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Schools could close in January as new Covid strain thought to infect kids more easily

Experts have released an update

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The government is reportedly considering closing schools throughout January as it’s thought the new coronavirus strain could infect kids more easily, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Scientific experts have said that a ‘significantly higher’ percentage of children have returned a positive Covid test in recent weeks, coinciding with the rise of the new strain.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group (NervTag), said at a press briefing: “There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children that may perhaps explain some of the differences, but we haven’t established any sort of causality on that but we can see that in the data.”

He continued: “What we’ve seen is, during the lockdown in England we saw a general distribution of the virus towards children, and that was true in the variant and the non-variant, and it is what we would expect, given that we had locked down which reduced adult contact but schools were still open.

“But what we’ve seen over the course of a five or six-week period is consistently the proportion of pillar two cases for the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus.

“We are still investigating the significance of that.”

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Professor Ferguson added: “This is a hypothesis at the moment – it’s not been proven. But if it were true, then this might explain a significant proportion, maybe even the majority, of the transmission increase seen.

“But a lot more work needs to be done to actually explore this in more detail.”

However, fellow NervTag member Professor Wendy Barclay, who is the head of the department of infectious disease at Imperial College London, urged people to be cautious in regards to what is said about the spread among kids.

She said: “We are not saying that this is a virus which specifically attacks children. We know that SARS-CoV-2, as it emerged as a virus, was not as efficient in infecting children as it was adults, and there are many hypotheses about that.

“And again, if the (new) virus is having an easier time of finding an entrance cell then that would put children on a more level playing field.”

Professor Barclay added: “Therefore children are equally susceptible perhaps to this virus as adults, and therefore given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected.

“It’s not just the viruses specifically targeting them, but it’s just that it’s now less inhibited, if you like, to get into the children.”

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According to Professor Ferguson, the most current estimates found the virus might be somewhere between 50-70% more transmissible than the old strain, and he added that NervTag now had ‘high confidence’ there is a substantial increase in transmission.

However, uncertainty around the numbers means the group has not attached a final number on it, although he confirmed the new variant of the virus has spread to other parts of the country – Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said they were investigating a hotspot in Cumbria.

The virus, both the original and new strain, will decline over the next two weeks, according to Professor Ferguson’s best assessment of the situation.

He explained: “Contact rates tend to be lower over Christmas with the tightening of Christmas measures and Tier4 for in place in the highest areas. I would hope certainly to be seeing virus decrease.

“If we do that will give us some sense of the level of controls which need to be in place, the real question then is, how much are we able to relax measures in the new year, and still retain control.”

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New Covid-19 Rules: Everything you need to know as masks become compulsory in shops and on transport

The new rules will come into place tomorrow at 4

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From tomorrow, November 30th, the use of face masks and coverings will once again be compulsory in shops and on public transport.

The government made the decision as part of its response to the new Omicron variant, which is said to be ‘more transmissible and have more mutations which could weaken the effect of vaccines and natural immunity.’ 

The change in rules was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after cases of the new variant were detected at several locations across the UK. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave more detail yesterday, November 28th, saying the masks rule would apply from 4am on Tuesday

Here’s everything you need to know:

Where will face masks be compulsory after November 30th? 

Face masks and coverings will be mandatory in all shops and on all forms of public transport.

A statement from the Government says: “From 4am Tuesday November 30th, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport unless individuals are exempt from doing so.”

However, all hospitality will be exempt from the rule change, with the Prime Minister saying further details would be outlined by the Health Secretary ‘in the course of the next day or so’. 

Will face masks be compulsory in schools?

While staff and secondary school students are being ‘strongly advised’ to wear face masks in communal areas from Monday, the rule won’t be mandatory in schools

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi recommends that staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear masks in communal areas in schools, colleges and universities such as corridors, canteens and halls.

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What other measures are being brought in?

Passengers arriving into the UK from Tuesday will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. PCR tests must be purchased from private providers as free NHS tests are not valid for this purpose.

All close contacts of anyone who has tested positive for the Omicron variant must also self-isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also said during Saturday’s press conference that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will consider extending boosters from the over-40s to the over-18s.

Will more restrictions be brought in?

The Health Secretary said during Saturday’s press conference that it was ‘nowhere near’ the time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance, and was hopeful the mask mandate would be removed ‘within weeks’.

Also speaking on Saturday, Boris Johnson added that the measures are simply a ‘precaution’ and are in place to ‘buy time for scientists’ while more is learned about the Omicron variant.

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Iceland boss says shoppers won’t be forced to wear face masks

‘We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable’

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Iceland supermarkets across the country won’t be forcing shoppers to wear face masks, despite new Covid rules being introduced this week.

The supermarket chain’s managing director Richard Walker has announced that he won’t be asking staff to enforce the new restrictions as they focus on the ‘long-term recovery of the high street.’

Walker told The Daily Mail: “We fully support the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops, however, we won’t be asking our store colleagues to police it.

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“Our store teams, alongside all retail workers, have shown heroic efforts in terms of ensuring safety for customers and building back consumer confidence and it’s crucial that we stay focused on the long-term recovery of the high street.

“We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable, and I’m hopeful that the latest guidelines won’t discourage customers from doing so.”

Supermarket giant Co-op has also said that they would not be enforcing face coverings in their stores – nor would they refuse to serve a customer without one.

The British Retail Consortium has said it’s down to the police to enforce the measure, saying, as per The Sun: “Customers are asked to respect the rules and be considerate to their fellow shoppers and to hard-working shop staff.”

@arturorey / Unsplash

This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the return of face masks and self-isolation in a bid to tackle the new Omicron variant. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed yesterday that face masks will be once again made compulsory in shops and on public transport from tomorrow, Tuesday November 30th

While appearing on The Andrew Marr Show, Javid confirmed that people who refuse to wear masks will be hit with new sanctions, saying: “Yes, it will be a legal requirement by government regulations to wear masks in shops and public transport.”

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The key symptoms of the new Omicron Covid variant have been revealed

Here’s what we know so far…

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As new measures are put in place to combat the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, speculation surrounding its symptoms are rife.

While little is still known about the latest variant of Covid-19, it is said to be ‘more transmissible and have more mutations which could weaken the effect of vaccines and natural immunity,’ and has already been detected in a handful of locations across the UK. 

Measures have been introduced to combat the new strain, which is believed to have originated in South Africa, such as making face masks compulsory once again in shops and on public transport. 

But what exactly are the Omicron symptoms, and how do they differ from regular Coronavirus?

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who spotted the variant when patients arrived at her practice in Pretoria, South Africa, says the new variant has presented some young people with intense fatigue and a six-year-old child with a high pulse rate.

Dr. Coetzee said symptoms didn’t include a sore throat, but more of a ‘scratchy’ throat, and a mild headache. She added there was also no cough.

The thirty-three-year-old GP also pointed out that none of the patients had the loss of sense of taste or smell which has become a common indicator of Covid-19.

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Dr Coetzee, who also chairs South Africa’s Medical Association, said: “Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before.”

She added that most of the patients she has seen so far are healthy men who are ‘feeling so tired’. 

As of 4am tomorrow, November 30th, face masks will be compulsory in all shops and on public transport. A statement from the Government says: “From 4am Tuesday November 30th, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport unless individuals are exempt from doing so.”

Find out more here.

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