Here are the coronavirus morning headlines for Saturday, December 4, as Wales confirms its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The Welsh Government confirmed on the evening of Friday, December 3 that a case had been identified in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area. They also confirmed the case is linked to international travel.
A statement from the Welsh Government read: “A case of the Omicron variant of concern has been confirmed in Wales. The case is in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area and is linked to international travel.
“We are prepared to respond rapidly to emerging variants of concern and intensive investigations and robust public health action are being taken to slow any spread.
“The health impact of the Omicron variant is still being assessed. Currently, there is no substantial evidence to suggest the Omicron variant will lead to a more severe form of illness but the data is being kept under constant review.
“As we better understand this variant we will be able to determine the next steps. In the meantime, sticking to the rules, following the steps which keep us safe and taking up the offer of a vaccine continue to be the best way to protect ourselves and the NHS.”
People in Wales will have to self-isolate for 10 days, even if they have been fully vaccinated, if they come into contact with a probable or confirmed case of the variant.
Dr Meng Khaw, national director for health protection and screening Services for Public Health Wales, said: “The Welsh Government has today confirmed a case of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus in Wales.
“The case was identified in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area, and is linked with international travel. There is no evidence of wider community transmission.
“The number of mutations in the Omicron variant is concerning, but new variants are anticipated. We keep variants under constant review, and we work with UK partners to identify, detect and monitor new and known variants. The Delta variant continues to be the dominant strain in Wales.
“The single best thing you can do to protect yourself, your community and the NHS against new variants of coronavirus is to take up the offer of a vaccine.
“You can also protect yourself and others by maintaining a social distance where possible, washing hands regularly, keeping homes well-ventilated, and working from home if you can. Use a Covid Pass and a face covering where required.
“If you develop a cough, fever or change in sense of taste or smell, you must self-isolate immediately and book a free Coronavirus test by calling 119 or by visiting the Welsh Government website.”
Ireland reintroduces restrictions in lead up to Christmas
Ireland will reintroduce some Covid-19 restrictions for the Christmas period, following “very stark” advice from health officials, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said.
A range of restrictions will be in place from December 7 to January 9, including the shuttering of nightclubs and new limits on household gatherings.
It comes amid concern about increased socialising at Christmas and the potential threat posed by the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.
In a national address on Friday, Mr Martin said: “The risks associated with proceeding into the Christmas period without some restrictions to reduce the volume of social contacts is just too high.”
Among the measures taking effect from next Tuesday are the closure of nightclubs and strict social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants.
The rules will see the hospitality sector largely revert to the situation before October 22, with a maximum of six adults per table and no multiple table bookings.
Closing time, the Taoiseach said, remains midnight.
Mr Martin also said there will now be a maximum of 50% capacity at entertainment, cultural, community and sporting events, which must all be fully seated.
Use of the Covid-19 pass will also be extended to gyms, leisure centres and hotel bars and restaurants.
Omicron variant would ‘be capable of causing new wave’, scientists warn
The Omicron variant would likely be capable of causing a new wave of coronavirus infections that could be even larger than previous waves, Government scientists have warned.
The extraordinary meeting of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) subgroup on Sars-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 concluded that, if introduced into the UK, the variant would be able to initiate a new wave of infections.
A note of the meeting on November 25, was released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Friday.
In it, the scientists conclude: “We cannot exclude that this wave would be of a magnitude similar, or even larger, than previous waves.”
They continue: “Although data on disease severity associated with B.1.1.529 are not yet available, a large wave of infections will be accompanied by a wave of severe cases and the subgroup cannot rule out that this may be sufficient to overwhelm NHS capacity.”
According to the scientists, it is highly likely that Omicron is a “fit” virus that is undergoing extensive community transmission in South Africa, and possibly elsewhere.
The Sage scientists warn: “Even if there continues to be good protection against severe disease for individuals from vaccination (including boosters), any significant reduction in protection against infection could still result in a very large wave of infections.
“This would in turn lead to potentially high numbers of hospitalisations even with protection against severe disease being less affected.
“The size of this wave remains highly uncertain but may be of a scale that requires very stringent response measures to avoid unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
“If vaccine efficacy is substantially reduced, then a wave of severe disease should be expected.”
They add: “It is important to be prepared for a potentially very significant wave of infections with associated hospitalisations now, ahead of data being available.”
Unvaccinated mothers with ‘terrifying’ ordeals urge pregnant women to get jabbed
Unvaccinated women who suffered with Covid-19 during their pregnancies have shared their “terrifying” stories of having the virus, from being rushed to the hospital to having emergency C-sections.
The women appear in a video sharing their experiences of severe Covid-19 during pregnancy as part of a new campaign encouraging expectant mothers to get the vaccine.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said 98% of pregnant women in hospital with symptomatic Covid-19 are unvaccinated.
The video features three women who experienced serious complications after contracting Covid-19 before they had been vaccinated, as well as the doctors and frontline staff who treated them, to warn of the dangers of the virus for pregnant women and their babies.
One of the mothers, Christina, a mental health therapist from Guildford who was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in her third trimester, said: “I had to give birth via emergency C-section because there was concern that I could have a stillbirth. It was terrifying.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me and my baby; I’m still suffering with symptoms now along with the anxiety of not knowing how or when I’ll recover.
“I would urge pregnant women to get vaccinated because I don’t want anyone to experience what I went through.”
Christmas should go ahead as normal, says Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has said Christmas should go ahead “as normally as possible” this year despite concerns about the Omicron variant.
Speaking during a by-election campaign visit to Oswestry in North Shropshire, the Prime Minister said that people did not need to cancel parties or nativity plays.
“I’ve noticed there’s been quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about it, people concerned that they need to cancel their Christmas parties. That’s not right, we’re not saying that and we’re not saying that nativity plays have to be cancelled.
“I believe very strongly that kids should be in school and I also think that Christmas should go ahead as normally as possible.
“But, the key point is that whatever the risk Omicron may pose, or may not pose, the booster is everywhere and always, vaccination is going to be your best protection, so everybody should get it.”
New rapid test ‘identifies antibody effectiveness against Covid variants’
Researchers have created a rapid test that they say can identify antibody effectiveness against Covid-19 variants.
The test can quickly and easily assess how well someone’s antibodies fight infection from multiple variants of coronavirus, such as Delta and the newly discovered Omicron variant, a new study suggests.
Scientists say the test could potentially tell doctors how protected a patient is from new variants and those currently circulating in a community.
It could also help doctors identify which monoclonal antibodies to treat a Covid patient with.
Cameron Wolfe, associate professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine, in the US, said: “We currently really have no rapid way of assessing variants, neither their presence in an individual nor the ability of antibodies we possess to make a difference.
“It’s one of the lingering fears that, as we successfully vaccinate more and more people, a variant may emerge that more radically evades vaccine-induced antibody neutralisation.
“And if that fear came true, if Omicron turned out to be a worst-case scenario, how would we know quickly enough?”
While developing a test for coronavirus antibodies and biomarkers, the researchers realised there could be some benefit to being able to detect the ability of antibodies to neutralise specific variants. They built a test around this idea.
Steps gig linked to new variant outbreak in Scotland
Omicron cases in Scotland have jumped by 16 in the past 24 hours to 29, with a Steps concert among the sources.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned they may rise “significantly” in the coming days as the variant is now circulating in the community.
The update comes as Scotland recorded 16 coronavirus-linked deaths and 2,432 new cases in the past 24 hours.
Previously, nine Omicron cases were linked to a single private event, but the First Minister said there are now several different sources of infections of the new variant, including a Steps concert at the Hydro in Glasgow on Monday, November 22.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The number of Omicron cases now being reported in Scotland is rising, and cases are no longer all linked to a single event, but to several different sources including a Steps concert at the Hydro on November 22.
“This confirms our view that there is now community transmission of this variant within Scotland. Given the nature of transmission, we would expect to see cases rise, perhaps significantly, in the days ahead.”
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