Oxford Mail readers have been discussing whether they should socialise less following a medical expert’s advice on how best to combat the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency, said everyone can do their bit by reducing the number of social contacts they have - and by “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected Dr Harries’ call, insisting that he had already put in place a package of “balanced and proportionate measures” in response to the threat posed by the new variant.

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A total of 22 cases of the new coronavirus variant have been confirmed in the UK. Thirteen are in England - in the East Midlands, the east of England, London and the North West.

Nine cases are in Scotland and all appear to have come from a single event on 20 November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

South Africa was the first country to identify the new variant, and reported it to the World Health Organization on 24 November.

Speaking outside a vaccine centre in north London, Mr Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” booster jabs can give a “lot of protection against all types of the virus”, adding it is crucial for everybody to get the additional dose when eligible.

He added: “We’ve no doubt at all that the NHS, all the volunteers, the Army, everybody can rise to the challenge. Is it going to be hard work? Yes it is, but I know people can do it.”

Booster jabs are to be offered to all over-18s in the UK and children aged 12 to 15 will be invited for a second jab, as part of a major expansion of the vaccine programme.

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Some readers indicated that contrary to Dr Harries’ advice they would not alter their behaviour and reduce socialising.

ALI WARD: “That depends on how virulent the new strain is.

“Reports so far suggest it’s very mild. Could be our best opportunity to achieve natural immunity.”

MEGHAN MADDALENA: “Jenny Harries can if she wants.”

ANDREW CARR: “I’m off to the pub for a pint later if she wants to join? I’ll get the first round in! That’s what i think.”

CLAIRE PILGRIM: “Don’t really like people so all good for me.”

At the same time, readers have been giving their views on wearing masks on buses after the Oxford Mail found that 80 per cent of passengers were wearing masks after mask wearing in shops and public transport was made mandatory again on Tuesday.

GRAHAM AYRIS: “You are suggesting that 80% is a good take up?

“Should that not be almost 100% as very few people are actually medically exempt.

"You are just suggesting that 20% of people are ignoring the rules.”

MARTIN PRITCHARD: “This shouldn’t come as a surprise, we found out from the previous time when masks were mandatory that the majority of bus users were wearing them along with shoppers.”

JUSTIN KING: “Just keep calm and carry on - it is going to be ok.”

BEAN KENNEDY: “Is this surprising?”

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AL BANE: “Eighty per cent is surprising, yes, surprisingly low. Surely there are no more than 5% who have legitimate medical reasons to be exempted.

“So 15% of people are like those irresponsible individuals who we see write here time and again, smugly claiming that they won’t comply just because they are offended by the sight of masks or are too lazy or stubborn to put one one.

“To imagine that 15% of the people are like that is depressing: a way too large number of irresponsible, anti-social people living in the midst of us.”

OXFORD MAIL READER: “Unfortunately, enforcement will be non-existent, so these selfish individuals will continue to flout the law.”

NEIL PARKER: “It’s pretty simple - don’t let them on board. Same as people in shops, don’t serve them.”

OXFORD MAIL READER: “Anyone who asks me my reasons will be told in no uncertain terms that it is none of their business. This is the deranged mentality of the Covid-obsessed, produced by the media coverage of this pandemic - perfectly normal to demand answers of strangers as to their medical condition!”

OXFORD MAIL READER: “When this Omicron turns out to be a storm in a teacup, this knee-jerk charade of a mask mandate will be lifted. Can’t wait to see all the Covid fanatics wringing their hands.”