Boris’s ‘million jabs a day’ drive in chaos on first day

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Boris Johnson’s pledge to dish out a million booster jabs a day to beat Omicron has descended into chaos on its first day, with vaccine centres warning stocks are running low and Britons left standing in ‘two hour’ queues. 

Hundreds of thousands of people were rushing to get their third dose less than two weeks before Christmas, hours after the Prime Minister revealed that the booster programme would be opened to all UK adults.

But Britons faced lines stretching at least 300 yards at jabbing centres, which started forming almost an hour before they even opened. 

And the NHS booking system crashed as thousands tried to secure a top-up dose, with health service bosses now urging people to ‘try again tomorrow’. 

In another sign of chaos, a 37-year-old in Bicester, Oxfordshire, who lives two miles from a vaccination centre was told their nearest appointment was 26 miles away.

The Government also ran out of lateral flow tests, with the website reading: ‘Sorry, there are no more home test kits available right now’. From tomorrow, vaccinated people who are close contacts of a Covid case will be asked to swab themselves once a day. Experts have urged people to test themselves repeatedly in the run up to Christmas.  

NHS bosses warn that scaling up the booster programme now will be ‘incredibly difficult’ and inevitably have ‘consequences’, with patients once again facing the threat of cancelled operations.

In a massively ambitious move last night, the Prime Minister brought forward the deadline to offer all over-18s a third jab by New Year’s Day as he warned the country: ‘There is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.’

The Army and thousands of extra volunteers will be drafted in to achieve the target, and clinic hours extended to help dish out up to 20million jabs over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The drive will also see 42 military planning teams across every region, additional vaccine sites and mobile units, an extension of opening hours for clinics so they run seven days a week and thousands of extra volunteer vaccinators trained.

But concerns about whether the Government could even hit the goal were raised almost immediately after Mr Johnson’s 8pm announcement last night. Even at the height of the NHS’s vaccine drive in March, the health service never managed more than 850,000 jabs a day.

GPs fumed they found out about the goal at the same time as the rest of the nation, and NHS bosses warned it would take ‘time’ to get the scaled up programme ‘fully up and running’. 

Former Cabinet minister David Davis and Labour MPs slammed the Government for failing to ramp up the booster drive in September, and warned the ‘vaccine wall of defence was crumbling’. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that patients waiting for elective surgery such as hip replacements could see their treatment posponed as the NHS races to roll out a million jabs a day. He promised, however, that critical care for cancer patients would be unaffected. 

The PM’s intervention last night comes amid the ever-growing threat of tougher restrictions in January, with the potential for a new lockdown if Omicron cases surge out of control after the UK’s Covid alert level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4.

Both Scotland and Wales have dangled the possibility of having to go even further in bid to ward off the highly-transmissible variant.

LONDON: Hundreds were pictured queuing outside St Thomas' hospital for Covid boosters today after Boris Johnson told al over-18s to get the top-up jab before the New Year

LONDON: Hundreds were pictured queuing outside St Thomas’ hospital for Covid boosters today after Boris Johnson told al over-18s to get the top-up jab before the New Year 

The Prime Minister told the country last night that a wave of Omicron 'is coming' as he ramped up the booster drive to meet his target of delivering a million jabs a day. The PM is pictured above at a vaccination centre in Wesminster, London

The Prime Minister told the country last night that a wave of Omicron ‘is coming’ as he ramped up the booster drive to meet his target of delivering a million jabs a day. The PM is pictured above at a vaccination centre in Wesminster, London

The UK Government has now run out of lateral flows. From tomorrow, vaccinated people who are close contacts of Covid cases are requiried to test themselves every day for ten days. Experts have also been calling on Brits to test themselves regularly in the run up to Christmas

The UK Government has now run out of lateral flows. From tomorrow, vaccinated people who are close contacts of Covid cases are requiried to test themselves every day for ten days. Experts have also been calling on Brits to test themselves regularly in the run up to Christmas

Pictured above is the current pace of the booster programme (green bars) and how it will have to ramp up to hit the million jabs a day target (red bars). NHS bosses warn scaling up the programme will be 'incredibly difficult'

Pictured above is the current pace of the booster programme (green bars) and how it will have to ramp up to hit the million jabs a day target (red bars). NHS bosses warn scaling up the programme will be ‘incredibly difficult’

This graph shows how many vaccination centres were open in April during the first drive, compared to the numbers involved in the booster roll-out. It reveals there are fewer mass vaccination centres now than previously

This graph shows how many vaccination centres were open in April during the first drive, compared to the numbers involved in the booster roll-out. It reveals there are fewer mass vaccination centres now than previously

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster.

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster. 

Yesterday the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant — an increase of 65 per cent in the past 24 hours. It was the highest daily rise and more than double the previous record, with the total number of known cases now sitting above 3,000. 

In his speech last night, the PM urged people to ‘get boosted now’ and said the UK is ‘now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant’ and ‘we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe’.

Queues began forming outside The Hawks Centre in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, almost an hour before the clinic opened. 

Mother-of-three Sarah Wheal said she had wanted to get a booster but had not been eligible as she was under the age of 40. The Prime Minister’s TV address had spurred her into action with anyone aged 18 and over eligible.

‘After watching TV, I decided to come down here and get the jab’, said the 37 year old. ‘ I think a lot of people will be panicked into getting the booster from hearing what’s in the way. Now that it has been opened up to under-40s lots more will come here.’ 

Now NHS tells people to STOP trying to book a booster jab online 

NHS bosses today urged Britons desperate to get their Covid booster jab to try again tomorrow after the website crashed again this morning and huge queues built up outside vaccination centres around the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people were rushing to get their third dose less than two weeks before Christmas, just hours after Boris Johnson revealed that the booster programme would open up to all UK adults from today.

Those aged 30 or over are now eligible to book their vaccine online via the NHS website, while people aged 18 to 29 can book there from Wednesday – but all UK adults can now go to a walk-in centre from today.

Those trying to book a jab appointment on the website were greeting with a message saying: ‘The NHS website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We are working to resolve these issues. Thank you for your patience.’

And the NHS later said in a tweet: ‘The Covid vaccine booking service is currently facing extremely high demand so is operating a queueing system. For users aged 18 to 29, please be aware that booking opens on Wednesday 15 December. For all others experiencing waits, we would advise trying again later today or tomorrow.’

The booster expansion plan is expected to focus on walk-ins rather than online bookings – and those trying to get an appointment on the website face having to wait until after Christmas, insiders told Politico’s London Playbook.

Meanwhile long lines of people waited outside pharmacies, hospitals and temporary vaccine sites across the UK this morning, with particularly big queues seen at St Thomas’ Hospital and Guy’s Hospital in London.

Britons trying to book their booster jab this morning have been greeted with this message on the NHS website today

Britons trying to book their booster jab this morning have been greeted with this message on the NHS website today

Alex, 39, an actuary from nearby Surbiton, said: ‘I had been waiting for an appointment as I’m not 40 until early next year. When I heard it was now open to anyone under 40 I decided to try my luck. 

‘We have been told it’s a two hour wait and as I’m flexible with my work that’s no problem. 

‘I didn’t watch Boris as I’m not really a fan of his, but obviously read later about the opening up of the vaccinations to anyone under 40.’ 

Two stewards in high viz jackets marshalled those queuing into an orderly line as it snaked out of the entrance to the Hawks Clinic and along the pavement. Most people in the queue wore a mask. Those with scheduled appointments at the clinic were lined up in a separate queue.

Former MP Ben Howlett warned vaccination centres in central London already appeared to be running out of doses. He tweeted: ‘It’s 8.30am — the walk-in centre has been open for exactly 30minutes and someone has already come out to say that they may not have enough doses of vaccine today?!’

Thousands queued to book their top-up doses on the NHS website today on the first day that 30 to 39-year-olds became eligible, triggering the website to crash. 

In a tweet, the NHS said: ‘The Covid vaccine booking service is currently facing extremely high demand so is operating a queuing system.

‘For users aged 18-29, please be aware that booking opens on Wednesday 15 Dec. For all others experiencing waits, we would advise trying again later today or tomorrow.’ 

There were reports of queues at vaccination centres across the country, including in Kidlington, Belfast, Manchester and parts of London.

It cames as lateral flow home testing kits became unavailable on the Government website.

A message read that the tests were not available, and told people to ‘try again later’.

Mr Davis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We were always going to face a challenge [this winter], and if you ask the NHS how much of a challenge can we face they say very little. 

‘So, why didn’t we do all this in September?’

‘What actually happened from my memory was that the rate dropped to about 58,000 a day.’

He added: ‘The first time I heard a million jabs a day phrase was in September and, actually, that was the right time. 

‘If you look at it, we don’t have to guess anymore, look at last year the Covid infection rate took off in late September, and deaths took off in late October. All respiratory diseases get worse in the winter.

‘Why weren’t we doing this earlier? If this was so important, why weren’t we doing this in September?’

The vaccination drive fell below 100,000 doses a day in September, with just 45,500 given out on its worst day towards the end of the month according to official figures.

Britain’s top vaccination committee recommended boosters for over-50s and the clinically vulnerable in mid-September.

But it took more than a month for the drive to start dishing out more than 300,000 doses a day. Many elderly people also complained they could not find out where to get their top-ups.

It is currently administering 400,000 doses a day. This is a record high but not even half of the Prime Minister’s target.

MANCHESTER: Britons have said queues could last for more than two hours

SEVENOAKS, KENT: People pictured queuing for their boosters

MANCHESTER (left) and SEVENOAKS, KENT (right): Britons queued up for boosters this morning after Boris Johnson called on all over-18s to get their top-up jabs

People queuing outside the Saint Thomas vaccination centre in Westminster as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces tougher Covid restrictions

People queuing outside the Saint Thomas vaccination centre in Westminster as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces tougher Covid restrictions 

Britons pictured trying to get their booster doses this morning in Milton Keynes

This queue has formed in Sheffield, after Boris Johnson said last night that Britons over 18 should get their top up jabs

MILTON KEYNES (left) and SHEFFIELD (right): Britons queue to get their booster jabs after Boris Johnson expanded the drive last night

Above is Britain's daily vaccinations graph. It shows a lull in rolling out jabs over September and October, which opposition parties today branded as a missed opportunity for the country. Former Conservative ministers and the shadow health secretary have questioned why more was not being done to roll out the jabs in September

Above is Britain’s daily vaccinations graph. It shows a lull in rolling out jabs over September and October, which opposition parties today branded as a missed opportunity for the country. Former Conservative ministers and the shadow health secretary have questioned why more was not being done to roll out the jabs in September

Figures show that a total of 23,124,829 - 40.2 per cent of people aged 12 and over in the UK - have now received a booster jab but the rollout will now need to rapidly increase in order to meet the target

Figures show that a total of 23,124,829 – 40.2 per cent of people aged 12 and over in the UK – have now received a booster jab but the rollout will now need to rapidly increase in order to meet the target

The UK Covid alert level was raised from level 3 to level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant

The UK Covid alert level was raised from level 3 to level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant 

It means that everyone eligible aged 18 and over will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year, with Mr Johnson urging people to 'get boosted now'

It means that everyone eligible aged 18 and over will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year, with Mr Johnson urging people to ‘get boosted now’

Scotland and Wales threaten to introduce Plan C 

Scotland and Wales could face even tougher Covid measures after their leaders suggested that current restrictions may not go far enough in the fight against the Omicron variant.

Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford agreed to speed up their booster jab campaigns last night after Boris Johnson demanded a higher pace to get more jabs in arms before the end of the year.

But they both left open the door to tighter restrictions being introduced in coming weeks.

Both Scotland and Wales have had mask orders, Covid passports and working from home measures for weeks, steps only now being introduced in England.

Last night Nicola Sturgeon confirmed plans to offer all adults a Covid booster by the end of the year, but added: ‘Given the expected volume of cases in the weeks ahead, however, it is also possible that further, proportionate protective measures or advice will be necessary.

‘This is true even if Omicron proves to be slightly less severe than Delta.

‘The number of cases will still put significant pressure on the NHS and the economy. The government will therefore consider the latest data tomorrow ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and I will set out any decisions to parliament later that day.’

This morning Sturgeon’s health minister Humza Yousaf said that new measures were ‘inevitable’.

Blasting ministers for failing to roll out booster jabs earlier, Mr Ashworth said: ‘Sajid Javid [is] right to push everyone to get a booster.

‘But for weeks we’ve been warning the vaccine wall of defence was crumbling.

‘We’re behind on boosters, some areas behind on second jabs and childrens rates too low.’

Oxford University’s director of the centre for evidence-based medicine Professor Carl Heneghan warned Britain won’t be able to ‘turn off’ healthcare every year to roll out boosters.

But that the NHS was ‘setting up a strategy very much like influenza (annual vaccines)’.

He added: ‘What we can’t do each year is stop healthcare, switch it off and replace it with a vaccine system that says “for the next month, we’re switching off healthcare”.’

He warned the NHS needs about 20 per cent more beds to be able to handle admissions.  

‘What happens is we get to this point in time, the NHS keeps saying it’s overwhelmed, we’ll be in the same position next year, we only have about 100,000 beds for 57 million people in England, it is insufficient at this time of year.

‘So we have to bring in rules and regulations because we’re not properly preparing.

‘And until we do that, until we realise we need to be flexible, we’ll end up in this bind. And if we’re not careful, we’ll be back talking about this next year, when we’re talking about the NHS being overwhelmed again.’

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why the Government hadn’t tried to ramp up the booster drive earlier, Mr Javid said: ‘This is not an easy decision to make. 

‘It does mean that when it comes to primary care for the next couple of weeks, that our GPs will only be focusing on urgent needs and vaccinations. And it also means that non urgent appointments and elective surgeries may have to be postponed into the new year.’

The Health Secretary said people with urgent appointments — like cancer patients — won’t be affected by the ‘new mission’, but that those waiting for elective surgery — such as hip replacements — will need to wait a little longer while others are inoculated.

Explaining which care will be affected by the ramped up drive, he said: ‘It will be anyone who’s got some elective surgery planned, for example, that can be postponed until the new year. 

‘So that might mean for example, it might be a knee operation or hip operation or something that sadly someone has probably been waiting for a long time in any case, but the hospital concerned would have the right to postpone it if it meant they would get a lot more booster jobs done.

‘[But] let me be clear, these decisions are not easy, but there’s only at any one time there’s only limited capacity in the NHS.’

Asked whether people would die because of a lack of elective care, Mr Javid responded: ‘What will lead to real harm is if we don’t do this, these are all health measures, whether it’s vaccination or whether it’s changes to you postponing certain elective surgeries, these are all health decisions. 

‘And if we don’t do this, think about the harm of that.’

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data reveals marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery ¿ such as hip and keen operations ¿ at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data reveals marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic

 

Trains and Tube carriages are emptier and traffic drops on first day of WFH guidance 

London’s near-deserted stations, Underground carriages and roads looked like lockdown again as City bosses vented at Boris Johnson for asking millions to work from home from today because of Omicron while still encouraging them to head to town for Christmas nights out.

The world famous concourses at Waterloo, Euston and Paddington, usually rammed with commuters between 7am and 9am, were empty this morning. Tube platforms and carriages were also largely unoccupied as offices emptied.

Traffic was also running freely on routes usually choked with traffic on the quietest Monday morning rush hour in London since September 6, MailOnline can reveal, with one central London resident tweeting: ‘I’m slap bang in the middle of London and roads are unbelievably quiet now’. Another commuter tweeted: ‘Work from home order well and truly back. Tube is absolutely empty this morning’.

Roads and railways across the UK including in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle were also quiet this morning.

The working from home recommendation is the latest step of Mr Johnson’s Plan B to slow the spread of Omicron in the UK – but critics including his own MPs believe it is simply a stepping stone towards another lockdown.

There is also incredulity about the PM’s insistence that people shouldn’t go to the office, but should still go to Christmas parties and dinners. But the great office exodus means businesses such as pubs, cafes and restaurants, already struggling, will be pushed to the brink as office workers stay away.

Andrew Monk, CEO of VSA capital, has hit out at the ‘absurd’ guidance and claims that his staff have been begging to come to the office despite the Prime Minister’s diktat.

He said: ‘I’m not very happy with it. It’s a bit absurd that this time last year you were told: go to work but don’t party. Now we’re being told: party but don’t go to work. It doesn’t make sense does it. We’ve got all our staff back and they’re actually very happy to be back. They’re disappointed that they are being told, sorry, you’ve got to work from home if necessary.

‘Most of them have said: Can we come in? We’ve kept the office open but it will be a skeleton crew. We are following the government’s guidelines but it’s obviously disappointing’.

The NHS waiting list for elective surgery has already snowballed to 5.83million patients, including 10,000 who have spent two years on the list.  

The PM said the data was now clear that two doses of the vaccine are ‘simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need’ but the ‘good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up’.

He said this will require ‘an extraordinary effort’ as he revealed some medical appointments will have to be postponed until 2022 so that clinicians can commit to administering jabs.

Mr Johnson said ‘every adult over 18 who has had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago’ will be eligible for a jab from tomorrow.

Figures show that a total of 23,124,829 – 40.2 per cent of people aged 12 and over in the UK – have now received a booster jab but the rollout will now need to rapidly increase in order to meet the target.

Approximately 20million people are likely to be eligible for the booster under the criteria which means the rollout will need to administer around one million jabs a day to hit the PM’s goal.

The formal NHS Booking System will be open to the younger age groups from Wednesday but Mr Johnson said ‘in some places you can walk in from tomorrow’.

In his address the Prime Minister said: ‘Over the past year we have shown that vaccination is the key to beating Covid and that it works

‘The UK was the first country in the world to administer a vaccine, we delivered the fastest rollout in Europe and we begun the fastest booster campaign too with over half-a-million jabs delivered yesterday alone.

‘These achievements made possible by the extraordinary efforts of our NHS, including thousands of GPs and volunteer vaccinators have literally saved countless lives and livelihoods in this country.

‘But I need to speak to you this evening because I’m afraid we’re now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant Omicron and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe. ‘

Mr Johnson went on to say that that UK’s four chief medical officers had now raised the Covid alert level to four – it’s second highest level- because of the evidence that Omicron is doubling in the UK every two to three days.

He continued: ‘We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop. No one should be in any doubt there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming and I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need.

‘But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.  

‘I know there will be some people watching who will be asking whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants and whether we really need to go out and get that booster and the answer is yes we do. 

‘Do not make the mistake of thinking Omicron can’t hurt you, can’t make you and your loved ones seriously ill. We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron in hospital here in the UK right now. 

‘At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe and even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths.’

Mr Johnson also said if action was not taken now ‘the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year.’ 

The Prime Minister added: ‘A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January. Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month.

‘Everyone eligible aged and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.

‘And we’ve spoken today to devolved administrations to confirm the UK government will provide additional support to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day. 

‘This will require an extraordinary effort. And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.

‘But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year. 

‘And I know the pressures on everyone in our NHS – from our GPs, doctors and nurses to our porters – all of whom have worked incredibly hard and we thank them for the amazing job they have done.

He added:  ‘We’re a great country. we have the vaccines to protect our people so let’s do it. 

‘Let’s get boosted now. Get boosted now for yourself, for your friends and our family. Get boosted now to protect jobs and livelihoods across this country. Get boosted now to protect our NHS, our freedoms and our way of life.’ 

The address to the nation came after the UK Covid alert level was raised following a rapid increase in the number of Omicron cases being recorded.    

The country’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director recommended to ministers that the UK go up to Level 4 from Level 3 after a further 1,239 confirmed cases of the mutant strain were recorded across the country as of Sunday.

That brings the total number of UK cases of Omicron to 3,137, a 65 per cent increase from Saturday’s total of 1,898 cases.

Level 4 is one step below the most severe Level 5. It means coronavirus is ‘in general circulation, transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising’.  

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi revealed yesterday that there were now patients with Omicron being treated in UK hospitals but health bosses said there was yet to be a confirmed Omicron-linked death.   

The booster announcement came as Mr Johnson braces for a Tory rebellion in the House of Commons on Tuesday when MPs are due to vote on his ‘Plan B’ measures. 

Labour has said it will vote for the new curbs which include rolling out vaccine passports for nightclubs and large indoor events, making face masks compulsory in most indoor public settings and advising people to work from home. 

But the new restrictions have prompted Tory fury with ‘at least’ 60 Conservative MPs said to be planning to rebel to vote against the package. 

Labour support means ‘Plan B’ will be agreed by the Commons even if there is a sizeable Tory revolt but should such a rebellion take place it would be the largest of Mr Johnson’s premiership to date and would represent a hammer blow to his authority.   

Mr Johnson said that from today in England the booster programme will be open to all adults who have had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago. 

The Government announced yesterday afternoon that 1,196 additional cases of the Omicron variant had been identified in England, taking the total to 2,953.

Meanwhile, there were 38 confirmed cases in Scotland, where 159 cases of the Omicron variant have now been confirmed. 

In Wales, 15 confirmed cases have been reported, but there were no additional cases in the past 24 hours, and in Northern Ireland, there were five additional cases, taking the total there to 10. 

The Government said that as of 9am on Sunday there had been a further 48,854 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK overall. 

It also said a further 52 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. 

The UK’s chief medical officers – England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Sir Michael McBride, Scotland’s Professor Gregor Smith, and Wales’ Dr Frank Atherton, along with NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis –  said the alert level needed to rise because of the ‘rapid increase in Omicron cases’.

They said: ‘Transmission of COVID-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services. 

‘Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced. 

People queue outside Northumbria University's Coach Lane Campus NHS vaccination centre tonight for their booster jabs

People queue outside Northumbria University’s Coach Lane Campus NHS vaccination centre tonight for their booster jabs

Models by London School of Tropical Health and Medicine show the projected path of the Omicron Covid wave in the UK with if lockdown measures are reintroduced. This worst case scenario assumed that boosters do not provide high protection against Omicron and there is a large number of vaccine evading infections

Models by London School of Tropical Health and Medicine show the projected path of the Omicron Covid wave in the UK with if lockdown measures are reintroduced. This worst case scenario assumed that boosters do not provide high protection against Omicron and there is a large number of vaccine evading infections 

‘Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.’ 

The health experts said that ‘when vaccine protection is reduced in the way that is happening with Omicron it is essential to top up that protection with a booster’. 

‘Both booster vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) increase the immune response substantially and show good effectiveness although with some reduction compared to Delta,’ they said. 

‘The NHS is currently under pressure mainly driven by non-COVID pressures. With a variant spreading with increased transmissibility and reduced vaccine effectiveness, we are likely to see this pressure rise soon.

‘It is extremely important that if you are eligible, you get your COVID vaccination now – whether this be your first, second or booster dose.

‘People should continue take sensible precautions including ventilating rooms, using face coverings, testing regularly and isolating when symptomatic.’ 

Mr Zahawi painted a grim picture of the spread of the mutant strain as he said it now accounts for one third of all cases in London. 

He described the emergence of Omicron as a ‘huge bump in the road’ as the nation tries to recover from the pandemic, with cases of the variant doubling every two to three days. 

Mr Zahawi warned that the actual number of cases of Omicron is likely to be ‘up to 10 times’ higher than the confirmed number. 

The Cabinet minister said 20million booster jabs have already been administered and ‘it is now a race to get all adults who are eligible for their booster jabs to be boosted as quickly as possible’.

He added: ‘As Patrick Vallance said at the press conference, we are transitioning this virus from pandemic to endemic but there are big bumps in the road and this is a big bump, a huge bump in the road, in the sense that we now have a variant that is so infectious that it will dominate and of course exponentially grow.’ 

The pleas to the nation to get booster jabs came as the PM faces a massive Tory rebellion when the House of Commons votes on his ‘Plan B’ on Tuesday. 

Boris Johnson yesterday urged people to 'get boosted now' and said the UK is 'now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant'

Boris Johnson yesterday urged people to ‘get boosted now’ and said the UK is ‘now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant’

What are the Covid rules in England under plan B?

WFH

The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.

Face mask

Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.

Vaccine passports 

The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather. 

This will apply to all unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people. 

Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme. 

A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient. 

This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare. 

Contact testing 

Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive. 

Tory MP Steve Baker yesterday accused Mr Johnson of ‘creating a miserable dystopia’ by re-imposing coronavirus restrictions.  

Mr Baker lashed out at Mr Johnson and claimed ‘at least’ 60 Tory MPs will vote against the Government when they are asked to rubber-stamp the PM’s latest Covid curbs.   

However, the PM’s crackdown will almost certainly be agreed by the House of Commons after Sir Keir Starmer confirmed the Labour Party will vote in favour of the new rules. 

Sir Keir said yesterday he believed the measures were ‘necessary’ to counter the ‘great threat’ posed by the Omicron variant. 

He said Labour would act in the ‘public interest’ and support ‘Plan B’ as he insisted he would resist calls to take ‘political advantage’ of the situation.  

Mr Johnson triggered his ‘Plan B’ last week in a bid to buy the UK time in the fight against Omicron.

Many Tory backbenchers have reacted with fury to the measures, with some having already pledged to vote against the moves. 

The decision to make vaccine passports compulsory for large venues has gone down particularly badly with backbenchers.  

The passes will need to be shown to gain access to indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people from Wednesday.

The ‘Plan B’ measures also include compulsory mask-wearing in most public indoor settings, as well as guidance for employees to work from home where they can. 

Scotland’s Deputy First Minster John Swinney yesterday confirmed the country was already considering bringing in new restrictions in the nation next week.

It comes after Professor Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said the variant is spreading so quickly in Britain everyone will come into contact with it ‘unless you’re a hermit’. 

Professor Riley warned ‘a lot of people’ could still end up in hospital even if the strain proves to cause milder symptoms than Delta. 

Hospitals have already had to start shutting wards after detecting cases, with Raigmore Hospital in Inverness forced to close one of its units after a spike in infections.

Meanwhile, new rules on care homes have ‘almost’ returned residents to the same conditions they were in a year ago, according to care leaders. Mr Gove yesterday announced care home resident will be banned from seeing more than three named visitors this winter in order to protect them from the vaccine-evading variant. 

While Covid booster jabs have been shown to be effective against Omicron, there are concerns that the millions of people who are yet to get their third inoculation could be unprotected against symptoms of the virus without it. 

Officials stress two doses should still offer high protection against severe illness but even a small drop in that could trigger a surge in hopsitalisations. 

Of the nearly 1,900 Omicron cases in the UK, 1,757 have been found in England, 121 were detected in Scotland, 15 were in Wales and five in Northern Ireland.

The variant already makes up 30 per cent of new Covid cases in London, according to confidential data given to ministers.  

Stark projections show the super-mutant variant could become dominant within days, prompting concerns that Mr Johnson will have no choice but to hit the panic button once more. 

It comes as leaked advice from the UKHSA, sent to health secretary Sajid Javid, called for ‘stringent national measures’ to be brought in by December 18.

While No10 said there were no imminent plans for more restrictions when Plan B was announced this week, Mr Gove warned on Friday that the government had been shown ‘very challenging information’ about the speed of Omicron’s spread at a Cobra meeting.  

He hinted the Government was considering Plan C, saying: ‘We need to keep everything under review.’ 

And the LSHTM modelling suggests that even under the most optimistic scenario — low immune escape of Omicron from vaccines and high effectiveness of booster jabs — a wave of infection is projected which could lead to a peak of more than 2,000 daily hospital admissions, with 175,000 hospital admissions and 24,700 deaths between December 1 this year and April 30, 2022.

This is if no additional control measures are implemented over and above the current Plan B introduced by the Government in England.

The team said mask-wearing, working from home and booster jabs may not be enough, and predict a peak of daily hospital admissions of 2,400 in January.

In this scenario, bringing in control measures early in 2022 — such as restrictions on indoor hospitality, the closure of some entertainment venues and restrictions on how many people can gather in one place — would be sufficient to substantially control the wave, reducing hospital admissions by 53,000 and deaths by 7,600. 

Dr Rosanna Barnard, from LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, who co-led the research, said: ‘More data over the next few weeks will strengthen our knowledge on Omicron and the consequences of this on transmission in England.

‘However, these early projections help guide our understanding about potential futures in a rapidly-evolving situation.

‘In our most optimistic scenario, the impact of Omicron in the early part of 2022 would be reduced with mild control measures such as working from home. 

‘However, our most pessimistic scenario suggests that we may have to endure more stringent restrictions to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed. Mask-wearing, social distancing and booster jabs are vital, but may not be enough.

‘Nobody wants to endure another lockdown but last-resort measures may be required to protect health services if Omicron has a significant level of immune escape or otherwise increased transmissibility compared to Delta.

‘It is crucial for decision-makers to consider the wider societal impact of these measures, not just the epidemiology.’

The Prime Minister’s full speech

‘Over the past year we have shown that vaccination is the key to beating Covid and that it works.

 ‘The UK was the first country in the world to administer a vaccine, we delivered the fastest rollout in Europe and we begun the fastest booster campaign too with over half a million jabs delivered yesterday alone.

‘These achievements made possible by the extraordinary efforts of our NHS, including thousands of GPs and volunteer vaccinators have literally saved countless lives and livelihoods in this country.

‘But I need to speak to you this evening because I’m afraid we’re now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant Omicron and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe.

‘Earlier today the UK’s four chief medical officers raised the Covid alert level to four  – it’s second highest level- because of the evidence that Omicron is doubling here in the UK every two to three days.

‘We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop. No one should be in any doubt there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming and I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need.

‘But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.

‘I know there will be some people watching who will be asking whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants and whether we really need to go out and get that booster and the answer is yes we do.

‘Do not make the mistake of thinking Omicron can’t hurt you, can’t make you and your loved ones seriously ill. We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron in hospital here in the UK right now.

‘At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe  and even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths. So we must act now.

‘Today we’re launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme to get boosted now.

‘A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January. Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month.

‘Everyone eligible aged and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.

‘And we’ve spoken today to devolved administrations to confirm the UK government will provide additional support to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day. 

‘This will require an extraordinary effort.And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.

‘But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year. And I know the pressures on everyone in our NHS – from our GPs, doctors and nurses to our porters – all of whom have worked incredibly hard and we thank them for the amazing job they have done.

‘But I say directly to those of you on the front line, I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you and your colleagues – and above all your patients – from even greater pressures next year.

‘So from tomorrow in England, we are opening up the booster to every adult over 18 who has had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago.

‘The NHS Booking System will be open for these younger age groups from Wednesday, and that’s the best way to guarantee your slot, but in some places you can walk in from tomorrow.

‘We will also assist this emergency operation by deploying 42 military planning teams across every region, standing up additional vaccine sites and mobile units, extending opening hours so clinics are open 7 days a week, with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening, and at weekends, and training thousands more volunteer vaccinators.

‘And we’ll set out further steps in the days ahead. It’s because of the threat from Omicron that I announced on Wednesday we will move to plan B in England.

‘You must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces. From tomorrow, work from home if you can.

‘And from Wednesday, subject to a vote in parliament, you’ll need to show a negative lateral flow test to get into nightclubs and some large events if you’re not double vaccinated.

‘These measures will help slow the spread of Omicron. But we must go further and get boosted now.

‘If you haven’t yet had a vaccine at all, then please get yourself at least some protection with a jab as quickly as possible.

‘If you’ve already had your booster, encourage your friends and family to do the same.      

‘We’re a great country. we have the vaccines to protect our people so let’s do it. Let’s get boosted now. Get boosted now for yourself, for your friends and our family. Get boosted now to protect jobs and livelihoods across this country. Get boosted now to protect our NHS, our freedoms and our way of life.’ 

 

‘We are facing an emergency, get boosted now’: Boris Johnson’s address to the nation

Boris Johnson warned that the UK is ‘facing an emergency’ in the battle against the Omicron variant as he urged the country to ‘reinforce the wall of protection’ and ‘get boosted now’.

In his address to the nation tonight, the PM said the data was clear that two doses of the vaccine were ‘simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need’ but scientists were confident a booster could bring levels of protection ‘back up’.   

Launching what he described as the ‘Omicron Emergency Boost’, Mr Johnson said everyone over the age of 18 would now be offered their booster before the New Year in an effort to halt the spread of the highly-transmissible strain.

The PM’s address comes after the UK’s Covid alert level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant – an increase of 65 per cent over the past 24 hours. 

Today’s case numbers – which take the total number of Omicron cases in the UK to 3,137 – are the highest daily rise and more than double the previous record, which was set on Saturday when 633 new cases of the variant were reported.  

In his speech the PM said: ‘Over the past year we have shown that vaccination is the key to beating Covid and that it works.

 ‘The UK was the first country in the world to administer a vaccine, we delivered the fastest rollout in Europe and we begun the fastest booster campaign too with over half a million jabs delivered yesterday alone.

‘These achievements made possible by the extraordinary efforts of our NHS, including thousands of GPs and volunteer vaccinators have literally saved countless lives and livelihoods in this country.

‘But I need to speak to you this evening because I’m afraid we’re now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant Omicron and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe.

‘Earlier today the UK’s four chief medical officers raised the Covid alert level to four  – it’s second highest level- because of the evidence that Omicron is doubling here in the UK every two to three days.

‘We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop. No one should be in any doubt there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming and I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need.

‘But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.

‘I know there will be some people watching who will be asking whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants and whether we really need to go out and get that booster and the answer is yes we do.

‘Do not make the mistake of thinking Omicron can’t hurt you, can’t make you and your loved ones seriously ill. We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron in hospital here in the UK right now.

‘At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe  and even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths. So we must act now.’

Launching what he described as the ‘Omicron Emergency Boost’, Mr Johnson said that in order to deliver the necessary jabs by the end of the year ‘we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day’.   

He continued: ‘Today we’re launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme to get boosted now.

‘A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January. Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month.

‘Everyone eligible aged and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.

‘And we’ve spoken today to devolved administrations to confirm the UK government will provide additional support to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day yet – and then beat it day after day. 

‘This will require an extraordinary effort.And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.

‘But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year. And I know the pressures on everyone in our NHS – from our GPs, doctors and nurses to our porters – all of whom have worked incredibly hard and we thank them for the amazing job they have done.

‘But I say directly to those of you on the front line, I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you and your colleagues – and above all your patients – from even greater pressures next year.

‘So from tomorrow in England, we are opening up the booster to every adult over 18 who has had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago.

‘The NHS Booking System will be open for these younger age groups from Wednesday, and that’s the best way to guarantee your slot, but in some places you can walk in from tomorrow.’

Mr Johnson said everyone over the age of 18 would now be offered their booster before the New Year amid the rise in Omicron cases

Mr Johnson said everyone over the age of 18 would now be offered their booster before the New Year amid the rise in Omicron cases

In order to assist with the emergency operation the PM said military planning teams would be deployed across the region, and thousands more volunteer vaccinators would be trained.

He added: ‘We will also assist this emergency operation by deploying 42 military planning teams across every region, standing up additional vaccine sites and mobile units, extending opening hours so clinics are open 7 days a week, with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening, and at weekends, and training thousands more volunteer vaccinators.

‘And we’ll set out further steps in the days ahead. It’s because of the threat from Omicron that I announced on Wednesday we will move to plan B in England.

‘You must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces. From tomorrow, work from home if you can.

‘And from Wednesday, subject to a vote in parliament, you’ll need to show a negative lateral flow test to get into nightclubs and some large events if you’re not double vaccinated.

‘These measures will help slow the spread of Omicron. But we must go further and get boosted now.

‘If you haven’t yet had a vaccine at all, then please get yourself at least some protection with a jab as quickly as possible.

‘If you’ve already had your booster, encourage your friends and family to do the same.      

‘We’re a great country. we have the vaccines to protect our people so let’s do it. Let’s get boosted now. Get boosted now for yourself, for your friends and our family. Get boosted now to protect jobs and livelihoods across this country. Get boosted now to protect our NHS, our freedoms and our way of life.’        

Covid chaos in South Africa as country finds 19,000 unrecorded cases making a record 37,000 new infections added today and leaving public clueless as to whether Omicron wave has peaked or not – and even the PRESIDENT has tested positive

By David Averre for MailOnline

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) today announced more than 19,000 positive Covid tests had previously gone unreported due to ‘IT challenges’.

South Africa confirmed 18,035 new cases of Covid in the past 24 hours, but the total was bumped up to more than 37,000 to account for the positive tests not previously reported.

‘Today we report 37,875 new cases, which includes 19,840 retrospective cases & 18,035 new cases,’ the NICD said in a statement today, before calling out public laboratories it said were to blame for the unreported tests. 

‘For the NICD to report quality and comprehensive data, the institute relies on test reports from both private and public laboratories to generate daily COVID-19 statistics.

‘The NICD was informed in the previous week that information technology (IT) challenges had been experienced by public sector laboratories, which have resulted in reporting delays.’

A member of the Western Cape Metro Emergency Medical Services vaccinates a woman, who cannot walk, in a car at a COVID 19 vaccination event in Manenberg on December 08, 2021 in Cape Town

A member of the Western Cape Metro Emergency Medical Services vaccinates a woman, who cannot walk, in a car at a COVID 19 vaccination event in Manenberg on December 08, 2021 in Cape Town

It comes as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for the virus today despite being fully vaccinated. 

Ramaphosa, 69, started feeling unwell and a test confirmed COVID-19, a statement from the presidency announced earlier today.

He is self-isolating in Cape Town and is being monitored by the South African Military Health Service, having delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week.

The statement didn’t say whether he had been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant, but confirmed he was experiencing ‘mild’ symptoms and is being treated. 

Ramaphosa said his own infection serves as a caution to all people in South Africa to be vaccinated and remain vigilant against exposure, a governmental statement said. 

The NICD also said there may be further revelations of unreported Covid cases in South Africa in the coming days due to data taking ‘longer to reflect’.  

‘Some COVID-19 surveillance data may take longer to reflect on the national line list,’ the institute said.

‘We are committed to transparent reporting and will continue to update COVID-19 surveillance databases retrospectively as the impacted public laboratories remedy the existing IT difficulties.’

The news comes as a devastating blow to South African health authorities who said yesterday the spread of Covid and the new variant Omicron had slowed, while experts were positive about the relatively low rate of hospitalisations. 

Shabir Madhi, a professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that the infection rate had been much faster than any of the country’s previous three waves, but hospitalisations were remaining low relative to the number of cases.

‘Three weeks into resurgence, many adults and children testing SARS-CoV-2 [positive] in hospital, but COVID hospitalisation remains low relative to community case rate,’ he wrote on Friday. 

He also said the death rate was low compared to when similar number of cases were being seen in previous waves. 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for Covid today despite being fully vaccinated (pictured August 27, 2021)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for Covid today despite being fully vaccinated (pictured August 27, 2021)

Using South Africa’s Gauteng province – its Omicron ground-zero – as an example, he said the likely explanation of the low death rate was that 73 percent the region’s population was either vaccinated or previously infected, giving T-cell immunity. The majority of those hospitalised with severe Covid, he said, are vaccinated. 

‘Government response correctly remains measured by not increasing restrictions and not panicking with increase in cases, but seem to rather focusing on COVID (excluding coincidental Ix) hospitalisation and health facility capacity,’ he said.

After a period of low transmission of about 200 new cases per day in early November, South Africa COVID-19 cases began rising dramatically.

Omicron appears to be highly transmissible and has quickly become dominant in the country, but the majority of cases appear to be relatively mild and the percentage of severe cases needing oxygen have been low, say doctors. 

Meanwhile, researches in Israel announced today that a third booster jab of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides significant protection against the new Omicron variant.   

The study, carried out by Sheba Medical Centre and the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Laboratory, compared the blood of 20 people who had received two vaccine doses 5-6 months earlier to the same number of individuals who had received a booster a month before.

Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba, said: ‘People who received the second dose 5 or 6 months ago do not have any neutralisation ability against the Omicron. While they do have some against the Delta strain.

‘The good news is that with the booster dose it increases about a hundred fold. There is a significant protection of the booster dose.’

But Regev-Yochay also admitted that the booster is still less effective in protecting against Omicron versus the Delta variant.

‘It is lower than the neutralisation ability against the Delta, about four times lower,’ she said.

 

 

source

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