HEREFORDSHIRE'S public health chief has said it's not surprising that two suspected cases of the Omicron Covid variant have been found in the county.

Recently-published government data showed two coronavirus cases in Herefordshire had been found with S-gene target failure (SGTF), which indicates when a case is likely to be the Omicron variant.

It can take up to 14 days for the variant to be confirmed, but the test for S-genes is much quicker.

Explaining the difference, the UK Health Security Agency said the Delta variant – currently the most common strain – tests positive for S-genes, whereas the new Omicron variant does not.

The cases were found last week, the data showed, with confirmation expected next week once lab tests have been carried out.

Interim director of public health for Herefordshire Council Dr Rebecca Howell-Jones said the cases were not surprising and numbers were expected to rise.


"As the government has announced, Omicron cases of Covid-19 are expected to rise rapidly across the country," she said.

"While it may seem alarming that suspected cases have been reported in Herefordshire, this is not surprising. We expect to see a rise in both suspected and confirmed cases in the coming days.

"We would like to remind all residents to take precautions – please do book your Covidbooster vaccination ASAP if you are eligible. Regular LFD (lateral flow device) testing will help protect your family and friends, and the 'hands, face, space and ventilation' measures are ways to help limit the spread."

Speaking about S-gene target failure, the UK Health Security Agency said: "SGTF is a useful indicator of the presence of Omicron, because as a rule, Delta cases have the S-gene and Omicron cases do not.

"However, it is not confirmatory as there are a number of other reasons that a sample might exhibit SGTF.

"For example, there are still a small number of cases of other variants, such as Alpha, in the UK which would also result in S-gene dropout or there is a lower amount of virus present in the sample where S-gene dropout cannot be confirmed."

On Friday, an additional 448 confirmed cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been reported across the UK, the agency said.

It took the total number of confirmed Omicron cases in the UK to 1,265.

A breakdown showed 443 of the additional cases have been reported in England, one in Scotland and four in Wales. No further cases have been reported in Northern Ireland.

It comes as daily Covid-19 cases have reached their highest level in almost a year as experts warned the Omicron variant could become the dominant strain in the UK by mid-December.

Analysis of Omicron by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) also found two doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against Omicron when compared with the Delta variant.

But the UKHSA said preliminary data showed vaccine effectiveness “considerably increased” in the early period after a booster dose, providing around 70 per cent to 75 per cent protection against symptomatic infection.


The news came as UK leaders held a Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the latest data and their co-ordinated response, after which Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK faces a “deeply concerning situation”.

The Government said, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 58,194 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

The last time a higher daily figure was reported was on January 9, when 59,937 cases were recorded.

An additional 448 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK, the UKHSA said, bringing the total number to 1,265.

A breakdown shows 443 of the additional cases have been reported in England, one in Scotland and four in Wales. No further cases have been reported in Northern Ireland.

The Cobra meeting was held virtually by Mr Gove in his role as Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, as he continued to self-isolate after coming into contact with the Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has tested positive for Covid.

Mr Gove is understood to have tested negative but is isolating as a precaution while waiting to find out if Mr Joyce contracted the Omicron variant.

Following the meeting, he said the UK faced a “deeply concerning situation” given the fast rate the Omicron variant is spreading across the country.

Extra measures such face coverings in theatres and cinemas and Covid passports for nightclubs are among new measures in England to combat Omicron.