Scotland’s First Minister has described the arrival of the Omicron variant as the “most challenging development” in the Covid-19 pandemic for some time.
So far, across the United Kingdom, there have now been nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant with six in Scotland and three detected in England.
Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant as it has about 30 different mutations, which is double the number present in the Delta variant.
After the new cases were confirmed in Scotland on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon gave an update on the situation in Scotland.
-Where were the six cases of the Omicron variant found in Scotland and what do we know about the variant?
Of the six confirmed cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant found in the country, four are in Lanarkshire and another two were identified in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
But the First Minister said there is still a huge amount that is not known about the variant, although there are concerns it might be more transmissible than Delta.
Speaking at a Scottish Government briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said: “What we do know at this stage confirms in my view that we should treat it seriously and that we should continue to act on a precautionary basis at this stage.
“While we all hope that the emerging understanding of it will reduce rather than increase our level of concern, there is no doubt that this presents potentially the most challenging development in the course of the pandemic for quite some time.”
Are these cases from people who travelled abroad?
The First Minister said that contact tracing is continuing in relation to the six cases found in Scotland, but she said there was some element of community transmission.
“At this stage we know that not all of them have any recent travel history to, or known links with, others who have travelled to the countries in southern Africa where the variant was originally detected,” she said.
“This suggests that there might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland but, again, let me stress there is no evidence, yet, that this is sustained, nor any evidence from the enhanced surveillance that it is widespread at this stage.”
But, she said, the overall coronavirus situation in Scotland remained stable with cases falling slightly in recent days.
What does the Scottish Government want Boris Johnson to do?
Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, have called for urgent talks with the Prime Minister over the new Covid-19 variant, and have demanded that a tougher four-nations approach is adopted.
Writing to Boris Johnson, they asked for increased restrictions and confirmation of funding to respond to the situation, and demanded an urgent Cobra meeting to discuss the emerging variant.
While the Scottish Government has followed the new travel restrictions put in place by Westminster, requiring passengers coming into the UK to do a PCR test two days after arrival, Ms Sturgeon has already warned that tougher measures may be necessary in the wake of this new threat.
The letter to the Prime Minister said that the “the emergence of Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK”. “It is clear that the strain is already here and that it appears highly transmissible,” it added.
“We need to work collectively, and effectively, as four nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread.
“We are clear that a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the Cobra committee be held as soon as possible.”
Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford have called for people coming into the UK from overseas to be required to self isolate for eight days – and then do a second PCR test.
In addition to discussion on travel restrictions, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford also want the UK Government to commit to providing the necessary funding to support businesses if “more interventionist measures are required”.
They told the Prime Minister it would be “better to consider this now, in advance of a potential escalation in the seriousness of the situation”.
What about the vaccination campaign?
Vaccines remain the “most important line of defence”, Ms Sturgeon said, and the Scottish Government is ready to put into operation any updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in relation to booster jabs.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We will do that as quickly as is possible.”
The First Minister added: “Vaccines remain our best line of defence and I want to stress, at this point, if and it is still an if, the vaccines do prove to be less effective against this new variant, vaccination will still be hugely important – less effective does not mean ineffective.
“If anything the new variant makes it more important not less important to get all doses of the vaccine.”