A Government science adviser has warned that it is “too late” to effectively stop the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.
The warning comes after it was announced on Saturday (4 December) that all travellers arriving in England would be required to take a Covid-19 pre-departure test from tomorrow (7 December).
The new travel measures introduced
Nigeria has also been added to the Government’s travel red list - along with Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The extra test is intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel, ministers said.
However, Professor Mark Woolhouse, who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) which advises the Government, said the measures would not make a “material difference” as the variant is already “spreading pretty rapidly”.
Prof Woolhouse said although the numbers of people with the Omicron variant are “still quite small” and likely remain in the hundreds, they are “growing quite fast”.
However, he insisted that vaccinations will still be “very, very good” at protecting against the new variant.
‘Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’
Prof Woolhouse told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
“If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.
“The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere.
“But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave, if we’re going to have one.”
The UK Health Security Agency said a further 86 cases of Omicron had been confirmed in the UK on Sunday, 68 in England and 18 in Scotland, bringing the total to 246.
Travel industry fury over latest measures
The travel industry reacted with fury after the latest measures were announced, despite ministers insisting they were only “temporary”.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country.
“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.
“We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”
A version of this article originally appeared on NationalWorld.com