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.
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 9 January, when 59,937 cases were recorded.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove said the UK faces a “deeply concerning situation” due to the rate Omicron is spreading across the country.
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% to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.
At a glance 5 key points:
- Cobra meeting took place on Friday afternoon
- Highest number of Covid infections recorded on Friday across UK since 9 January
- Omicron cases doubling every two or three days in England
- 30% of reported cases in London are Omicron
- Mr Gove said current measures needed to be kept under review
What did Michael Gove say?
Mr Gove had chaired a Cobra emergency response meeting with UK leaders on Friday afternoon to discuss the latest data and their response.
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.
Speaking after chairing a Cobra meeting, the Communities Secretary said the current measures “absolutely” needed to be kept “under review”, but that he felt the approach taken was “proportionate”.
“We recognise the importance of balancing people’s ability to get on with their lives with the need to protect them from this virus,” he added.
He also said: “The Cobra meeting I’ve just chaired with first ministers of all the devolved administrations was presented with some very challenging new information.
“We know that we have the highest number of Covid infections across the UK recorded today since 9 January.
“We know the Omicron variant is doubling every two to three days in England, and possibly even faster in Scotland.
“We know that 30% of reported cases in London are the Omicron variant and of course we only identified Omicron in this country a fortnight ago.”
Michael Gove has warned that evidence suggests Omicron is “more likely” than past Covid-19 variants to “potentially” lead to hospital admissions among the fully vaccinated.
What did he say about Plan B?
Asked about an expected Tory rebellion when the Plan B measures are put to a vote in the Commons next week, he said he thought MPs would be balancing civil liberties considerations alongside the need to address that Omicron is “especially spreading in a way that means even those who are double vaccinated are more likely to succumb to this virus and find themselves ill, infected and potentially in hospital”.
He added: “Those facts mean that we do need to take action, and that’s why we’re bringing forward proposals to the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“And I’m confident that people will examine these proposals seriously, soberly and thoughtfully, and I’m also confident people will conclude that, on balance, it is right to act.”
An additional 448 confirmed cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been reported across the UK, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
It brings the total number of confirmed Omicron cases in the UK 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 UK Health Security Agency has said the Omicron strain of coronavirus is expected to become the dominant variant in the UK by mid-December.
In a briefing on Friday, the UKHSA said if current trends continue unchanged, the UK will exceed one million Omicron infections by the end of the month.
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