Boris Johnson has introduced measures designed to include the unfold of the brand new Omicron coronavirus variant, because the UK’s chief medical officer warned there was an inexpensive likelihood of “vaccine escape”.

Anybody coming into the UK will likely be required to take a PCR check inside two days of their arrival and should self isolate till they obtain a unfavourable end result, after the UK reported its first instances of the brand new variant.

Any contact of a suspected case of Omicron should isolate for 10 days, no matter their vaccination standing. Face masks will likely be made necessary in retailers and public transport, however not in pubs and eating places. All measures will likely be reviewed in three weeks.

Talking at a press convention in Downing Avenue, Professor Chris Whitty mentioned there was “an inexpensive likelihood that at the very least there will likely be some extent of vaccine escape with this variant”, the primary admission of this type from a UK well being official. This implies the variant could possibly evade vaccine safety, however Whitty insisted that it was seemingly vaccines would nonetheless assist forestall extreme sickness and loss of life.

The prime minister mentioned: “Our scientists are studying extra hour by hour, and it does seem that Omicron spreads very quickly, and will be unfold between people who find themselves double vaccinated.

“There’s additionally a really in depth mutation which implies it diverges fairly considerably from earlier configurations of the virus, and as end result, it’d — at the very least partially — cut back the safety of our vaccines over time.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has been requested to evaluate whether or not booster vaccines needs to be prolonged to under-40s and whether or not the hole between second and third doses needs to be diminished from six months.

Whereas scientists proceed to evaluate the brand new variant, the federal government has not but deployed its Covid-19 Plan B, which incorporates earn a living from home steerage and Covid-19 passports for mass occasions.

When requested if the federal government ought to have activated its full suite of measures below Plan B, one Sage adviser advised the FT: “If what we expect we all know now [about Omicron] seems to be roughly true, and let’s hope it doesn’t, then Plan B gained’t be wherever close to stringent sufficient to cease this.”

Johnson advised reporters he was “assured” this Christmas “will likely be significantly higher than final Christmas.”

The brand new measures had been launched because the variant continued to unfold in Europe and scientists raced to evaluate the brand new degree of danger.

The UK well being division mentioned one case had been recognized in Chelmsford and a second in Nottingham. They had been linked and related to journey to Southern Africa, officers mentioned.

Earlier on Saturday the World Well being Organisation urged a restrained approach to the variant to make sure that international locations reporting instances weren’t penalised.

On Friday, the WHO designated Omicron a “variant of concern,” skipping the intermediate “of curiosity” designation.

Sajid Javid, secretary of state for well being and social care, mentioned there could be a surge in testing capability in affected areas and new journey restrictions, which from Sunday will apply to an extra 4 African international locations.

“We is not going to hesitate to take additional motion if required,” Javid mentioned.

Outcomes of assessments to gauge Omicron’s response to vaccines and immune techniques usually are not anticipated for 2 to 3 weeks, scientists and officers mentioned.

World journey has more and more been restricted since Thursday, with the US, the EU, Switzerland and the UK imposing restrictions on journeys to southern Africa and quite a lot of different international locations the place the variant has been detected.

South African scientists are sending samples of the virus to biosecurity businesses worldwide, together with the UK’s Well being Safety Company and the federal government’s Porton Down lab.

In the meantime, there was additional proof that the brand new variant is seeding in Europe as the primary instances had been recognized in Germany and the Czech Republic, a day after a case was recognized in Belgium.

Authorities within the Netherlands had been investigating whether or not 61 individuals who examined optimistic for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday had contracted the Omicron variant.

They’ve been positioned in seven-day lodge isolation, in line with Dutch well being authorities. “The optimistic check outcomes will likely be examined as quickly as doable to find out whether or not this considerations the brand new worrisome variant,” the Dutch well being authority mentioned.

Omicron seems to be behind a big surge in instances in South Africa. Its heightened transmissibility has not but been confirmed, although the WHO has mentioned it seems to have a progress benefit.

A few of its mutations have been beforehand related to immune escape. Any variant considerably extra transmissible than Delta, already extra contagious than the ancestral coronavirus, or in a position to pierce vaccine safety may critically hamper the worldwide restoration from the pandemic.

Extra reporting by Oliver Barnes and Mehreen Khan