Gove: Covid rules to be constantly reviewed after 'challenging' Omicron information

10 December 2021, 18:08 | Updated: 10 December 2021, 23:20

Michael Gove said Omicron was "deeply concerning"
Michael Gove said Omicron was "deeply concerning". Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Communities secretary Michael Gove has said Covid measures are being kept under constant review after ministers were presented with "challenging" information about the Omicron variant at a COBRA meeting on Friday.

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Mr Gove told broadcasters the UK faces a "deeply concerning situation" given the fast rate at which the new strain is spreading across the country.

"The COBRA meeting I've just chaired with first ministers of all the devolved administrations was presented with some very challenging new information," said the Cabinet minister.

"We know that we have the highest number of Covid infections across the UK recorded today since January 9.

"We know the Omicron variant is doubling every two to three days in England, and possibly even faster in Scotland.

"We know that 30 per cent of reported cases in London are the Omicron variant and of course we only identified Omicron in this country a fortnight ago."

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He said ministers recognised "the importance of balancing" measures to protect against the virus and the impact such measures have on people's lives, but said: "Action is absolutely required, and as new data comes in, we will consider what action we do require to take in the face of that data."

He added: "We absolutely do need to keep everything under review but I think the approach that we're taking is proportionate."

Mr Gove was speaking after an emergency COBRA meeting with the first ministers of the devolved nations.

On Friday the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said Omicron was projected to become the dominant variant in the UK by the middle of December.

However it also said third jabs - or boosters - were between 70 and 75 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection, although two jabs were significantly less effective on this strain than they are for Delta.

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Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said: "These early estimates should be treated with caution but they indicate that a few months after the second jab, there is a greater risk of catching the Omicron variant compared to Delta strain.

"The data suggests this risk is significantly reduced following a booster vaccine, so I urge everyone to take up their booster when eligible.

"We expect the vaccines to show higher protection against the serious complications of Covid-19, so if you haven't yet had your first two doses please book an appointment straight away."

Mr Gove was asked about an expected Tory rebellion when Plan B measures are put to the Commons next week.

In response, the Communities Secretary said he thought MPs would balance considerations into civil liberties alongside the need to address that Omicron is "especially spreading in a way that means even those who are double vaccinated are more likely to succumb to this virus and find themselves ill, infected and potentially in hospital".

"Those facts mean that we do need to take action, and that's why we're bringing forward proposals to the House of Commons on Tuesday," he said.

"And I'm confident that people will examine these proposals seriously, soberly and thoughtfully, and I'm also confident people will conclude that, on balance, it is right to act."