Omicron latest news: Covid cases drop for fifth day as most common symptoms change & lateral flow tests WILL remain free

COVID cases in the UK continues to drop for the fifth day in a row with 97 deaths being recorded.

There have been a total of 141,472 cases reported in the UK today after the 146,390 people reported yesterday when Covid deaths passed the grim milestone of 150,000.

Lateral flow tests WILL remain free for Brits, despite recent reports that they will be scaled back leading to a barrage of criticism.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted the tests will still be available to order for free amid suggestions they could be scaled back despite soaring coronavirus cases.

The Cabinet minister said he is "puzzled" by a report suggesting that their universal availability could be axed as they are limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

Read our Covid-19 live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Louis Allwood

    Are lateral flow tests safe?

    LFTs are totally safe, and pose no risk to your health.

    Officials have expressed concerns about misinformation regarding the tests spread via Facebook, Whatsapp and other social media platforms.

    The Department for Health and Social care told Reuters: "Lateral flow tests have been rigorously tested and are safe to use on a regular basis. Any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate and harmful misinformation.

    "Ethylene oxide is only used in the sterilisation of swabs and it is one of the most commonly used sterilisation tools in the healthcare industry, principally applied by manufacturers to keep medical devices safe."

  • Louis Allwood

    How do you read a lateral flow test result?

    If two red lines appear that means a positive result.

    But Dr Nathan warns one of the most common mistakes people make when taking LFTs is misreading the result.

    He said: "Any positive line within 30 minutes, even if it is so faint that it is barely visible, equals a positive result. 

    “However, if a faint line appears after 30 minutes, this can be ignored.”

    If there is just one red line, at the top, then that is a negative result.

  • Louis Allwood

    Where can you get lateral flow tests from?

    Check if you can get LFTs from your workplace, school or uni – they're sometimes stocked in places where people coming in are asked to take the tests regularly.

    You can also get them from local pharmacists or collection points, you can find out where they are here.

    And you can also order them via the NHS website – however, there is currently a shortage of LFTs.

  • Louis Allwood

    What are lateral flow tests and how do they work?

    Rapid testing (lateral flow testing) means results are available "on the spot" within just half an hour.

    They work in a similar way to the most commonly known lateral flow rapid test strip – pregnancy tests.

    A positive result is seen as two lines or a fluorescent glow on the test strip, with a result in about 30 minutes.

    A Covid lateral flow test uses a swab from a patient's nose or throat to quickly determine if they are infected with the virus.

    Dr Nathan advises: "Read the enclosed instructions all the way through before you start the test. 

    “Don’t forget to avoid eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes before, to blow your nose and to wash your hands!”

  • Louis Allwood

    Places you are most likely to get Covid

    A SAGE study has listed the activities most likely to lead people to catch Covid and they are:

    • Shopping – 2.18 per cent
    • Playing a sport outdoors – 1.36 per cent
    • Using a bus – 1.31 per cent
    • Eating at a restaurant or cafe – 1.29 per cent
    • Using public transport more than once a week – 1.28 per cent
    • Going to a pub, bar or club – 1.28 per cent
    • Going to a party – 1.27 per cent
    • Going to a gym or indoor sports – 1.27 per cent
    • Leaving home for work – 1.2 per cent
    • Using a taxi – 1.19 per cent
    • Using an overground train or tram – 1.18 per cent

    Covid latest news

    • The number of hospitals declaring critical incidents comparable with BEFORE pandemic as ‘cases peaked at New Year’
    • Education Minister insists schools will remain open as he vows ‘I’ll do everything in my power’ to keep students in class
    • Free lateral flow tests will ‘absolutely not’ be axed ex-vaccines minister insists after cost-cutting reports
    • Experts reveal where you are most likely to catch Covid 

    Minister says we will be the first to leave pandemic behind

    Nadhim Zahawi believes that Britain will be the first to put the pandemic behind us.

    He hopes that we will be able to transition away from Covid – but has warned that it could remain with us for up to ten years.

    He said: "I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that's five, six, seven, 10 years."

    The Education Secretary also revealed that COVID rules will be reviewed by health officials amid calls to reduce self-isolation from seven days to five.

    Nadhim Zahawi was one of the first ministers to back the new measures, telling the Sunday Times that it would be "more helpful" to east staffing shortages.

    Deaths pass 150,000 since pandemic began

    Covid death total in the UK has now passed 150,000 since the beginning of the pandemic while cases drop for the fourth day in a row.

    A further 146,390 people have tested positive for Covid today, even less after the  178,250 cases reported yesterday.

    Sadly the number of people who have died of Covid in the UK since the beginning of that pandemic now stands at 150,057 with 313 more deaths reported today.

    Omicron IS milder than other Covid strains, studies show

    It comes as a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.

    Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.

    The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Ikea slashes sick pay for unvaccinated staff

      IKEA has slashed sick pay for unvaccinated workers who are told to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid.

      The change essentially means that staff who have not been jabbed and are required to self-isolate for ten days after being in contact someone infected with the virus could receive the legal minimum of £96.35 statutory sick pay a week.

      The average pay of Ikea staff is £10.10 per hour or £11.30 in London, meaning workers usually take home £404 or £452 for a whole week, the Mail on Sunday reported.

      A spokesperson for IKEA told the outlet: "We appreciate that this is an emotive topic and all circumstances will be considered on a case by case basis, therefore anyone in doubt or concerned about their situation is encouraged to speak to their manager,’ said a spokeswoman."

      The retailer later clarified that the policy only affects unvaccinated workers with "high levels of absence".

    • Joseph Gamp

      Education Secretary says 'no excuses' for online learning at universities

      Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said that there are "no excuses" for universities not to deliver face-to-face learning despite a surge in Covid infections and staff absences.

      Mr Zahawi said his expectation of universities "is that they deliver face-to-face education… They need to deliver it" and that students who "feel they are not getting value for money" should make complaints "to the Office for Students".

      Speaking to the Sunday Times, Mr Zahawi's comments come as a number of universities have offered online or "blended" learning this term and schools have bit hit by staff shortages.

      The paper reported Durham University would teach all classes online in the first week of term, Queen's University Belfast will hold most classes online this month and King's College London has also moved some classes to remote learning.

      According to the paper, more than 100 institutions, including 23 of the top 24 in the Russell Group, plan to offer a mix of online and face-to-face teaching this term.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Labour says 'lateral flow tests have got to remain free'

      Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said "lateral flow tests have got to remain free whilst we have huge numbers of cases on a daily basis".

      Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Morning programme, Ms Reeves said: "The proposal today that lateral flow tests are no longer going to be free – these are absolutely the wrong policies and the wrong approach at the wrong time.

      "The best way to stop further restrictions, and I do not want to see further restrictions to our life and to our economy, is to ensure that people can test and test regularly to stop passing on the virus.

      "That's why we believe that those lateral flow tests have got to remain free whilst we have huge numbers of cases on a daily basis."

    • Joseph Gamp

      Ireland confirms another 21,384 Covid cases

      A further 21,384 positive cases of Covid-19 have been notified in Ireland.

      On Sunday morning there were 984 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 83 were in intensive

    • Joseph Gamp

      Novak Djokovic lawyers claim tennis ace ‘shocked and confused’

      NOVAK Djokovic was subjected to an eight-hour ordeal where he was deliberately sleep-deprived and confused by Australian border officials, his lawyers claim.

      The antivaxxer's legal team said he only relented and agreed to the cancellation of his visa because he was shocked and muddled by the turmoil.

      They argue pressure allegedly put onto the tennis ace to agree without advice from a legal rep was unlawful.

      Djokovic, 34, is facing the boot from the Australian Open after his visa was sensationally revoked on Wednesday.

      The claims come in court documents submitted ahead of the 34-year-old's trial tomorrow, with solicitors claiming he was unfairly pressured into the decision.

      Read more here.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Covid isolation ‘doing more harm than good’

      Ministers have found themselves under mounting pressure to cut the self-isolation period because of the devastating knock on effect it is having on the health service and other workforces.

      Before Christmas, Health Secretary Sajid Javid cut the number of isolation days from 10 to seven – provided people test negative on days six and seven.

      Workers across the country have been stuck at home for a week due to the isolation measures, but experts are calling for it to be slashed again to help release pressure.

      Half of the schools in England have already turned to supply teachers to get the cover they need because of staff absences.

      Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Mail: “Almost half of transmissions happen before people develop symptoms and most will no longer be infectious three or four days after they become ill.

      “Reducing the length of the isolation period to five days is unlikely to make much difference to the pandemic but would have a positive impact on the economy and the running of the NHS, transport and other vital services.”

    • Joseph Gamp

      Scotland not considering further reduction of quarantine period

      Holyrood Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said Scotland is not considering further reducing its quarantine period after UK Government Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi backed dropping England's isolation from seven days to five.

      Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Sunday, Mr Yousaf said it had already been a risky move for the Scottish Government to limit the isolation period from 10 days to seven.

      "The reason why we have made that decision – and it's important to say that the UK nations all moved at a different pace on this – is that it's not a risk-free option," he said.

      "It's not that there isn't a risk attached with going from 10 days to seven days, there is a risk.

      "It's just that we wanted time to consider whether or not we would, inadvertently, for example, accelerate the transmission of the virus by cutting that isolation period."

    • Joseph Gamp

      Omicron peaked in London over New Year says health chief

      The spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus is thought to have peaked in London over the new year period, the capital's director of public health has said.

      Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's regional director for London, said case rates were falling across the city.

      He warned that data suggested nearly one in 10 Londoners are still infected with the virus and the "critical phase" of the pandemic is not yet over.

      Speaking to Sky News' Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Prof Fenton said: "We think we may have passed or are at the peak.

      "Data from the ONS suggests that the peak may have occurred at or just about new year period and we're seeing reductions in overall case rates across the city and the prevalence of infections within the community."

    • Joseph Gamp

      Education minister backs changes to isolation rules (continued…)

      Mr Zahawi's comments come after parents were urged to book jabs for their children as official Covid deaths passed 150,000 in the UK.

      Around half a million vaccination appointments are being made available online in England for the 12 to 15-year-olds during January, a senior doctor has said – with slots available at around 500 walk-in sites and 300 centres.

      With the official Covid death total reached 150,057, the UK is the seventh country to pass the milestone – following the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.

      It also follows reports that universal free lateral flow tests may be scaled back. The Sunday Times reported they could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.

      An announcement could come within weeks and include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system, the paper said.

      The report has been disputed by Government sources who say it is too early to say what will happen with free lateral flows.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Minister backs reduction of Covid isolation period to five days

      Nadhim Zahawi has become the first Government Minister to publicly support the reduction of the Covid isolation period from seven to five days, which he said would be "more helpful".

      Speaking to The Sunday Times, the Education Secretary said: "The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have said they want to review it, so we will stick to seven days but if they review it and say they will bring it down to five days that is even better for me, it's even more helpful."

      Mr Zahawi also told the paper he believes the UK is "witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic".

    • Joseph Gamp

      Lateral flow tests to remain free insists minister

      Lateral flow tests will remain free, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted amid criticism after suggestions they could be scaled back despite soaring coronavirus cases.

      The Cabinet minister said he is "puzzled" by a report suggesting that their universal availability could be axed as they are limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

      The Sunday Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would make the announcement within weeks, while the NHS Test and Trace system could also be scaled back.

      Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned the move would be "utterly wrongheaded", while Labour said it would be the "wrong decision at the wrong time".

      But Mr Zahawi told Sky's Trevor Phillips on Sunday: "I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don't recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at.

      "For January alone 425 million lateral flow tests (are) coming in and they will continue to be available for free.

      "I don't really recognise where that story is coming from."

      Asked whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, he said: "Absolutely not."

    • Joseph Gamp

      Education minister says cut to self-isolation period helpful for workforces

      Education minister Nadhim Zahawi said a reduction in the self-isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19 would be helpful for those workforces hit by absences,

      "I would obviously always defer to the scientific advice on this. It would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others," he told Sky News after being asked whether he backed a move to reduce the isolation period to five days from seven.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Boris Johnson accused of attending mid-lockdown drinks party

      Boris Johnson stands accused of personally attending a drinks party in the garden of No 10 during the first lockdown.

      Downing Street did not immediately deny a report in the Sunday Times alleging that the Prime Minister attended the potentially rule-breaking event with wife Carrie in May 2020.

      The newspaper cited three sources stating Mr Johnson's principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, emailed officials with an invite adding "BYOB", meaning bring your own bottle, or booze.

      Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating the May 20 event as part of her inquiry into numerous allegations of rule-breaking events being held in No 10 during the coronavirus pandemic.

      Allegations of that gathering, said to have been attended by 40 people, emerged this week when Dominic Cummings said he had warned at the time the "socially distanced drinks" would likely be against the rules and "should not happen".

      But the front page report suggesting Mr Johnson himself was present will add to the seriousness of the claims.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Welcome changes to holiday rules

      Recently, Brits have been able to return to the UK without needing to have a Covid test to enter the country, provided they are vaccinated.

      The isolation rule – which required arrivals to isolate until they received their day two test result – has also been scrapped.

      And from tomorrow, the day two test rules will change – and families will be able to save hundreds.

      From 4am tomorrow, Brits will be able to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test, with the former must cheaper.

      While the NHS lateral flow tests can’t be used for travel purposes, they cost around £22 from private medical firms – while PCRs at least £60 more.

      The government website states: “If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England after 4am, Sunday 9 January, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.

      “If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England after 4am, Sunday 9 January, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.”

    • Joseph Gamp

      Sturgeon warns PM against scaling back lateral flow tests

      Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an "utterly wrongheaded" approach to dealing with coronavirus.

      Labour joined her in urging the Prime Minister against the move after it was reported they could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.

      The Sunday Times also said the announcement, which could come within weeks, may include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system.

      Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not signed up to the move, but if Mr Johnson was "really considering this" it would be "utterly wrongheaded".

      "Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to 'live with' Covid," she tweeted.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Parents urged to book jabs for children as official Covid deaths pass 150,000

      Parents of 12 to 15-year-olds have been urged to book Covid-19 vaccinations for their children as official figures showed more than 150,000 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

      Around half a million vaccination appointments are being made available online in England for the age group during January, a senior doctor has said – with slots available at around 500 walk-in sites and 300 centres.

      The plea comes as the official Covid death total reached 150,057, meaning the UK is the seventh country to pass the milestone – following the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.

      Boris Johnson recognised the "terrible toll" of coronavirus on the country, while a scientist advising the Government labelled it an "absolute tragedy" made worse because "many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave".

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