Jonathan Van-Tam says 'no time to delay' over Omicron variant

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Elad Maor, who was one of the first people on the planet to become infected with the Omicron variant, believes that he caught it when he was in London for a major medical conference that was attended by over 1,200 health professionals. The news will no doubt sound that alarm as fears the variant may have been in the UK much earlier than it was first realised, plus the chance that other medics could have been exposed to it too spells more bad news.

Dr Maor, a cardiologist at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv said that he returned to Israel on November 23 after the three-day meeting at ExCeL London, a large convention centre in Newham, east London.

He said he started experiencing symptoms within days, and later tested positive on November 27.

The time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is believed to be up to 14 days, but symptoms normally appear within five days of exposure.

Dr Maor arrived in London on November 19 and stayed four nights at a hotel in north London.

So far, his symptoms of the virus have only been mild, including a fever, muscle ache and a sore throat.

Dr Maor also said it was likely that he had infected a 69-year-old colleague with the virus after flying back from London.

The colleague has since tested positive for the Omicron variant.

But Dr Maor, who has had three shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is sure that he caught Omicron in the UK.

He told the Guardian: “I got the Omicron in London, for sure.

“That is interesting because that was 10 days ago in London – really, really early.”

Health chiefs may now be questioning how early the new variant actually spread to the UK and Europe.

It comes as Governments around the world, including the UK and South Africa are now scrambling to find recent cases of Covid in their databases, as well as screening travellers and decoding the viral genomes of the new variant as they try to track how far it spread and where it originated.

Before it was first detected in southern Africa last week, data shows already circulating and it has since been detected in more than a dozen countries.

But as it has only just been discovered, the work to determine whether it is more infectious, more deadly or can evade vaccines is expected to take a number of weeks.

Dr Maor said he was surprised at the number of Londoners who were not wearing masks.

He stated: “Many of the people on the Tube were not wearing masks.

“I was actually surprised by that.”

He had a PCR test on his second day in the UK, November 20, and took another the day after, which was also the first day of the medical conference he attended, which is Israeli travel rules demand.

After the final day on November 23, he flew back home from London via Heathrow airport at 9pm.

When he arrived in Tel Aviv early on November 24, he had his third PCR test, but the result was also negative.

He said: “The only reasonable explanation is that I got infected on the last day of the meeting – maybe at the airport, maybe at the meeting.

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“That’s why the [third] PCR was too early to detect the infection. So either the second day of the meeting or the last day of the meeting because there is a lag between the time you get infected, and when the PCR turns positive.”

But then when he took his fourth test after he returned to work at the Sheba Medical Centre.

He was the third Omicron case in Israel.

The Europa Group, which set up the PCR London Valves 2021 conference at ExCeL London, posted a message on its official conference website confirming it had found out on November 30 that a delegate had tested positive for Covid after returning to their home country.

Speaking from France, a spokesperson for the Europa Group said: “As you may imagine, the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone who visited PCR London Valves was our number one priority.

“All protocols mandated by the UK government were put in place. Anyone entering the congress centre had to present a valid health pass and were requested to wear a mask.

“Hydro-alcoholic gel and masks were made readily available for all participants and disposal bins for used protective equipment were provided.”

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