Omicron discovered in Sandwell as first West Midlands cases are confirmed

Cases of the new highly-transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been discovered in the West Midlands, health chiefs have confirmed.

One case has been discovered in Sandwell and Staffordshire, with another being recorded in Telford and two being confirmed in Warwickshire.

The five cases were confirmed by The UK Health and Security Agency, formerly Public Health England, before being confirmed by councils in the area.

The infected person, in the Sandwell borough, and their contacts have already been self-isolating – before the transmissible variant was confirmed.

It comes after Sandwell Council refined its contact tracing service in order to pick up suspected cases of Omicron in the borough.

Sandwell Council’s director of public health, Lisa McNally, said: "We were able to identify this case of Omicron infection a few days before it was confirmed, meaning that contacts could isolate and break the chain of infection.

"However, it does seem clear that this new variant spreads very easily and we can expect many more cases in the days and weeks to come. New research also suggests that having been infected with Covid previously doesn’t offer much protection against reinfection with omicron. Therefore, vaccination is crucial if we are going to stay safe this winter."

The authority is using a range of new information – including S Gene Target Failure (SGTF) data, which gives an early signal to health chiefs that a Covid-19 case may be Omicron.

Sandwell’s Public Health team is working closely with the UK Health Security Agency on the ongoing investigation and to ensure that all appropriate actions to identify close contacts and arrange testing are completed.

The borough's public health chief added: "The vaccine remains our best defence against coronavirus. Whether it’s the first or second dose, or the booster if you are eligible, please take up the offer.

"If you have any symptoms, no matter how mild, you should self-isolate get a PCR test. This can save lives."

It comes after health chiefs issued the plea after 54 positive cases were recorded in Friar Park, Wednesbury, in the week up to December 1. It means the rate of infection is 424 per 100,000 – 35 per cent above the average rate of 274 per 100,000 for Sandwell overall.

Meanwhile, in Staffordshire, the county's first Omicron case was discovered in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme – with the resident being a contact of a confirmed out-of-area case linked to overseas travel.

The person has been self-isolating since late November and early identification allowed their small number of contacts to also be traced so they could self-isolate and get tested, chiefs said.

The UK Health Security Agency has been working with Staffordshire County Council on the investigations. As there is no evidence of wider spread in the community, no additional testing is necessary.

Dr Richard Harling, director for health and care at Staffordshire County Council, said: "With the Omicron variant spreading to more areas of the country, it was inevitable that it would make its way to Staffordshire. Robust contact tracing has taken place following identification of this first case, which has limited the risk of further spread in the community.

"The new Omicron variant is a timely reminder to everyone to remain vigilant and do what we can to reduce the risks. This means getting a PCR test if you have symptoms however mild, wearing a face covering in shops and on public transport, and getting your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can.

"It is important to break the chain of transmission as quickly as possible, and the quickest way of doing this, is for individuals who test positive to self-isolate immediately. Even if you are feeling well, I would urge everyone to play their part to keep their community safe."

Meanwhile a single case has been confirmed in Telford and Wrekin, with contact tracing taking place to curb the spread of the virus.

Liz Noakes, Telford and Wrekin’s Director for Public Health said: "The UK Health Security Agency are leading an investigation into the single confirmed Covid-19 Omicron variant case in Telford and Wrekin, we are working closely with them to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken.

"The single case confirmed with Omicron Covid-19 variant in Telford and Wrekin is self-isolating. Robust contact tracing has taken place to trace the contacts related to it and ask them to test and self-isolate. The situation is being closely monitored.

"It is now ever so important that everyone in our borough takes sensible precautions to limit the spread of the virus. Even if you are feeling well, I would urge everyone to play their part to keep our community safe. Thank you.”

The Omicron strain, or B.1.1.529, is a variant which has 50 genetic mutations, over 30 of them being spike protein mutations.

The total number of confirmed Omicrom cases in the UK has reached 246, after 86 new infections reported, according to figures published on Sunday.

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