British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that all people over the age of 18 across England will get a Covid-19 booster injection by the new year, in response to what he called a «tidal wave of Omicron infection» approaching the country.
In a televised address, Mr Johnson warned that two doses of the vaccine were no longer «sufficient to provide the level of protection we all need», and as a result, the British government began extending the boost, dubbed «Omicron Emergency Boost».
“Every eligible person aged 18 or over in England will have the opportunity to receive a booster before the new year,” he said, adding that the NHS reservation system would open to the remaining younger cohorts from Wednesday.
Earlier this month in response to the new variant, the government cut the gap between the second and third doses from six to three months and pledged to provide an injection for all adults by the end of January.
Mr Johnson added that he had spoken to the delegated departments «to confirm that the UK government will provide additional support to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland».
According to figures published on 12 December, more than 23 million people across the UK have received a booster or third dose.
Mr Johnson said the rapid launch would be supported by the deployment of 42 military planning teams to each district, additional vaccine sites and mobile units, and an extension of working hours so clinics are open seven days a week, «with more appointments in the early morning, evening and weekends.» and training thousands of volunteers in the field of vaccination.
The prime minister acknowledged that «some other appointments» to the health service «need to be deferred until the new year» in order to allow the NHS to meet the new, more ambitious target.
«If we don’t do it now, the Omicron wave could be so great that cancellations and disruptions, like missing cancer appointments, will be even bigger next year,» he added.
Raise the alert level
The announcement follows the confirmation of the first cases of Omicron in UK hospitals and the decision by the country’s top medical officials to increase the Covid alert level from three to four.
In a joint statement confirming the decision, the marketing directors for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland along with Professor Stephen Boyce, England’s national medical director, warned that the new alternative now poses a risk to the health services.
«Early evidence shows that Omicron spreads much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against disease symptoms from Omicron is reduced,» they said. «Data on risk will become more clear over the coming weeks, but hospitalizations from Omicron are already occurring and are likely to increase rapidly.»
Covid alert levels are used to provide ministers with an assessment of the situation of the coronavirus in the UK. Level 4, the second-highest warning, indicates that transmission of the coronavirus is «high» while the pressure on health services is «substantial or increasing».
The UK’s Health Security Agency said an additional 1,239 cases of Omicron were registered across the UK on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,137.
Earlier on Sunday, Education Minister Nadim Zahawi warned that the «highly contagious» nature of the new variant meant it could «dominate and grow exponentially».
Al-Zahawi added that even if the variant proves to cause less serious disease than previous strains such as Delta, its contagious nature means it will likely overwhelm hospitals. He said about a third of cases in London now involved Omicron.
escalation of infections
Meanwhile, Dr Susan Hopkins, NHS chief medical advisor, said there was still growing concern within the health community about the impact of a potential surge in infections on the NHS and cautioned that more restrictions might be needed.
«It is inevitable that we will see a big wave of infection,» she told the BBC. I think the restrictions announced by the government are reasonable. And I think we may need to bypass them,» she said, adding that scientists need to monitor hospital admissions «carefully.»
Recent modeling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that without additional restrictions beyond Plan B, the UK could see up to 75,000 Omicron-related Covid deaths by the end of April.
Britain’s Department of Health announced that from Tuesday, adults who have been vaccinated twice and identified as a contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19 will have to undergo lateral flow tests for seven days instead of self-isolating. Unvaccinated individuals will still have to self-isolate for 10 days, under the new guidance. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021
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