Covid-19 and Omicron News: live updates
More than 93,000 people in Britain have tested positive for the coronavirus in a 24-hour period, health officials said on Friday, as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant puts pressure on a government that has resisted the strict restrictions imposed before Christmas.
The government said that 93,045 cases were recorded the day before, the third day in a row that the number of cases in Britain has set a record.
Omicron has eclipsed Delta as the dominant variant in Scotland, officials said, and was on the rise in many other parts of Britain, with infections doubling in some places every two or three days.
Although the effect on the country‘s health system is still unknown, officials have warned that the number of cases could still be overwhelming. But the relatively high vaccination levels in Britain appeared to limit cases of serious illness and death.
Yet as the country faces a second straight winter clouded by the virus, authorities have refrained from ordering a tired public to cancel Christmas plans.
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon told a press conference on Friday that Omicron cases were increasing “faster than anything previously experienced during the pandemic”.
She added: “The tsunami that I warned about a week ago is now starting to hit us.
But while she reiterated advice that people limit their social contact as much as possible and not mingle with more than three households during the holiday season, Ms Sturgeon refrained from announcing tougher measures. She urged people to be hopeful because “we are in a much better position than we were at this time last year because of the vaccination.”
“Every booster put in someone’s arm is another brick in that wall of protection,” Ms. Sturgeon said.
UK authorities are relying on vaccinations to ease the Omicron surge, and the healthcare system has dramatically expanded a recall campaign that now offers third injections to all adults. Health officials reported on Thursday that more than 626,000 people in England had received a booster dose in the previous 24 hours, a new single-day record.
Yet less than 45% of people aged 12 and older have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to government data. The UK Health Security Agency has warned that two doses of a vaccine are not enough to prevent Omicron disease.
In London, most of the big Christmas events went largely uninterrupted, even as the virus threatened sports and the arts. Several English Premier League football matches have been has recalled on coronavirus outbreaks, and performances of West End hit productions “The Lion King” and “Life of Pi” have been canceled after some cast and crew members test positive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week imposed slightly tighter restrictions, including a plan to impose a vaccine certification system for entering nightclubs and large indoor venues. But he did so over the objections of many in his Conservative Party, who are strongly opposed to tougher measures.
Some experts have said that by avoiding such steps as Christmas approaches, given the speed at which Omicron is spreading, authorities risked infecting hundreds of thousands more.
“It is time to act early and any delay will make any measures introduced much less effective,” said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London. “The way to protect all of our freedoms and prosperity is to get the virus under control. “
Wales health authorities also announced new restrictions this week, which will begin on December 27, including the closure of nightclubs and a mandatory social distancing of two meters, or around six feet, in offices and shops.
Describing Omicron as the most serious challenge in the pandemic to date, Wales Premier Mark Drakeford has urged people not to gather in large groups during the holidays. “A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas this year,” he told Sky News.
Mr Drakeford added that although the Delta variant has remained dominant in Wales, where infections and hospitalizations have continued, “we know the Omicron wave is brewing and when it hits Wales it will increase very quickly and very strongly “.