Sajid Javid has said there is now “community transmission” of the Omicron variant across the UK, as he warned it was too early to say whether the new strain would “knock us off the road to recovery”.
The Health Secretary told the Commons: “The Omicron variant is continuing to spread here and around the world.
“According to the latest data there are now 261 confirmed cases in England, 71 in Scotland and four in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases across the UK to 336.
“This includes cases with no links to international travel. So, we can conclude that there is now community transmission across multiple regions of England.”
“We can now conclude there is community transmission of Omicron in England”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid says there are now 336 confirmed cases of the Covid variant in the UK, which includes cases with no links to international travelhttps://t.co/16ENO0SfKQpic.twitter.com/J8dTcaHJHq
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) December 6, 2021
Javid added the government cannot “say for certain” whether Omicron will escape Covid vaccines, or how severe a disease it will cause.
He told MPs: “We are learning more about this new variant all the time.
“Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than for the Delta variant, but we don’t yet have a complete picture of whether Omicron causes more severe disease or indeed how it interacts with the vaccines.
“We can’t say for certain at this point whether Omicron has the potential to knock us off our road to recovery.”
He added: “We are leaving nothing to chance. Our strategy is to buy ourselves times and to strengthen our defences while our world-leading scientists assess this new variant and what it means for our fight against Covid-19.”
Javid told the Commons there were now 261 confirmed Omicron cases in England, 71 in Scotland, and four in Wales.
Earlier, Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, had warned the Omicron variant could be spreading faster than a previous variant, Delta.
He told BBC Breakfast: “How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.
“The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that’s the question that we’re struggling to answer at the moment.”
The government said, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 51,459 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.
It also said that a further 41 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 170,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.