A RUGBY match with more than 80,000 spectators may have been a superspreader event of the new Covid "variant of concern" Omicron.
Fans at the England versus South Africa game at Twickenham last weekend are being urged to get tested after a surge of cases in the area.
A strict Covid pass system was in place at the stadium which meant everyone in attendance had to prove they had be double jabbed and had a negative lateral flow test.
However, it is feared Omicron can be transmitted between fully vaccinated people after a sharp rise in infections in south west London this week.
There have been no confirmed cases of the variant in the area, but concerns are growing that passengers from the South African province of Gauteng – where the variant is rampant – were allowed to leave the airport without testing.
One person claimed on social media: "The captain read out a statement 'advising' self-isolation and further tests, but it’s at the discretion of passengers and it’s not legally enforceable.
"Passengers then got on the airport shuttle to baggage reclaim, mixing with dozens of other flights. No testing was offered."
Currently, the only known UK cases of the mutant strain have been in Chelmsford, Essex, and Nottingham, where mass testing is now underway.
But the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) is frantically trying to track down around 9,000 people who have arrived in the UK from South Africa in the last 14 days.
Officials are using passenger locator forms to trace travellers, and it is also understood they are trawling through databases of recent PCR tests to identify any "S gene dropouts" – a tell-tale sign of Omicron.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Saturday: "We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing.
"We will do all we can to protect the UK public against this emerging threat and that is why we are surging testing capacity to the impacted communities."
Boris Johnson also announced a string of new rules to help stop the variant getting a grip on the nation.
South Africa is now on the UK's red list for travel, and all flights from the country – as well as Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – have been suspended.
Face masks will also be mandatory in shops and on public transport from Tuesday, and travellers arriving into the UK will have to take a PCR test on or before day two – and they must isolate until they get a negative result.
The PM said the new tightened rules on mask-wearing is the "responsible course of action" in a bid to stop the spread of the new mutant strain.
The restrictions do not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
It comes after Senior Government scientists warned the mutant Omicron variant was the “worst they have seen so far” – with vaccines expected to be at least a third less effective against it.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the variant could be “of real concern” as 32 mutations in its spike protein could enable it to evade a person’s immune system more easily and spread to more people.
On Twitter, he said the variant “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile” that could make it more contagious than any other variant so far.
While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, Mr Johnson said there are "good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection".
He said yesterday that "we're going to boost the booster campaign" by asking the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to consider giving boosters to "as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap" between second doses and the booster.
Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham and Liberal Democrats health spokesperson, said: "While I’m confident the Rugby Football Union will have had the necessary protocols in place to prevent any potential spread, this serves as a reminder that we all must remain vigilant in the fight against this virus.
“Those who had flown in for the match and anyone who was in and around the stadium that day who has concerns should follow UK Health Security Agency advice in coming forward and getting tested.
“More broadly, the emergence of this new variant stresses the need to donate vaccines through the Covax programme.
"Ministers must spring into action and recognise no one is safe from Covid until we all are safe."
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