England is to remain under Plan B restrictions for the next three weeks and “ride out” the new Omicron wave the Prime Minister has announced – with a review on 26 January.
Plan B was introduced last month with guidance to work from home where possible, mask wearing in most public settings and COVID passports in some venues.
Boris Johnson has decided not to introduce any new restrictions, unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – although has acknowledged the NHS is moving to a “war footing” and some services could be “temporally overwhelmed.”
Boris Johnson told a press conference on Tuesday (4 January) the latest daily figure of cases was 218,000 which included delayed reports.
He said: “So anyone who thinks our battle with COVID is over is, I’m afraid, profoundly wrong. This is a moment for the utmost caution.
“But our position today differs from previous waves in two crucial respects. First, we now know that Omicron is milder than previous variants, so while hospital admissions are rising quickly with over 15,000 Covid patients now in hospital in England alone – this is not yet, thankfully, translating into the same numbers needing intensive care that we saw in previous waves.
“And second, thanks to the fantastic national effort to get Britain boosted,we now have a substantial level of protection, higher than any of our European neighbours, with over 34 million boosters administered, including in England reaching more than 90 per cent of the over-70s, and 86 per cent of the over-50s.
“And so together with the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas, we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.
“We can keep our schools and our businesses open, and we can find a way to live with this virus. But the weeks ahead are going to be challenging, both here in the UK and across the world…”
Daily lateral flow tests to be offered to 100,000 critical workers from 10 January
The Prime Minister also admitted staffing shortages are causing havoc across a number of industries, and said the Government had identified 100,000 critical workers who will be offered daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open.
Staff working in areas such as the NHS, food processing, transport and the Border Force will be sent test kits for every working day from January 10.
Mr Johnson said they were also “increasing NHS capacity” by building onsite Nightingale hospitals as well as “creating 2,500 virtual beds” where people could be safely treated at home.
He said the Government was also working to identify NHS Trusts likely to need military support – so this could be prepared.
He urged those who had not yet had their boosters to do so this month – with still almost 9 million people eligible, who hadn’t yet come forward. As many as 90 per cent of those in intensive care with COVID have not had their booster and over 60 per cent have not had any vaccinations.
The Prime Minister said: “People are dying needlessly because they haven’t had their jabs…And there are 2 million booster slots available this week alone.
“It’s already the case that to travel to some countries you need a booster to be considered fully vaccinated, and it’s likely that within weeks this will increasingly become the norm…”