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COVID news live: Boris Johnson to hold news conference at 4pm as Moderna warns there is 'no world' where vaccine effectiveness won't drop against Omicron variant – Sky News

Coronavirus latest as UK cases of Omicron rise to 32; Co-op and Iceland supermarkets say staff won’t enforce new mask rule; Boris Johnson on spot over “boozy” party in Downing Street during lockdown; WHO says it will know more about new variant “within days”.
People carried on with their Christmas shopping in Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday as the country battles a new wave of coronavirus infections.
We reported earlier as Sajid Javid told broadcasters that the UK’s investment in the COVID booster roll-out was “buying time” as they learn about Omicron.
Watch his comments in full below.
New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 on Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.

Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in cases following the discovery of the new variant.
“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” said Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organisation.
“There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in number of cases being identified in South Africa.”
South Africa had seen a period of low transmission in early November with a seven-day average of about 200 new cases per day, but in the middle of November new cases began to rapidly increase.
The new cases reported on Wednesday represent a 16.5% positivity rate of cases tested, up from 1% early in November.
The drug maker said it could have a coronavirus booster vaccine targeting the new variant ready to file for US authorisation by March.
The claim was made by Moderna President Stephen Hoge on Wednesday.
He said he believes top-up jabs carrying genes specifically targeting mutations in the new variant would be the quickest way to address any potential reductions in efficacy.
“The Omicron-specific boosters, just realistically, are not before March and maybe more in the second quarter,” Mr Hoge said.

Sky’s science correspondent Thomas Moore said many people are “confused” about the Omicron variant, with some saying it could be “really, really bad” while others believe vaccines will be able to combat the mutation.
The World Health Organisation said earlier that some cases of the virus found in South Africa are mild, adding that more should be known about the transmission in the coming days.
If you’re curious about why it’s taking so long for scientists to discover how dangerous Omicron is, check out our explainer below. 

Helen Donovan, of the Royal College of Nursing, tells our Sky News Q&A it is not known if we will need further booster doses of a COVID-19 jab – but the evidence suggests it is highly likely.
She says it’s critical that the elderly and vulnerable are prioritised to get vaccinated.
Professor Tim Spector tells our Sky News Q&A that it would be a good idea to do such things if you want to suppress outbreaks. 

But he says it tends to be a political decision rather than a medical one – and we can reduce such outbreaks without disrupting our social lives too much.
Prof Spector says the restrictions in place don’t make too much sense since people have to wear a mask in the supermarket, yet don’t have to when attending the theatre and the cinema.
He says people would expect these measures more than the government would give them credit for. 
People have gotten used to working from home, he says, and many will be planning such events like Christmas parties more carefully. 
A Q&A with a panel of coronavirus experts is getting underway on Sky News now – you can follow in the stream above or in our dedicated live blog.
You can also submit questions to science correspondent Thomas Moore until 8pm.
The US has identified a first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in California, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
US health officials have said the new variant – first detected in South Africa and announced on 25 November – was likely already in the country as dozens of other countries also detected its arrival. 

Early indications suggest most Omicron cases are “mild”, an official at the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Speaking on behalf of the organisation, the official said there is no evidence to suggest the efficacy of vaccines has been reduced by the new strain – but did say some mutations of the virus indicate an increased risk of quicker transmission.
They said more than 40 different mutations have been identified with the Omicron variant.
Of the 377 local areas in the UK, 177 (47%) have seen a week-on-week rise in rates, 197 (52%) have seen a fall and three are unchanged.
Torridge in Devon continues to have the highest rate in the UK, with 718 new cases in the seven days to 27 November – the equivalent of 1,044.8 per 100,000 people.

Mid Sussex has the second-highest rate, down slightly from 853.2 to 840.7, with 1,279 new cases.
Elmbridge in Surrey has the third-highest rate, up from 795.8 to 836.6, with 1,148 new cases.
Gwynedd has the highest rate in Wales (826.9, down from 857.2); Antrim & Newtownabbey has the highest rate in Northern Ireland (699.8, up from 678.9) and Falkirk has the highest rate in Scotland (574.9, up from 545.0).
The five UK areas with the biggest week-on-week rises are:
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