Are you worried about the new variant?
What do we know about Omicron?World Health Organisation (WHO): Update on Omicron
Severity of disease
Has it reached the UK?
How might people in high-risk groups be affected by Omicron?
“Over the past few months, this variant has been circulating in younger age groups, because they’re the ones who are relatively unprotected. However, the variant may shift its profile to infect more older people, who we know are more vulnerable to severe infection for the other variants. The reasoning is straightforward. If the variant is able to evade the immune response of young people, then the built-up immunity in the elderly – due to high levels of vaccination combined with natural infection – will be less meaningful. That, obviously, is a real worry."
What are the new restrictions?You can read about the current restrictions on gov.uk's coronavirus page.
You must wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. Face coverings should be worn in communal areas of universities, colleges and schools by staff, visitors and pupils or students in year 7 and above.
If you’re travelling to England from abroad you must take a PCR test before the end of day 2 following your arrival and self-isolate until you get a negative test result, even if you’re fully vaccinated.
If you’re a contact of someone who may have been infected with the Omicron variant, you must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of your age, vaccination status or any negative test results.
All staff and students in secondary schools, colleges and universities should wear a face covering indoors where social distancing is not possible.
If you’re a contact of someone who may have been infected with the Omicron variant, you must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of your vaccination status or age.
If you’re fully vaccinated and travelling to Wales from abroad, you must take a day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until you receive a negative result.
How might the new restrictions affect disabled people?The Guardian: England’s new Covid measures still leave clinically vulnerable people out in the cold
Even before the discovery of the new variant, people with underlying health conditions were being widely ignored, despite case numbers remaining high. Months after the official shielding programme ended, Office for National Statistics data from October showed almost one in four clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people were still shielding, while 68% were leaving the house but taking extra precautions.
Many CEV people tell me they’re bracing against the cold and only socialising outdoors, while others aren’t seeing loved ones at all. As one young man with cerebral palsy and asthma, who is not leaving his flat other than for vaccine appointments, told me: “I feel like a hamster on a wheel. If anything, the isolation of shielding is getting more entrenched than ever before by the rest of the population returning to ‘normal’.”
Ministers have only made matters worse. Over the past few months, the government has removed many measures that would have helped clinically vulnerable people. In England, the legal requirement to wear a mask ended as far back as July, apart from in healthcare settings and care homes. Once furlough ended in October, clinically vulnerable people had fewer options to shield themselves. Many were sent back to packed offices or public-facing roles, without the legal right to work from home or still be paid if they couldn’t.
Since August, close contacts of people in England who test positive for Covid haven’t had to self-isolate if they have been double-vaccinated. The government appears to have little interest in either preventing or tracking non-hospitalised Covid cases – a strategy that is dangerous to even vaccinated clinically vulnerable people in the UK, who must try to avoid contracting Covid in a population where 1 million people currently have the virus.
The government clearly believes vaccines – and the booster programme in particular – can form its main line of defence, but while the rollout is providing huge relief, it is not a silver bullet. More than 100,000 extremely vulnerable people are yet to have their third jab after confusion over who is eligible. Medication or certain health problems mean two in five people who have impaired immune systems have a “low or undetectable” antibody response after being double vaccinated, meaning they in particular require a “vaccine plus” strategy – such as masks and increased distancing – to feel safer. The consequences of all this can’t be ignored: millions of people with underlying health conditions are being shut out from public life.
Over to you...
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