Sajid Javid has warned Omicron is on course to quickly become the dominant Covid strain in the UK, after warning the variant is causing 200,000 infections per day.
Mr Javid continued to urge the public to get their first, second or booster jab, with the government continuing to use the vaccination programme as the main line of defence against surging infections
In the UK 4,713 cases of Omicron have been officially recorded, with 10 hospitalisations and one death related to the the strain.
At a glance: 5 key points
- Mr Javid today announced 20% of all Covid-19 cases reported in the UK were represented by the Omicron strain
- While 4,713 cases of Omicron have been officially recorded in the UK, The UK Health Security Agency estimated that there are currently around 200,000 daily infections
- The Omicron variant is set to become the most dominant strain in the UK, with it expected to overtake Delta in London within the next 48 hours
- The surging cases have led the UK government to move to ‘plan B’ restrictions, which has included the reintroduction of working from home, faces masks in more venues and Covid Passes introduced for some venues
- MPs are set to vote on the new restrictions, with some Conservative MPs set to rebel against the vote
Omicron ‘expected’ to become dominant strain
Mr Javid began by updating MPs on the number of Omicron infections in the UK, while adding that the highly transmissible nature of the strain will lead to it shortly becoming the UK’s most dominant variant.
He said: “There are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK.
“And the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current rate of, the current number of daily infections are around 200,000.
“While Omicron represents over 20% of cases in England, we’ve already seen it rise to over 44% in London and we expect it to become the dominant Covid 19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours.”
Previously, it had been announced 10 people had been hospitalised and one person had died in connection with the Omicron variant, with the UK’s chief medical officers raising the Covid alert level to level four, the second highest level.
Mr Javid added: “It’s vital we remember that hospitalisations and deaths lag infections by around two weeks so we can expect those numbers to dramatically increase in the days and weeks that lie ahead.”
Pressure remains on success of vaccination programme
The UK’s vaccine and booster programme has been extensively expanded over the past few days in an attempt to protect the public against the Omicron variant.
Boris Johnson announced in an address to the nation that the original deadline to get every adult boosted by the end of January had been brought forward to the end of December after the dramatic rise of the Omicron strain.
The Health Secretary has said that almost 1,000,000 boosters will need to be given each day to reach this target.
Mr Javid said: “Until now the highest number of jabs that we’ve delivered in a single day in the UK was over 840,000. We’ll not only need to match that but we will need to beat that every day.
“But we can and we’ve got a plan to try and do it. We’re opening more vaccination sites including pop up and mobile sites that’ll be working seven days a week.
“We are training thousands more volunteer vaccinators, we’re asking GPs and pharmacies to do more and we’re drafting in 42 military planning teams across every region of our country.”
Sajid Javid told MPs that every adult across England could expect to be offered a “chance to get boosted by the end of this month” though he suggested not everyone would get a dose in December.
He said: “It is asking a huge amount of our colleagues in the NHS.
“And it’s our joint view that we can try to offer adults a chance to get boosted by the end of this month.
“And that does not mean every single person necessarily can get that booster, it requires them to come forward and to take up this offer as well, as well as everything going right in this huge expansion plan.”
‘Plan B’ restrictions to be voted on
Mr Javid described the move to ‘plan B’ restrictions as “steps that no Health Secretary would hope to take” but has said that they are vital in the UK’s fight back against Covid and the Omicron strain.
He also added the restrictions, which are due to be voted on by MPs on Tuesday 14 December, do not go as far as some other European nations, who have imposed traditional lockdown methods for portions of the country.
Mr Javid said: “Because of the threat of Omicron we are moving to Plan B in England, subject to the will of this House.”
He went on: “Even with Plan B, we still have far fewer restrictions in place than Europe. I can also confirm that from tomorrow fully vaccinated contacts of a Covid-19 case will now be able to take a daily lateral flow test instead of self-isolating.”
The reintroduction of restrictions have not proved popular with some Tory MPs, who have announced their intention to rebel against the vote.
Former minister Dame Andrea Leadsom voiced concerns, asking Mr Javid: “What does he say to my constituent who says she is now less afraid of Covid than she is of intrusive and incoherent Government regulations?”
The Health Secretary told Ms Leadsom that the restrictions were necessary, adding that “the Government has to act on the information it sees before it”.
Mr Javid also announced that people will need to be boosted to be categorised as ‘fully vaccinated’ in the Covid Pass app from January 2022, and that those in care homes will be limited to having three visitors.
The move to limit visitors for care home residents has been criticised.
Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that the limit on visitors to those in care homes “feels like the wrong decision at the wrong time.”
A message from the editor:
Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.