Coronavirus latest as another 633 Omicron cases found in the UK; over-30s invited to book third shot from Monday, rumours of “Plan C” grow amid Omicron variant fears; PM accused of “culture of disregard” for COVID rules as photo of Downing Street quiz emerges.
On Boris Johnson and other government figures breaking COVID rules last year with a series of parties, Mr Zahawi says that first off, the “public has been brilliant” with following measures.
“Even yesterday people were queuing up at vaccination centres, booking their booster jab, that’s a great thing and I am grateful for people doing that.”
On the PM’s quiz night picture which was published in the Sunday Mirror today, Mr Zahawi says: “What do we see in that picture? We see a prime minister on a virtual quiz night for 10 to 15 minutes to thank his staff who, by the way, had no choice but to come in every single day.
“He was sitting in his office with the two people who are closest working with him, no alcohol on the table, not drinking, on a Zoom call or Teams call, respecting the lockdown rules.”
Mr Zahawi says he does not agree with mandatory vaccination.
He tells Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We have very high levels of vaccine positivity in the UK, probably the highest in the world, all the data suggests that”.
“Ninety plus per cent of all adults have said they have looked at the information, they are protecting themselves, protecting their communities and families.
“The right thing to do is share information,” he says.
On new restrictions, echoing Sir Patrick Vallance’s comments at last week’s press conference, Nadhim Zahawi tells Sky News: “We are transitioning this virus from pandemic to endemic, but there are big bumps in the road.
Referring to the Omicron variant, the Education Secretary says “this is a big bump in the road”.
“We now have a variant so infectious that it will dominate and of course exponentially grow.”
He adds that “even if it is milder than Delta, say by 50%, the numbers are still huge” in terms of infections and the amount of people who could be hospitalised.
He says the reason the government is taking these “proportionate, precautionary measures”, especially the work from home advice, is because it will have a “greater impact on slowing down Omicron”.
Mr Zahawi says there is no plan to vaccinate primary school children because the JCVI is still looking at the evidence as to what level of protection it would offer those children.
He adds that the biggest priority is boosting the vulnerable.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says recent data shows that two doses of Pfizer or Astrazeneca are “not enough” to protect you from catching the Omicron variant.
He says they only protect “to around 30%”.
“But a booster does raise that protection back up to where we were, when we got to an equilibrium, between vaccine efficacy and Delta, so we need to get back to that.
“So this is going to be a national endeavour – we need to vaccinate all those people who have become eligible for a booster jab”.
Mr Zahawi there is “absolutely a plan” for the booster rollout, with the NHS is already preparing for Monday when over 30s will be offered a COVID booster.
“We are mobilising the frontline GPs, community pharmacies, military across the board, and volunteers…. this is a race.
“It is a race to get all adults who are eligible to get boosted as quickly as possible, and the prime minister will say more about this today”, he adds.
Trevor Phillips on Sunday has started on Sky News, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi as the show’s first guest.
Asked how many people are infected with Omicron, Mr Zahawi says “one-third of infections in London are Omicron, we think the reported tests are indicating around 1600 cases, but of course, the number of infections in the community would be up to 10 times that”.
He says the government is aware that Omicron is “highly infectious” and the doubling rate is between two and three days, with the strain expected to become the dominant variant in the UK and the rest of the world.
Mr Zahawi says we have a large capacity for testing and genome sequencing.
He says the data shows that Omicron is “less severe” than previous variants.
Trevor Phillips on Sunday will start from 8.30am, where the veteran broadcaster will be chatting to:
The programme will be looking at where Omicron has got to and if Boris Johnson still has the authority to fight the country through it, among other COVID concerns.
Tune into Sky News at 8.30am to watch or follow live here.
The scientific understanding of Omicron is still emerging, and new data is like “putting together a puzzle”, an expert has said.
Professor Sian Griffiths, professor of public health at the University of Hong Kong and visiting professor at Imperial College London, told BBC Breakfast: “The problems that we face at the moment are we still don’t know everything there is to know about Omicron.
“The science is still coming out, research studies are coming out as soon as they’re ready, but it is in dribs and drabs.”
She added: “It’s like putting together a puzzle and looking at the different pieces as they become available, so the understanding of Omicron is not yet complete.”
Prof Griffiths, who co-chaired the Hong Kong government’s expert committee into the Sars epidemic in 2003, said factors including how we respond to restrictions and our uptake of boosters could inform how the spread progresses.
She said: “There are many things that can affect the direction of travel, be it the nature of the Omicron virus itself, or be it the way that we respond to the restrictions that are coming into our lives, for example, working from home when we can and also on people coming forward for the boosters.”
People in England are being advised to work from home again from tomorrow amid concerns over the Omicron variant.
Workplace Wellbeing Expert Cara de Lange tells Sky News that this will be a “little bit of a shock” for some people, but that what we’ve learned is that nobody really wants to work in the office full time.
She says hybrid working has been very much appreciated, adding that when people first started working from home, there was a worry about productivity.
“But what we’ve actually seen is people can be productive working from home – and some businesses have seen productivity increase”.
Ms de Lange says what we really need to keep an eye on is “our sustainable productivity, so making sure we are sustainably productive, and the most important factor, our wellbeing”.
Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso has ruled that the country must demand proof of vaccination for visitors seeking to enter the country.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly denied requests of state health regulator Anvisa to demand vaccination proof from visitors.
But Mr Barroso said in his decision that Brazil needs to avoid supporting what he called “antivaccine tourism.”
The justice said the requirement for proof of vaccination can be waived only when the traveller comes from a country where no vaccines are available or the individual was prevented from vaccination due to health reasons.
It comes as Brazil registered 3,355 new COVID cases and 53 new deaths on Saturday.
Children and young people’s activity levels continue to be negatively affected by the COVID pandemic at a time when physical activity is more important than ever, according to Sport England.
New data suggests 94,000 fewer children and young people in England were active in the last academic year when compared to pre-pandemic times.
The government recommends that children and young people do 60 minutes of sport and physical activity every day.
The data shows that black children were the least active, with only 36% getting the recommended amount of physical activity.
The worst affected age group was seven to nine-year-olds, with only 38% getting enough activity.
Those from disadvantaged backgrounds were also more negatively affected when compared to those from affluent backgrounds, this was partially due to not having access to outdoor spaces.