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Omicron spread: UK scientists call for urgent Covid rules

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London, Dec 21 (IANS) Amid mounting cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of Covid-19, scientists in the UK have called for urgent rules, warning that waiting till New Year to enforce the measures may be “too late”.

The UK has so far recorded over 37,000 confirmed cases of Omicron, with a majority of cases detected in the last two days, and 12 deaths.

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PM Boris Johnson has ruled out introducing immediate new Covid restrictions in England. The current restrictions in England don’t include limits on socialising.

Scientists have reacted with dismay, emphasising that waiting until the new year would “almost certainly be too late to have a material impact on the epidemic”, The Guardian reported.

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Because the rate of growth in infection rates may already have plateaued or fallen by then, it may also be too late to know what impact those restrictions would have had if they had been introduced earlier, they said.

“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia was quoted as saying.

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After a cabinet meeting, the PM announced that he would not be introducing any further Covid restrictions for now, adding: “The situation is extremely difficult and the arguments either way are very, very finely balanced.”

Data on the hospitalisation rate for those infected with the Omicron variant would be kept under “constant review”, he said, with government sources hinting that further restrictions were likely after Christmas.

Yet, with Omicron infections currently doubling within 48 hours in most regions of the UK, the country may already have reached a ceiling where the rate of growth begins to fall and case numbers plateau, the report said.

Hunter believes that point could come within days, with or without interventions.

“If we implement control measures now, they are unlikely to be sufficient to reverse the growth, only slow it,” he said. “But there may still be benefits in slowing the peak, in terms of flattening the curve.”

Prof Christina Pagel, the director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, said: “Waiting for definitive evidence that it could cause the NHS to be overwhelmed will be too late to avert the crisis.”

Pagel suggested that instead, the government should follow the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advice and “return to step 2 of the roadmap immediately” to prevent soaring infections and “then monitor the situation hour by hour so that measures can be lifted as quickly as possible, hopefully even in time to enable limited household mixing over Christmas weekend”.

The step 2 measures includes, people only being allowed to socialise indoors with members of their household or a support bubble, and outdoor socialising being limited to groups of six people or two households, including at pubs and restaurants, the report said.

–IANS

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