GPs have been advised to order a PCR test for patients who have returned from a number of African countries in the past 10 days, and isolate them in a side room ‘if possible’.
It follows the discovery of new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 in South Africa, which has been named Omicron. So far, nine cases of the variant have been confirmed in the UK, including six in Scotland.
In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that JCVI has been tasked with drawing up recommendations for ‘giving boosters to as wide a group as possible, as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster’.
Meanwhile, the UKHSA and NHS England sent a joint letter yesterday (Sunday 28 November) to GP practices, among others, with advice for ‘immediate action’.
The letter asks GPs to inform their local health protection team if Covid-19 is suspected in a patient whose symptoms began after they returned from the following countries in the past 10 days:
- South Africa
Side rooms should be prioritised for isolation of patients with ‘any respiratory symptoms’ or suspected Covid-19.
GPs should continue to wear appropriate PPE and follow the latest guidance for infection prevention and control.
The letter also said healthcare workers returning to England from countries not on the travel red list should not return to work until they have had an initial negative PCR test, and they should continue to do daily LFDs until day 10 after return.
New public advice is that residents of the UK and Ireland returning from the countries listed above must stay in managed quarantine services.
And anyone who has returned in the past 10 days should get a PCR, regardless of any LFD test and its result.
UKHSA is ‘actively following up’ with these residents, and is prioritising sequencing for people with S gene target failure.
The letter said it is ‘plausible’ that Omicron could have ‘altered transmissibility, reduction in vaccine effectiveness and/or reduction in protection from natural immunity’, but added that there is currently a ‘high level of uncertainty’ and ‘no laboratory data’.
Meanwhile, an UKHSA study showed boosters significantly improve protection against symptomatic Covid-19 in adults aged 50 and over.
Omicron guidance for healthcare professionals
- On Thursday 25th November, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were added to the UK’s travel red list. From 4am on Sunday 28th November, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola were also added to the travel red list
- If these countries are identified when taking the travel history of your patients take particular note. If they have returned in the past 10 days, then order a PCR test and isolate them in a side room if possible.
- Prioritise the use of side rooms or other appropriate isolation for those with any respiratory symptoms or in whom COVID-19 is suspected. Continue to use appropriate PPE.
- In addition, contact your local health protection team if COVID-19 is suspected in a patient whose symptoms started following return from these countries within the past 10 days.
- Anyone who has returned from those areas in the past 10 days should take a PCR – regardless of whether they have booked or used a lateral flow device, and regardless of its result. UKHSA is actively following up with these individuals.
- Healthcare workers who return from any travel overseas to countries not on the travel red list should not return to work until they have had an initial negative PCR. They should also do daily LFDs until day 10 after return.
Source: Advice distributed by UKSHA on 28 November 2021