UK set to expand COVID vaccine boosters amid omicron fears

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The independent body advising the British government on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines will decide whether to expand the booster program to younger age groups following the discovery of the new Omron version

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The Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization, or JCVI, has been asked by the British government to consider the merits of expanding the booster program to millions more people under the age of 40 and reducing the time period by a third.

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Professor Anthony Harden, deputy chairperson of the JCVI, told the BBC that it is “really important that we get immunity levels in the population” if the Omicron variant is more permeable or the protection from vaccines is reduced.

The expected announcement came after the Scottish Government announced that six cases of the Omicron variant had been identified in Scotland, taking the UK total to nine.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said not all cases were linked to travel to countries in southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified.

“This suggests that there may already be some community transmission of this version in Scotland,” she told a press briefing.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday it was necessary to take “targeted and precautionary measures” in England.

More stringent rules have come into force in other UK countries over the past few months after most lockdown restrictions were lifted. Sturgeon said she and her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, had written to Johnson asking everyone arriving in the UK to self-isolate for at least eight days. Johnson has said that arrivals will need to undergo a high-standard PCR test by the end of their second day in the country and self-isolate until a negative result is obtained.

New rules for England, which will make wearing masks mandatory in shops and public transport on Tuesday, though not in pubs and restaurants, are expected to be reviewed in three weeks. High school students in England are also being advised to wear masks in communal areas, such as corridors, but not in classrooms.

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