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Boosters extended to those 18 and over as Omicron variant is found in Scotland

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Boosters vaccinations will be extended to all those aged 18 and over in Scotland after six cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant were identified north of the border.

The Scottish Government confirmed the change after the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended it to help tackle the new variant.

It follows four cases being confirmed in Lanarkshire and two in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Scotland ‘s chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said: “We welcome the further advice from the JCVI on the Covid-19 vaccination programme and confirm Scotland has already started work on its implementation, including the recommendation that boosters can now be given to all adults no less than three months after a second dose.

“Urgent talks with health boards and vaccination partners are underway and further information on the delivery of this advice will follow as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street has rejected a joint call from the Scottish and Welsh first ministers for stricter travel restrictions to help combat the spread of the new variant.

No 10 rejected the proposal for arrivals to the UK to self-isolate for eight days, with tests on day two and day eight.

Currently, passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Tuesday will be required to take a PCR test by the end of their second day from entry and isolate until they receive a negative test, while 10 southern African nations have been added to the red travel list.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We believe that the approach we’ve taken is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant.

“Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.”

Downing Street also rejected a call from Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford to hold an an urgent Cobra meeting with representatives from the four UK nations to discuss the new variant after the six cases in Scotland followed three confirmed in England.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK (PA)

The pair also called for a guarantee that the Treasury will fully fund any business support required.

Addressing the situation in Scotland at a briefing on the new variant, Ms Sturgeon urged people to “prepare for the worst” but said she was hoping for the best.

She said some of the cases identified have no travel history, which suggests there is a degree of community transmission, but there is currently no suggestion this is either sustained or widespread.

She said Public Health Scotland and local health protection teams are working together and “enhanced” contact tracing is being undertaken to establish the origin of the virus and any individuals the people have come into contact with in recent weeks.

All close contacts of suspected Omicron cases will be advised to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, and enhanced testing will take place in areas where cases have been confirmed.

Ms Sturgeon said much is still to be learned about the new variant, adding: “What we do know at this stage confirms in my view that we should treat it seriously and that we should continue to act on a precautionary basis at this stage.

“While we all hope that the emerging understanding of it will reduce rather than increase our level of concern, there is no doubt that this presents potentially the most challenging development in the course of the pandemic for quite some time.

“It’s important to prepare for the worst. That does not mean that we are not hoping for something considerably short of the worst. We are still hoping for the best.”

Ms Sturgeon said compliance with restrictions is “vital”, and urged people to get fully vaccinated, take regular lateral flow (LFD) tests and adhere to the rules around mask wearing, ventilation and hygiene as well as working from home if possible.

Questioned on the possible impact on Christmas gatherings, she is not asking people to put plans on hold at the moment, but added: “On any occasion that you are intending to socialise or mix with people from other households… please do use an LFD test.”

Earlier, Scotland’s Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, said: “There is still much to learn about the Omicron variant. Questions remain about its severity, transmissibility and response to treatments or vaccines and scientists are working at pace to provide additional information.”

The first two cases in the UK: in Nottingham and Essex – were announced on Saturday, while a third Omicron case was detected in the UK on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa.

On Monday afternoon, health ministers from the G7 group of nations held an urgent meeting to discuss the variant first detected in South Africa amid concerns it could spread rapidly and partially evade existing jabs.

Figures published by the Scottish Government on Monday show there were 2,244 new cases of Covid-19 reported in the Scotland in the past 24 hours.

No new deaths were recorded north of the border but registry offices are generally closed at weekends, impacting figures.

The death toll under this daily measure, of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days, remains at 9,562.

A total of 715 people were in hospital on Sunday with recently confirmed Covid-19 and, of these, 52 were in intensive care.

A total of 4,345,855 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 3,948,483 have received their second dose, and 1,659,464 have received a third dose or booster.

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