Omicron: Boris Johnson’s ‘precautionary’ restrictions dismissed by scientists as ‘plan B Lite’

Restrictions do not go far enough, says Sage member

Liam James
Sunday 28 November 2021 02:07
Mask-wearing back for shops and transport, PM announces

Measures to restrict the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus have been dismissed by scientists as “plan B Lite” over warnings that the new mutation is far more transmissible than earlier ones.

Boris Johnson responded to the arrival of omicron in England by bringing back restrictions including the wearing of masks in shops and on public transport, 10-day isolation for contacts of variant cases and mandatory PCR tests for international arrivals.

Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the measures were “plan B lite when we should have had plan B plus”.

“I’m very surprised he hasn’t gone further. Especially in the light of the World Health Organisation and Sir Patrick Vallance, our chief scientific adviser, saying that you must go early and go hard in these situations.

“What’s been recommended is less than what Sage suggested in September before the omicron threat was looming,” she told BBC News.

Carol Popplestone, chair of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This is something we have already called for and it should not have been a new variant that forced the prime minister to act.

“Nursing staff have already witnessed the devastating impact of delayed action and ministers must now be prepared to act immediately if further restrictions are needed.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, joined Mr Johnson at the press conference. He said the UK may need to “face up” to the possibility of further action if the omicron variant is very transmissible.

The World Health Organisation has classified omicron as a Variant of Concern (Voc) and said that preliminary evidence suggested it carried an increased risk of reinfection compared with other variants such as delta.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the department of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it was “not surprising” that cases were reported in the UK.

He said it was “too early to say” whether a wide outbreak of the new variant would lead to big increases in hospital admissions and deaths, key measures of the severity of the virus.

The prime minister said the measures would “buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we are dealing with” in a very uncertain situation.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a Sage member from the department of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said “many crucial bits of information” about the new variant were yet to be known.

He said: “Do lateral flow tests work? How severe is the disease it causes? There are media reports that there have been no hospitalisations. If confirmed, this would be very reassuring.”

He added: “It is better to act fast but be prepared to change as new information comes in.”

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