclubs were also shut down, and indoor standing events and dancing in hospitality settings were banned. Only six people or ten from a single household can go in indoor hospitality settings.
COVID-19 Testing in the UK amid the Omicron Variant
UK Prime Minister announced plans for 100,000 critical workers to take daily coronavirus tests. This new testing regime will be implemented from January 10 for primary industries such as food, transport, and border force, to reduce the transmission between colleagues.
UK Health Authorities also simplified the test for coronavirus requirements to cut isolation times for many people and ease the employee shortages due to the Omicron variant. Furthermore, Boris Johnson also scrapped the need for pre-departure tests for people travelling to England. The Omicron variant spread is prevalent, and the means to contain it are no longer effective and now meaningless.
These tests discouraged many people from going abroad for fear that they might get stuck overseas for a long time. Despite the high infection levels, the Britain cabinet backed UK Prime Minister’s decision not to implement further restrictions as the Omicron variant is less severe than earlier ones.
Also, the UK Health Secretary Agency said that from January 11, individuals in England who will test positive for coronavirus using rapid lateral flow tests would not need to verify the result with a PCR test given that they are asymptomatic.
This move will also cut the time of self-isolation for people who got a positive lateral flow test but do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Meaning, they will not need to wait for the result of the PCR test before beginning another seven days of quarantine.
According to Epidemiologist John Edmunds, this move made sense as the prevalence is incredibly high. Therefore, those who tested positive are likely true positive, and there is no need to confirm the result with the PCR test. Not only will it waste time, but also resources that might be better used elsewhere.
Will there be a workforce disruption in the UK due to the spread of Omicron variant?
With the rapid and high rates of infections, people who test positive for coronavirus need to self-isolate for seven days, expecting that businesses and public services might face disruption.
Due to this, the British government asked public sector managers to promote businesses continuity by testing their contingency plans against a worst-case scenario, including staff absence to minimise disruption because of the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Currently, the impact of the variant on workforces, supply chains, public services, and even schools is closely monitored. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also asked ministers to supervise and work closely with their respective sectors to develop robust contingency plans.
The symptoms of Omicron:
- Runny nose
- Fatigue (mild or severe)
- Sore throat
As with all other coronavirus strains, the Omicron variant, though less severe, can still cause severe disease or death, especially for people who are clinically vulnerable.
Are you looking for a testing provider?
Harley Medic International is a government-approved testing provider and an expert in COVID-19 testing. They have many locations across the UK, ensuring that a testing centre is near you. Getting a test is as easy as booking online and finding the closest clinic. Visit their website at harleymedic.co.uk to learn more.