Royal Borough 'prepared' for arrival of Omicron COVID variant

Royal Borough COVID-19 contact tracing system to be launched

The Royal Borough is prepared for the potential arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the council’s lead member for health has claimed.

New rules were brought in by the Government this week to help curb the spread of the new strain, with facemasks mandatory in shops, some indoor spaces and on public transport, while there are tightened restrictions on travellers.

Anyone arriving into the UK from overseas will now need to take a PCR test and isolate until they receive a negative result. 

The Government is also pushing its rollout of the booster jab programme alongside the NHS, with people now able to receive the jab three months after their second dose.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference earlier this week that the Government would be ‘throwing everything’ at the campaign to administer booster jabs.

Councillor Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill), whose professional background is in epidemiology, said that this is not the time for people ‘to be alarmed’, but to ‘behave sensibly’.

“I think we are prepared – we have an excellent team of public health experts and work closely with our NHS colleagues,” he said.

“What we can say is we are in a better position and we have come a long way with the vaccination programme.

“One of the critical considerations at the moment is to monitor whether any cases of the variant are in the Royal Borough. As we speak, there aren’t any.

“We have been doing a range of things locally, such as encouraging every person to get their vaccine.”

Cllr Carroll said that more analysis is needed on the variant’s possible evasion of the vaccines, but he added there is a hypothesis that the current ones will offer some protection from Omicron.

He also claimed that nothing ‘can be ruled out’ in terms of extra restrictions but called on people to remain cautious.

“We have tried to be very preventative in our approach and we need to place an added emphasis on all the cautious measures with this new variant,” Cllr Carroll said.

He also urged younger people to play their part in getting the jab and dispelled a myth that those who catch COVID do not need to be vaccinated.

“Although it will offer some some degree of immunity, the amount of protection can vary quite widely, leaving some people vulnerable to infection,” he said.

Alan Murray, owner of Peakes Menswear in Maidenhead High Street, said he ‘fully understands’ the return of facemasks in shops, adding that his main priority is keeping his business open.

“From a personal point of view, we always wear masks when a customer walks in,” he said. “Whatever it takes to keep us open, because we can’t afford another lockdown.”

Chris Peverell, general manager of The Belgian Arms in Holyport, said that he is pleased hospitality venues have not been included in the new rules.

But he did say he was surprised more advice on mask-wearing was not brought in.

“I think we are quite relieved to be honest,” Chris said. “But I was a bit surpised – we were ready to get the visors back out for the staff.”

Some pubs and restaurants have reported a reduction in bookings following the news of the new variant.

Chris said he has experienced this himself, with some upcoming bookings cancelled at his venue.

“I will remain optimistic, but I think we will be okay,” he said. “I think we are prepared and I can’t see it getting to that point [lockdown] again.”

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