What the new variant means for you and your family
This weekend we found out that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, Omicron, has reached the UK. Efforts are being made to contain the spread.
It comes at a time when I know we are all looking forward to the Christmas and New Year holidays, and the last thing anyone would want is for celebrations to be affected in the same way as last year.
New rules mean we must all follow the precautions around mask wearing, testing and self-isolation. Testing yourself regularly helps us catch asymptomatic cases that may otherwise be missed. Our Public Health Director in Brent, Dr Melanie Smith, has outlined what you need to do to keep yourself and loved ones safe below.
In addition to sticking to the new tighter rules, the other thing we can all do as a community is to get vaccinated, not just to protect yourself but to protect the people around you.
Next week is the one-year anniversary of the first vaccine given in London. Since then, more than 50 million people in the UK have had their first jab. More than 46 million have had their second jab and more than 17 million people their third, booster, jab.
I have had all three and I know it is safe and effective. Full vaccination protects you, your loved ones and your community, so please get yours and if you have any questions ask your GP or seek out the facts which are freely available on the NHS or council websites.
If you are due your booster, make sure you book your appointment as soon as possible. As of Tuesday 30 November, everyone aged 18 and over is now eligible for the booster jab - as long as your second dose was at least three months ago. Children aged 12 to 15 are now invited to get a second dose three months after their first. Even if your first vaccines were AstraZeneca, your booster vaccine will be Moderna or Pfizer to maximise your immune response.
Let's act now to protect our community.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council
Not too much to mask
Dr Melanie Smith, Brent Public Health Director
Omicron has been classed as a 'variant of concern', and people across the world are now working to understand more about this new variant because it has spread quickly in the countries where it was first found. The new rules are based on things that we know help to slow the spread.
- From Tuesday (30 Nov), you must wear a face covering in shops and on public transport, unless exempt. According to the latest research, masks can block up to 80% of the virus spreading into the air from infected people, and also protect wearers from breathing in up to 50% of particles.
- Anyone entering the UK from any destination abroad must take a PCR test two days after arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. This is because we know that cases of new variants can be unknowingly be brought into the country from abroad – especially in an international city like London and a wonderfully diverse borough like Brent.
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status or age. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace. The vaccine drastically reduces your chance of getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, but it is still possible to catch and pass on COVID to other people who may be more vulnerable.
- Students, staff and visitors at secondary schools are being strongly advised to wear face coverings in communal areas.
- If you are socialising with people you don’t live with, especially if you are planning to meet indoors, it’s preferable to test for COVID before you meet. 1 in 3 people who have the virus do not show symptoms. Regular testing reduces the chance of spreading the virus without realising it.
These rules will be reviewed by the Government in three weeks. We don't know yet exactly how the variant will change the fight to keep this virus at bay, but if we work together and take precautions we will be in a better place to keep each other safe.
Where to get a test in Brent
There are lots of ways to get tested in Brent, and the test you take depends on whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms.
If you have symptoms, you will need a PCR test. If you do not have symptoms, you should regularly take LFT tests.
Ways to get tested include visiting a testing centre, visiting a pharmacy, or taking a test at home. 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 do not show symptoms, so regular testing lessons the chance of spreading the virus without realising it.
Vaccines - first, second and booster shots available now
Everyone aged 12 and over is eligible for a free and safe COVID-19 vaccine. It is never too late to decide to take the vaccine and get your first dose.
You can have your second vaccine if your first was eight weeks ago, and you are currently eligible for your booster vaccine if your second jab was three months ago. Booster vaccines are not an optional extra, they are very important as they help keep the immunity from your first vaccines from fading over time.
Ways to get vaccinated in Brent include at pharmacies, at vaccine pop-ups and on the vaccine buses. Go to www.brent.gov.uk/vaccine for the full list.
Money worries? Emergency financial support available
This is our second winter of the pandemic and we know financial strains are being felt everywhere.
If you test positive for COVID-19 and have to self-isolate, you might be eligible for a £500 Self-Isolation Support fund. Find out more.
Households across Brent can now also access a new £2.7million fund to help them over the coming months as we recover from the pandemic.
Brent residents, aged 18 and over can apply for support with the costs of essential items, such as food, or gas/electricity bills that are difficult to budget for. The fund is designed to help ease financial pressure on residents with low incomes and to support those most in need. To find out more and to apply please visit our website.
Everyone entering the UK will now have to take PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia have all been added to the travel red list. Please check the Government website for up-to-date guidance and restrictions before you travel.