Omicron variant – Wales and Scotland first ministers call on prime minister to hold COBRA meeting
The first ministers of Wales and Scotland have called on the prime minister to hold a Civil Contingencies Committee (also known as a ‘COBRA’ or ‘COBR’ meetings due to where they are usually held) meeting to work on four nation response to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
Researchers in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron.
Little is currently known about the variant, however it is thought that it could be more transmissible.
As a result travel restrictions are in place for South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibi, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola.
Over the weekend Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that mandatory mask wearing would be reintroduced in shops and and on public transport across England from tomorrow (Tuesday 30 November).
In England, the legal requirement to wear a face covering was dropped in July, apart from in healthcare settings and care homes, unless exempt.
People flying into the UK must also take a PCR test and self isolate until they receive their results.
Several cases of the Omicron have already been found in England and Scotland. Although no cases have been identified in Wales, Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton said today that it was a “case of when, not if”.
First Minister Mark Drakeford and his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon have now called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hold a meeting of COBRA committee “as soon as possible”.
In the letter, which was published on Mr Drakeford’s Twitter account this morning, the two first ministers have also called for devolved funding support from the Treasury should “more interventionist measures” be required.
The letter reads: “The emergence of the Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK.
“It is clear the strain is already here and that it appears to be highly transmissible. 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 a meeting of the COBRA Committee to be held as soon as possible.
“We would wish to use that opportunity to see the latest evidence from UK Government health professionals on the variant and to understand the international picture along with the implications that it might have for the UK.
“In particular, we believe the reinstatement of a requirement for a ‘day 8’ PCR test for travellers arriving into the UK – alongside the ‘day 2’ requirement already announced, and thereby requiring isolation for that whole period – is now necessary.
“Public health advice is unequivocal that this is the best and safest way to protect against the importation of this variant to the fullest extent possible.
“While our public health systems work hard to minimise the spread of cases already in the UK, it is imperative that we do all we can to avoid under-cutting these efforts by permitting on-going importation.
“We also wish to confirm that devolved financial business support schemes will be funded by the Treasury in event more interventionist measures are required to respond to the public health situation.
“In our view, it would be better to consider this now, in advance of a potential escalation in the seriousness of that situation to support effective planning. In particular, is is important for us to agree that if the conditions in a devolved nation were to require significant interventions than in England, the agreed package of financial support would be available to that nation.
“We do not want to be in a position again where out public health interventions are negatively impacted by a lack of financial support, but can be switched on as required for England.
“Given the public interest in our working together to achieve the strongest possible response to this threat, this letter is being made public.”
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