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New Covid rules in response to Omicron variant risk new 'pingdemic', says South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay


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Tougher Covid rules set to be enforced in response to the Omicron variant could spark a new “pingdemic”, a Kent MP has warned.

From Tuesday, anyone who has been in contact with someone who has caught the more infectious strain must self-isolate, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay fears there could be new Covid 'pingdemic', with healthy people forced to isolate
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay fears there could be new Covid 'pingdemic', with healthy people forced to isolate

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay is concerned this could result in healthy people being forced to stay home and see pupils miss classes, in similar scenes to this summer before measures were relaxed.

In other changes, face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport, while everyone entering the UK must take a PCR test and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Mr Mackinlay says while the measures are only “a subtle strengthening from where we were, the fear factor and media hype amplifies the effect”.

“We are already seeing cancellations of travel plans and substantial changes to school routines, not least nativity plays and other group activities being scaled down or going back online,” the Conservative said.

“The potential for a re-run of the ‘pingdemic’ is obvious. We saw this earlier in the year whereby perfectly healthy, uninfected people were kept from work and large numbers of pupils were kept away from education with the clear long-term effects.”

Face masks are set to be compulsory in shops from Tuesday
Face masks are set to be compulsory in shops from Tuesday

There have been some concerns that current vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant - which was first reported in South Africa last week.

At a press conference on Saturday, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said: “There is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant.”

But Mr Mackinlay says the jabs have proven highly effective in protecting people from serious illness or death across the main Covid strains to date.

“There is no reason to believe that Omicron will be any different,” he said.

The number of people in Kent’s hospitals with Covid has fallen to 153, down from 160 the week before.

Since social distancing restrictions were fully lifted in July, 217 people in the county with the virus have died. In the five months between February and July, 276 Covid deaths were recorded.

“If we go into lockdowns awaiting a new vaccine formulation upon each new variant and a time lag of months to vaccinate everybody, then we’ll never be free of this...”

Mr Mackinlay says the government is an unenviable position of being criticised if it does too much or too little in response to the Omicron variant.

He said: “We need urgent data which answers two questions: are current vaccines still effective at reducing infection and transmissibility and more importantly serious illness and death; and how serious is an Omicron strain infection - is it mild or severe?

“I am prepared to give the government a little breathing space to get answers to these questions because even these new measures will cause hundreds of millions of pounds damage to the economy on a daily basis and increases the already fractious state of anxiety and fear amongst us all.”

Mr Mackinlay says viruses “constantly mutate”, with more new strains likely in the future.

“If we go into lockdowns awaiting a new vaccine formulation upon each new variant and a time lag of months to vaccinate everybody, then we’ll never be free of this,” he added.

“The only logical conclusion is that we have to learn to live with this ever-changing virus.”

Nine cases of the Omicron variant have been found in the UK so far.

This afternoon, it was announced that all people aged 18 and over are to be offered a Covid booster vaccine as part of efforts to tackle the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Millions more people in the UK will become eligible for a third booster dose after early evidence suggested that higher antibody levels may protect better against the variant.

he Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is now advising that all adults aged 18 to 39 should be offered a booster dose, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection.

Booster doses should be given no sooner than three months after people have had their second dose of an original vaccine – shaving three months off the current six-month wait.

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