Contact tracing is under way in Essex after an outbreak of the new Omicron variant was linked to a KFC restaurant, a church and a primary school.
Essex County Council confirmed that contract tracers were focusing on individuals who visited Brentwood High Street’s KFC restaurant as well as those who attended Trinity Church in Pilgrim’s Hatch on November 21.
Pupils and staff at Larchwood Primary School are also being tested for the new Covid-19 strain and one class has switched to remote learning after a link to the ‘rapidly spreading’ variant.
Anyone who visited the KFC outlet between 1pm and 5pm on November 19 or the Trinity Church on November 21 must now get tested, the council said.
The request was also been extended to anyone who attended Trinity Church in Pilgrims Hatch and Larchwood Primary School in the town after someone connected to the man visited a few days later.
A KFC customer tested positive for the Omnicron Covid variant shortly after visiting a branch of the fast food restaurant chain in Essex, according to workers there.
Staff at the KFC in Brentwood, which remains open, did not know whether the infected customer ate in or got a take away when he visited on November 19.
A Brentwood KFC staff member, who asked not to be named, said: ‘The gentleman who had the new variant was a customer.
‘We don’t know if he ate in or got a takeaway, because there were a lot of transactions that day.
‘All our staff are fine and it’s business as usual here, as you can see.
‘They’ve all been tested and it’s comeback negative.
‘We sanitise everything regularly throughout the day and are taking all the necessary precautions.’
Essex County Council confirmed that contract tracers were focusing on individuals who attended Brentwood High Street’s KFC restaurant and Trinity Church and Larchwood Primary School in Pilgrim’s Hatch
Anyone who visited the KFC outlet on Brentwood High Street (pictured) between 1pm and 5pm on November 19 must now get tested, the council said
While the KFC remains open, only a few tables were full this afternoon and businesses in the area say the high street is already looking a lot quieter.
Thomas Bristow, 30, who runs Tides Homes & Garden next door to KFC, said: ‘It’s a major worry for us and for the public who come out shopping.
‘Even with the news yesterday, the high street is looking really quiet. It’s normally busy everyday of the week here.
‘Masks and social distancing are acceptable precautions, but any more than that is just going to put businesses in the ground.
‘I don’t think many businesses will be making profits this year, they’ll just clawing back the losses.’
The case has been linked to another confirmed case in Nottingham, which has been traced back to South Africa where the variant is believed to have originated from.
Trinity Church in Pilgrim’s Hatch (pictured) said they were working with NHS Test & Trace to support their efforts in regards to this new variant
While little is know about the Omicron variant, health experts fear it could be more contagious and resistant than other strains.
A Mobile Testing Unit was deployed to the KFC branch yesterday to drop off test kits to staff and individuals who attended the Church or KFC are being urged to attend the two sites set up in Brentwood for testing.
The latest case comes as Dr Mike Gogarty, the director of public health for Essex County Council, urged residents to work from home if they could in an an effort to ‘prevent this thing getting a grip and starting to spread this side of Christmas.’
The case in Brentwood is linked to a case in Nottingham involving international travel to Southern Africa.
Pupils and staff at Larchwood Primary School are also being tested for the new Covid-19 strain and one class has switched to remote learning
In a joint statement Essex County Council and Larchwood Primary School said: ‘Following further contact tracing of the known Omicron Covid-19 case in Brentwood, it has been confirmed that there is a link to Larchwood Primary School based in Pilgrims Hatch.
‘The UK Health and Security Agency, Department of Health and Social Care, Larchwood Primary School and colleagues from Essex County Council and Brentwood Council have worked together to take necessary precautionary action to prevent the spread.
‘This includes making specialist testing available for all pupils and school staff and confirming arrangements for remote learning for one class.
‘We appreciate that this is an unsettling time for parents, pupils and the school community but we take the time to remind everyone that this is a precautionary measure.’
Meanwhile Trinity Church said: ‘Since the news emerged of a person in Brentwood testing positive for the new variant of Covid, we have been working with NHS Test & Trace within the past 24 hours to support their efforts in regards to this new variant.
‘Whilst the person identified did not actually attend Trinity on the 21st of November, someone connected with them did attend and so we have encouraged all members to follow NHS Test & Trace requests and be tested at the identified testing sites.
‘Trinity has been fully supportive throughout the pandemic of efforts to protect the community with our onsite procedures and continuing to provide online services for the vulnerable.
‘We will continue to support efforts to combat the spread of this new variant where required.’
A KFC spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We’re working closely with the local Covid Enforcement team and Test & Trace after a recent guest at our KFC Brentwood restaurant tested positive for the Omicron variant.
‘All team members at the restaurant have volunteered to take a PCR test as part of the targeted testing. We’d also encourage anyone who visited our restaurant on Friday 19th November between 1pm & 5pm to help these efforts.
‘Operating responsibly remains our top priority, so we continue to follow all necessary guidance to maintain a safe, clean environment for our guests and teams.’
Earlier today, Dr Mike Gogarty, the director of public health for Essex County Council, urged residents to work from home to ‘reduce levels of spread’.
New cases of the Omicron variant have now been found in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Nottingham, Brentwood, Camden, Wandsworth and Westminster
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that face masks will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport as part of a handful of measures to stop the spread of the variant
He told Heart News East: ‘I would say if you can work from home work from home. There’s no point going to work if you don’t have to go to work.
‘Every little bit will reduce the levels of spread that we have. I just think it’s really important that we do all we can now to prevent this thing getting a grip and starting to spread this side of Christmas.’
The scientist went on to say that they had ‘one absolutely confirmed case’ of the Omicron variant in the Brentwood area and the person was now isolating with their family.
He continued: ‘We’ve had one absolutely confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the Brentwood area.
‘The person is isolating with their family and they have been isolating since they had symptoms.
‘Although they are unwell I am pleased to say they are not seriously unwell and everyone is hoping that they will make a full recovery – I think that will be the case.
‘Following discussions with them we identified three areas where we think we need to really step up contact tracing and testing and they are the KFC in Brentwood High Street, there’s a faith group setting and the people who belong to that faith group are being advised to go for testing and there’s a primary school involved as well where we they are testing all the children in the school.
‘They are going to be taking home all the tests today. There is one class in the school which we feel are particularly close contacts and we’ve asked that group to self-isolate as a precaution for ten days and we’ve asked then to get tested as well.’
He added: ‘The difficulties are the unknowns and people are always worried about the unknown so I think at the moment is the time to be really cautious, to keep those masks on, to absolutely get the booster – that’s the most important thing you can do. Get the booster when you are invited.
‘Also think about social distancing differently, stay two metres away, don’t shake hands. So it’s those measures that are important.
‘I think in two or three weeks we will be much more clear about the real issues and the real issues are first of all does this thing make you really ill. If it does make you really ill it’s worrying, if it doesn’t make you very ill then it’s probably less of an issue.
What are the new Covid rules in England in response to the Omicron variant?
– Face masks will once again be compulsory in certain settings. They will be compulsory in shops and on public transport as of 4am on Tuesday.
– Staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above are being advised to wear face masks in school communal areas like corridors and canteens. The same advice applies to colleges and universities.
– Fully-vaccinated travellers who enter the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival. They can leave self-isolation once they test negative. There is no change for people who are not fully-vaccinated – they still have to spend 10 days in self-isolation.
– People who are identified as a contact of a suspected case of the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
– The latest rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.
‘Also equally important does the vaccine work with it because if it does make you ill we want the vaccine to work.’
Dr Ravi Balakrishnan, Consultant in Health Protection at the UK Health Security Agency East said: ‘It is really important that those that have been identified as needing a PCR test linked to locations listed come forward and visit one of the mobile testing units in Brentwood.
‘Omicron is a new variant and we have more work to do to understand how easily this can be transmitted, antibody response and how well the vaccines work to protect against it.
‘If you have any Covid-19 symptoms you must self-isolate and get a PCR test. I urge everyone to take up their offer of a vaccine and booster, wear a mask in crowded places, shops and on public transport and continue to wash hands thoroughly and regularly.
‘I thank the people of Brentwood for their support as the pandemic continues to throw us challenges.’
Today, Boris Johnson rejected calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to toughen up the UK’s response to the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The two first ministers have written to Mr Johnson urging him to extend Covid self-isolation travel rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days to curb the spread of the new strain.
They also demanded an immediate emergency meeting of the COBRA committee and pushed for the Prime Minister to lay the groundwork for a potential return of the furlough scheme, which closed two months ago after costing more than £70billion, just in case the situation worsens.
But Downing Street swiftly rejected the pleas from Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford, arguing that the Government’s initial response to the variant is still the correct one and it will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said that ‘currently there isn’t one scheduled’ and insisted ‘we obviously speak to devolved administration counterparts very regularly’.
On the call to extend the self-isolation period for returning travellers to eight days, the spokesman said the current approach of two days is ‘proportionate… to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant’.
It came after Ms Sturgeon told a coronavirus briefing this morning that Scots should start working from home immediately to stem the virus in a warning sign that England could soon face more restrictions.
Scotland confirmed six cases of the variant this morning and Ms Sturgeon revealed that some of the cases do not have links abroad, suggesting Omicron is now spreading domestically as she announced surge testing will be deployed to areas with cases.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced this afternoon that it is extending its advice on the booster jab rollout to recommend that all adults aged 18 and over should be eligible for a third vaccination.
Booster jabs are currently only available to the over-40s but the JCVI has told the Government that 18 to 39 year-olds should now be included, with jabs offered in order of descending age groups, as part of efforts to tackle the spread of the variant.
The JCVI has also recommended reducing the minimum amount of time people have to wait for their booster following their second dose from six months to three.
The committee has also recommended that young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.