UK records 86 more Omicron cases taking total to 246

5 December 2021, 14:35 | Updated: 5 December 2021, 14:59

Masks are now mandatory on all public transport.
Masks are now mandatory on all public transport. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

The UK has recorded 86 new Omicron cases, taking the total to 246.

Yesterday there was a total of 160 cases, meaning the UK total has risen by more than 50% in 24 hours.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which publishes the figures, made the announcement this afternoon.

The UK government has introduced targeted testing in areas where the variant is thought to be in patients who are infectious.

Dr Jenny Harries, the UKHSA chief executive, said yesterday this has led to more cases being detected.

She added some cases are linked to community transmission, rather than travel abroad.

Read more: 'A national mission': Get booster before seeing loved ones at Christmas, urges Health Sec

The Omicron variant of coronavirus was first discovered in South Africa, but numerous countries around the world have confirmed they have detected cases of the virus.

The UK introduced a new mask mandate on Tuesday in shops and on public transport to try and curb the spread of the variant.

From 4am on Tuesday, travellers to the UK must take a coronavirus test prior to departure, in what has been described as a "hammer blow" for the travel industry.

Many countries in Southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria, have also been added to the UK's red list, meaning travellers have to isolate in quarantine hotels for 10 days upon return to the UK.

Read more: 'Hammer blow' for travel industry as pre-departure Covid tests return for all UK arrivals

The full red list is: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The new measures mean travellers will have to take a PCR or a lateral flow test up to a maximum of 48 hours before they depart regardless of their vaccination status.

"We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it," the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said.

In addition to the travel restrictions, the government has announced plans to roll out the vaccine booster programme to all adults who have had their second jab at least three months previously.

The Omicron variant is causing concern due to its high number of mutations of its protein spikes. The variant has 32 mutations, double the number of the highly infectious delta variant.

This has driven concerns that vaccines and natural immunity may give less protection against the variant.

Read more: Mums share harrowing stories of Covid pregnancies to encourage people to get jab

The Health Secretary released a statement today urging people to get the booster jab to protect Christmas.

It is "absolutely crucial" the public get the booster and "top-up" their immunity, Mr Javid said.

"While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

"This is a national mission and we all have a role to play - so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can."

NHS England said the wider booster programme will be in place by December 13, as the Department of Health and Social Care estimates 20 million people will have had the jab by the end of December.

This story is being updated.