British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared the Omicron emergency and promised to offer a booster vaccination to every adult in England by the end of the month.
“Nobody should be in doubt, there is a tidal wave from Omicron,” said Johnson in a televised address on Sunday. “We urgently need to strengthen our wall of vaccination protection to protect our friends and loved ones.”
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson promised to offer all adults in England a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January. But on Sunday he said the rapid spread of the new variant had forced him to move the date forward. He added that governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also speed up their booster jab programs.
The UK has recorded 3,137 cases of Omicron, but scientists say the real number is likely much higher. Researchers from the UK Health Security Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said infections in the variant doubled every 2.4 days and that within weeks, the mutation will be the dominant version of the virus in the UK.
The government fears that an increase in cases could overwhelm hospitals that are already overloaded with seasonal illnesses. The country is already grappling with a high number of Delta infections, up from around 50,000 a day this week.
LSHTM researchers released a series of scenarios on Saturday based on the likely spread of the virus. In the best-case scenario, where vaccines work well against Omicron and booster uptake is high, the variant would still result in 2,400 hospital admissions per day over the next five months, according to the modeling. That’s roughly three times the current daily admission rate for COVID-19.
We are a great country. We have the vaccines to protect our people.
So let’s do it. Now let’s crank it up.
Get boosting for yourself, your friends and your family now.
– Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 12, 2021
Under the most pessimistic model, where vaccines are less effective, hospital admissions could climb up to 6,000 a day, roughly double what it was during the peak of the pandemic last January.
“Our projections are worrying,” said Nicholas Davies, assistant professor of mathematical modeling at LSHTM. “I am anxious. I’m about the same worry I was about the alpha variant last year. ”He added that all of the scenarios the researchers developed predict a higher wave of infections than during the peak of the pandemic.
The alpha variant, which was first spotted in the UK in November 2020, spread quickly last winter, forcing the government to lock it almost entirely in December 2020. This variant was then overtaken by the more easily transferable delta mutation, which is now the way to Omicron – again a more contagious variant. Dr. Davies said there is some room for optimism that the country now has vaccines, citing a recent study by the Health Security Agency that found that a third dose offered up to 75 percent protection against the variant.
On Sunday, Mr Johnson admitted that offering a booster vaccination to all adults will be a mammoth undertaking. To meet the new target, the National Health Service will need to administer approximately one million shots a day through December 31, which is roughly double the current number of daily shots. The NHS is supported by 42 military planning teams and a program to train thousands of volunteer vaccinees.
“Every adult in the country now needs to get a COVID-19 booster vaccine because two doses of the vaccine are not enough to provide the infection protection we all need,” Johnson said.
The Prime Minister did not announce any new restrictions on social movements Government recently tightened some COVID-19 rules in England including encouraging people to work from home, requiring a face mask in most public places, and introducing vaccine passports in nightclubs and large indoor events. Many health experts have said the measures do not go far enough and the government may need to impose further restrictions this month.
Mr Johnson has also hinted that the UK could soon lift its ban on foreign travelers from 11 African countries, including South Africa, where Omicron was first discovered. Scientists have said the ban is irrelevant now that Omicron has spread so quickly across the UK.
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