The first cases of the Omicron Covid variant have been recorded in Basingstoke and Deane.

Three cases have been recorded in the borough, with all Year 4 pupils and teachers at Hatch Warren Junior School self-isolating "as a precaution".

The variant, which was first discovered in southern Africa, has caused the Prime Minister to reintroduce some restrictions, including mandatory face coverings in shops and the red list quarantine hotel facilities from some countries.

What is the Omicron variant?

The Omicron variant of Covid-19, known as B.1.1.529, was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 24.

It was named a variant of concern by WHO two days later.

It has prompted concern among scientists and public health officials because of an unusually high number of mutations.

The mutations have the potential to make the virus more transmissible and escape protection created by the current batch of vaccines.

WHO states that preliminary evidence suggests there may be an "increased risk of reinfection with Omicron" - meaning people previously infected with Covid-19 may no longer have the protection against it.

Where have cases been found?

Cases of Omicron have been detected in 38 countries, with the US and Australia the latest to confirm locally transmitted Omicron cases.

Currently, the red list countries, requiring hotel quarantine for ten days on arrival in England, are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In the UK, there were 104 confirmed Omicron cases as of Friday - and on Sunday, three cases were announced in Basingstoke and Deane.

What are the rules?

The rules are slightly different for contacts of suspected Omicron cases.

If you test positive and are told you have the Omicron variant, you must self-isolate for ten days as usual.

But close contacts of suspected Omicron cases must also self-isolate, regardless of age or vaccination status. Normally, those who have had two doses of a vaccine or are under the age of 18 years and six months do not need to self-isolate when in close contact with a positive case.

The government also recently reintroduced mandatory face coverings in certain enclosed public spaces, such as shops and public transport, unless you are medically exempt.

What are the public health experts saying?

All Year 4 pupils and teachers at Hatch Warren Junior School have been isolated and targeted testing will take place there.

Public health experts are urging residents to take precautions such as lateral flow tests, meeting others outdoors if possible and wearing face coverings.

Emma Richards, consultant in health protection at UKHSA South East, said "it is critically important that we do everything we can to help stop its spread while we learn more about how infectious it is".

She added: “Following the cases of the new Omicron variant being confirmed in the Basingstoke district, it is critically important that we do everything we can to help stop its spread while we learn more about how infectious it is, whether it could cause more severe illness and how effective our vaccines are to this variant.

"Health protection experts at the UKHSA have been working with Hampshire County Council’s Public Health team to investigate where the individuals have been while in the area and targeted PCR testing will be carried out for the contacts they had.” 

Simon Bryant, Hampshire County Council’s Director of Public Health said: “We are working closely with the UKHSA, and they will carry out targeted testing at Hatch Warren Junior School, with the support of Mobile Testing Units, next week. As a precaution, all Year 4 pupils and teachers at the school have also been asked to isolate.

“Together with the UKHSA, we continue to do all we can to encourage the public to adopt safe behaviours to prevent further spread. Get vaccinated – first dose, second dose, booster. Wear a face covering on public transport, in shops and crowded places. If you have symptoms, then isolate immediately and get a PCR test. 

“Ahead of social events, take a lateral flow test, meet outdoors if possible, or if indoors, open a window to let in fresh air. All of these individual actions can make a difference to help slow the spread of infection and help keep each other safe in the run-up to Christmas.”