TRAVEL measures hurriedly put in place to combat the spread of the Omicron variant are ALREADY too late to stop a wave of cases of the Covid "super strain", an expert has warned.
With more than 150 cases of the mutant variant already confirmed in the UK, government adviser Professor Mark Woolhouse has said it is "too late" to make a "material difference" in stopping a break out of cases.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has already warned the mutant variant is “transmitting rapidly and successfully" after first being identified here a week ago.
The surge in cases led to ministers in Westminster signing off on new travel restrictions, meaning that those returning from abroad will need a negative PCR or lateral flow test in the 48 hours before coming home.
Asked about the new travel rules on BBC'S Andrew Marr Show this morning, Prof Woolhouse said: "I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
"If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there's community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it's that community transmission that will drive a next wave.
"The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere.
"But I think it's too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave if we're going to have one."
The government's decision to make all travellers take a Covid test before jetting back to the UK – in force from 4am Tuesday – has enraged the ailing travel industry as holidaymakers face the added burden of hundreds of pounds for foreign trips.
Travel consultant Paul Charles said: “Yet again, the travel sector is going to suffer with these measures on top of the fact many people will abandon, cancel or re-book what they have booked for the next few weeks.”
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But the government hopes it will help curb a rise in Omicron Covid cases.
According toUKHSA , a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK, with 25 of these in England.
It means the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK now stands at 160.
Professor Mark Woolhouse added: "The numbers are still quite small, so the absolute number of Omicron cases in the UK, I would strongly suspect, is more in the hundreds than the thousands.
"But the important point is that they're growing and they're growing quite fast."
The expert added that vaccinations will still be "very, very good" against the Omicron variant as the government ramps up its booster rollout and urges people to get jabbed.
He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "Vaccinologists and immunologists think that this variant won't evade the vaccines entirely.
"It's important to remember that against the Delta variant, which is a different variant, the booster vaccinations have turned out to be very effective, well into the 90 per cent protection against infection but also against disease and putting people in hospital.
"So even if the vaccines were slightly less effective against Omicron they would still be very very good."
It comes after Dominic Raab insisted families CAN get together this Christmas as fears of a festive lockdown grow.
The deputy prime minister has tried to reassure panicked Brits that the country is in a "more confident position" than last year as he urged people to go ahead with Christmas parties.
Speaking on BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Raab said people should "enjoy" gatherings and Christmas with their families and loved ones around them.
"It's going to be a great Christmas," he said.
"All the families, friends, loved ones are being able to get together in a way we haven't been able to do for a couple of years.
"Of course we'll continue to be vigilant about variants but the reality is we are in a much more confident position because of the vaccine, because of the boosters.
"People should enjoy Christmas, get their loved ones around them, and celebrate it in a way we haven't been able to in the past."
His comments came just days after Boris Johnson also insisted there is no need to cancel gatherings, family meet-ups or nativity plays over fears of the new variant.
He begged confused Brits not to panic as he sought to calm the chaos by saying of the tougher restrictions claims: “There’s no need for that at all. That’s not what we are saying.
“Please, we’ve got to take a balanced and proportionate approach to this. We want people to continue as they are.”
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