Could schools close early in Birmingham this Christmas and who should wear a mask? The latest on the impact of Omicron variant as Covid-19 concerns rise

The rise in new Omicron variant cases of coronavirus is leading to calls for schools to be closed early for Christmas

The rise in cases of the Omicron variant in parts of the UK is leading to calls for the UK Government to close schools early for Christmas.

The new variant, first detected in Botswana, is already in the UK with more cases of the new variant being detected every day.

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The biggest concern of the new variant is that a large number of the different mutations are on the spike protein, which is the target of the vaccine.

Measures are already in place to increase mask wearing in shops and on public transport across England, and calls have been made for mandatory face mask wearing in pubs, cafes and restaurants.

What has 10 Downing Street said about the possibility of school closures?

Despite the concerns over schools closing early, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson dismissed the idea that there were plans in place to close schools early.

The spokesperson said: The spokesman added there were no plans to do this as the pandemic has already caused “significant” disruption to education.

“We’ve seen how disruptive some of the restrictions can be and we’ve always taken steps to keep schools open until we have absolutely no other choice.”

The Department for Education (DfE) also added that the sending home of large groups of children should be a “last resort”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The news of a new variant – the so-called Omicron variant – will have understandably caused concern for people across our country, including our teachers, wider education and childcare staff, parents, pupils and students.

“We are already taking targeted and proportionate action as a precaution while we find out more information about the new variant.”

The DfE has also said that face coverings should be worn in all communal areas of schools and colleges in England from 29 November, with the measure to be reviewed again in three weeks.

An email update from the DfE to education and childcare providers said: “Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.

“Pupils or students (in Year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.”

What has the World Health Organisation (WHO) said about the new variant?

WHO has labeled the new variant, which was first discovered in Botswana earlier this month, as a ‘global threat’.

They added that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g. more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta.