Top UK medical adviser: New Covid strain could re-infect people who have recovered

28 November 2021, 12:05 | Updated: 28 November 2021, 13:32

By Elizabeth Haigh

The Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Health and Security Agency told LBC people who have recovered from Covid could be more vulnerable to the new Omicron strain.

Dr Susan Hopkins told Tom Swarbrick scientists are "concerned" as media reports in South Africa suggest the country is "seeing more infections" in those who have already had coronavirus.

She added: "The changes in this virus, the mutations in this virus suggest that we will have less immunity from prior infection."

The variant has "over and above what the mutations were in Beta," she said.

"There’s been nothing like this before, this is brand new."

Dr Hopkins told Tom it will take at least two weeks for the global community to know how seriously ill the variant is making people, and the UK government has acted to buy time to understand it in more depth.

Read more: Universities fuelled Omicron outbreak, says South African Health Minister

"The reason the measures have been taken is to give us time to understand this new variant.

"Many countries are doing similar measures to protect our internal health systems.

"What we’re trying to do is slow the amount of people who may come into the country with this variant and slow the spread in country."

Dr Hopkins said recent arrivals from high-risk countries are being monitored, but she expects more countries to report cases in the coming days.

She called for the public to test regularly, especially if returning from abroad.

Read more: Compulsory mask wearing and travel testing come into force in England on Tuesday

"Travelling of course is a voluntary aspect of many of our lives.

"If individuals have a lateral flow test they should isolate and they should immediately get a PCR test.

"PCR tests are free. PCR tests are very readily available."

She added: "If you have symptoms please go and get a PCR test."

The UK government yesterday announced a raft of new measures to try and slow the spread of the new Omicron variant.

These will come into effect at 4am on Tuesday and will be reviewed in three weeks time.

They include mandatory face masks in all shops and on public transport.

All arrivals to the UK from abroad will have to self-isolate and take a PCR test by day two. They will have to continue to isolate until they receive a negative result, even if they are double jabbed.

Contacts of any Omicron cases will also have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

At a press conference last night PM Boris Johnson tried to reassure the public. He said Christmas would be "considerably" better than last year, and the vaccine would offer a "measure of protection" against the new variant.

Read more: Israel bans foreigners due to Omicron and introduces phone tracking network

Two cases of the new variant have so far been detected in the UK, in Essex and Nottingham. The cases are linked to each other.

South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Belgium have all confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, with many other countries announcing suspected cases.

A flight from South Africa which landed in the Netherlands on Friday has resulted in 13 people testing positive for the Omicron strain.

Meanwhile South Africa has criticised the global reaction to the strain.

South African Health Minister Dr Joe Phaala told LBC a travel ban is a "futile exercise" that just "doesn't work."

He said the UK's ban on travellers from the country is "very unfortunate and uncalled for."

Head of the South Africa Medical Association Dr Angelique Coetzee told LBC patients she has seen with the Omicron variant tend to have "very very mild" symptoms that are similar to the Beta variant.

She said the UK's reaction is "totally over the top."

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