The early indications are that the Omicron variant of coronavirus is more transmissible than Delta, the prime minister has said.
But Downing Street said it is still unclear how severe the disease caused by Omicron is and what impact the vaccines have on the variant.
“The prime minister said it was too early to draw conclusions on the characteristics of Omicron but early indications were that it is more transmissible than Delta,” the PM’s spokesman said, giving an account of the meeting.
The spokesman added there was no debate among the PM’s top team on whether to bring in Plan B measures the government is holding in reserve this winter.
‘Now is the time’ for people to get boosters
A total of 437 cases of Omicron have been identified as of Tuesday – 333 in England, 99 in Scotland, five in Wales and none so far in Northern Ireland – an increase of 101 in 24 hours.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that cases of Omicron in people without any travel history have been confirmed in the UK, meaning it is now being transmitted within the community.
The PM said “now is the time” for people to get their COVID booster jab, with the rollout being extended and accelerated amid the variant’s spread.
Face coverings are also once again mandatory in shops and on public transport, while those who come into contact with someone who tests positive for Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days even if they are fully vaccinated.
Pre-departure testing for arrivals back into the UK has also been reintroduced, with travellers also needing to take a day two PCR test and isolate until they get a negative result.
A total of 11 African countries have meanwhile been placed on the red list: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Omicron cases could be doubling every two days
A scientist has warned that Omicron cases are soon expected to be higher in the UK than in some African countries put on the travel red list.
Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, told BBC Breakfast early data suggests that cases of the variant are doubling every two days.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for the pace of the booster rollout to be quickened.
“We are in a race now between this booster regime and the new variant,” he said.
“The government should have acted weeks ago, it absolutely now needs to ramp this up and ramp it up immediately.”