UK scientists are set to announce an expansion of the Covid-19 booster vaccine programme as nine cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed across the country.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said experts have been looking at extending boosters to the under-40s and whether the time interval between the second and third doses of the vaccine should be cut.
A decision is expected to be announced on Monday afternoon, at the same time as an urgent meeting is held of health ministers from the G7 group of nations to discuss the new Omicron variant.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), preliminary evidence suggests Omicron carries a higher risk of reinfection though it is not yet clear how transmissible it is or whether it can evade vaccine protection.
The UK now has nine confirmed cases of the variant after the Scottish government announced on Monday morning it had discovered four cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
One other case has been identified in Brentwood, Essex, with another in Nottingham, while a third case was detected in England on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country.Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that some of the Omicron variant cases identified in Scotland have no travel history, which suggests there is a degree of community transmission.
Meanwhile, in Essex, where one case has been found, students at a school are being tested for the variant as part of a targeted drive to identify close contacts.
From Tuesday, the wearing of face masks is set to be compulsory in shops and on public transport, while PCR tests will be brought back in for travellers returning to the UK.
Asked on BBC Breakfast about the six new cases discovered in Scotland, Prof Harnden said: “I think it’s almost inevitable that we’re going to see many, many more cases than we’ve seen before.