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Omicron: Variant spreading through community transmission in 'multiple English regions'
6 December 2021, 18:09 | Updated: 6 December 2021, 18:46
Sajid Javid has confirmed that the Omicron variant is spreading by community transmission in many parts of England.
The Health Secretary told MPs that 336 cases have been detected across the UK but, as far as he knew, none of them had ended up in hospital.
"This includes cases with no links to international travel so we can conclude there is now community transmission across multiple regions of England," he told the Commons.
Speaking ahead of new measures requiring people travelling to the UK to take a pre-departure Covid test from Tuesday morning, Mr Javid said the Government was taking "early action now so we don't have to take tougher action later on".
He said: "When this new variant is appearing in more and more countries every day we also need to look beyond the red list and strengthen our measures for a wider range of travellers to make sure they give us the protection we need against this potential threat."
Mr Javid added pre-departure testing "could have a greater role to play in identifying positive cases before travel" because data suggests the Omicron variant may have a shorter gap between infection and infectiousness.
He added: "I know that these measures, of course, they will bring disruption, and that they will impact people's plans to spend time with their loved ones, especially over this festive period, but we're taking this early action now so we don't have to take tougher action later on, and so that we can take every opportunity to prevent more cases from arriving in our country."
Mr Javid added that the new pre-departure tests, along with mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, a requirement to isolate upon arrival in the UK and isolate until testing negative for Covid, and a new rule making people quarantine if they come into contact with an Omicron case, are temporary.
They are designed to buy time for experts to learn more about the Omicron variant, and assess its impact on vaccines and how it spreads.
Mr Javid added that an update will be given to MPs on the measures next week.
Earlier on Monday, Boris Johnson's Downing Street spokesman said the Commons would be updated on whether restrictions are put in place - or remain - over Christmas.
He said: "We are confident we will have more data than we currently do and we will be able to update Parliament during [next] week."
Mr Johnson has insisted this Christmas will be better than 2020's.