UK’s daily Covid cases hit pandemic high of 183,037 and hospital admissions breach crucial ‘lockdown threshold’ in London… as Boris breaks cover after 10 days to say ‘everybody should enjoy New Year’ and notes Omicron is ‘obviously milder’
Britain’s Covid cases soared to another pandemic high today as hospital admissions in London breached a key threshold that could force No10 into adopting nationwide restrictions.
UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 183,037 positive tests, up by almost three-quarters on last week’s tally.
The count — which eclipses yesterday’s previous record by more than 45,000 — is skewed upwards because it includes five days’ worth of backlogged data from Northern Ireland, which didn’t feed officials its numbers over the Christmas break.
Statistics for England-only — which were kept up-to-date through the festive period — were also their highest on record, jumping by 45 per cent in a week. This is despite a similar number of tests being carried out.
Despite the explosion in cases, Boris Johnson today gave the green light for people to celebrate New Year’s Eve but urged millions of revellers to be ‘cautious and sensible’. The Prime Minister insisted ‘everybody should enjoy’ the last social hurrah of the year, despite the spread of Omicron.
He said the strain ‘continues to cause real problems’ with hospitalisations rising but the data shows it is ‘obviously milder than the Delta variant’.
Separate NHS figures today showed daily Covid hospitalisations in London have now breached the key 400-a-day threshold, which Government advisers said may trigger nationwide restrictions.
England itself saw a 65 per cent weekly jump in admissions, with more than 10,000 beds now occupied by virus-infected patients for the first time since March.
But NHS bosses have called for caution over interpretations of increasing hospital numbers, with Omicron known to cause a milder disease, virus-infected patients spending less time on wards, and ‘incidental’ admissions on the rise due to extremely high prevalence of Covid in the community.
Mr Johnson argued the success of England’s booster roll-out was behind his decision to hold off on implementing any tougher restrictions, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all having imposed new rules on socialising.
The PM today repeated his plea to the nation to get boosted as he warned up to 90 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care units across the country had not received the top-up dose.
Mr Johnson has faced criticism after failing to make a public appearance in recent days despite the coronavirus crisis. He was grilled on the subject this morning as he was asked where he had been ‘for the last 10 days’. A flustered PM replied: ‘I have been in this country.’
The comments came as hospitality chiefs suggested as many as 100,000 Scottish and Welsh revellers could cross into England to enjoy ‘normal’ New Year’s Eve celebrations without restrictions.
Rules prohibiting large social events in neighbouring nations are expected to prompt a flood of people crossing into England on December 31, with the Scottish government having admitted it is powerless to stop Scots who want to make the trip.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney today urged Scots not to travel to England to celebrate but Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith risked a row as she said ‘we are one country and people are more than free to move around inside our country under the general law’.
Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford are facing a growing backlash over new Covid curbs in Scotland and Wales.
Ms Sturgeon will deliver a Covid update this afternoon after record case numbers were recorded in Scotland over the festive period, with a pandemic-high of 11,030 on Boxing Day.
It remains unclear whether Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, is planning to introduce further restrictions, stick with the ones she has already announced, or remove some of the existing curbs.
Ministers are thought to be watching admissions in Omicron hotspot London closely, with a breach of 400 expected to trigger further restrictions nationwide. The latest data shows 374 people were admitted to the capital on Boxing Day, up 73 per cent on the week before
Boris Johnson today gave the green light for people to celebrate on New Year’s Eve but urged the nation to be ‘cautious and sensible’. He is pictured this morning at a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes
No10 rules out cutting Covid self-isolation to FIVE days despite scientists, MPs and business leaders urging Boris to follow the US
Ministers today revealed there are no plans to cut the Covid self-isolation period to just five days, despite fears that crippling staff shortages will threaten the NHS and other vital parts of the economy.
Scientists, MPs and business leaders have all lined up to urge Boris Johnson to follow the US’ example by once again reducing the time spent in quarantine.
But the Government has said there are ‘no further changes’ planned but insisted the rules would be kept ‘under review’. Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, health and work, argued the current seven-day isolation span was the ‘right’ length of time.
The Prime Minister — who was accused of dodging the Omicron crisis by spending the Christmas period in his country bolthole Chequers — was not asked about whether he intended to adapt the stay-at-home rules during a visit to a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes today.
No10 only last week slashed the quarantine period in England from ten days to seven for those who test negative two days in a row. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to make any changes.
But late on Monday, American health officials announced they would cut their isolation time for positive cases to just five days – provided people were showing no symptoms, piling pressure on the UK to follow suit.
Social media has been flooded with people saying they are planning to head to England on Friday to bring in the New Year in the face of stringent restrictions on clubs, pubs and bars in their own nations.
Furious Tory MPs and hospitality bosses in Scotland and Wales yesterday demanded Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford publish figures justifying their Covid crackdowns.
The news of people travelling for New Year’s Eve celebrations comes as the UK recorded a staggering 183,037 positive Covid cases today.
The figure is a 72 per cent increase compared to last week’s 106,122 Covid cases, though today’s tally includes five day’s worth of backlogged data from Northern Ireland.
But even in England, where Covid data has been updated more frequently, a significant rise in cases has occurred with 138,000 cases today, compared to 95,000 last week.
Deaths from Covid were down to 57 today, a 59 per cent fall from the 140 recorded last week but this is likely due to the festive Bank Holidays disrupting the recording of fatalities.
Unusually high fatality tolls are expected towards the end of this week
UK-wide hospital admissions were up to 1,213 on December 21, a 32 percent rise compared to a week prior.
In terms of Covid jabs, 325,087 booster third doses were administered yesterday across Britain, taking the UK’s total to just shy of 33.1million.
Despite record case numbers Mr Johnson has struck a reassuring tone about the Covid crisis insisting that ‘everybody should enjoy’ the last social hurrah of the year, despite the potential impact of Omicron.
The comments are the first to come from the Prime Minister in quite some time after he was accused of dodging the Omicron crisis by spending the Christmas period in his country bolthole Chequers.
But England will be alone in celebrating the New Year with no restrictions with all other UK nations imposing limits on gathering and socializing.
In Scotland clubs will be closed and restaurants and pubs limited to table service only.
Wales and Northern Ireland will also see their clubs closed and the ‘Rule of Six’ limiting the numbers allowed to gather indoors also reintroduced.
The latest figures also come as UK ministers say they have no plans to cut the Covid self-isolation period to just five days despite fears crippling staff shortages will threaten the NHS and other vital parts of the economy.
Scientists, MPs and business leaders have all lined up to urge Mr Johnson to follow the example of the US by once again reducing the time people have to spend in quarantine.
The Government has now said there are ‘no further changes’ planned but insisted the rules would be kept ‘under review’. Ms Smith argued the current seven-day isolation period is the ‘right’ length of time.
Meanwhile, pharmacists have called for urgent action to improve the supply of lateral flow tests as they said they are being forced to turn people away empty-handed while home delivery kits are unavailable for the third day in a row.
The latest coronavirus developments came as:
- Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith said people should ‘persevere’ in their efforts to secure Covid tests amid reports of patchy supply.
- Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government should avoid ‘rushing into’ cutting Covid isolation times.
- Chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies Leyla Hannbeck has said the current daily supply of almost 900,000 lateral flow tests is not enough to meet demand and urged the Government to improve the consistency of deliveries.
- Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said ‘staff absence is a huge issue for the NHS right now’ on top of about 100,000 vacancies that already existed.
Mr Johnson has promised there will be no new Covid rules in England before New Year’s Eve.
The PM said this morning during a visit to a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes that the vaccination programme meant ‘we are able to proceed in the way that we are’.
He said: ‘The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems. We are seeing cases rising in hospitals but it is obviously milder than the Delta variant and we are able to proceed in the way that we are.
‘But there is one reason and one reason only why we are able to do that and that is because such a huge proportion of the British public have come forward to get vaccinated and particularly to get boosted.
‘We have done about 32 and a half, maybe more, million booster jabs now and that is allowing us to go ahead with New Year in the cautious way that we are.
‘But I cannot stress too much how vital it is for everybody to get that booster jab, particularly the 2.4million people who have had two jabs but haven’t yet had their booster, they had two jabs more than six or seven months ago, so they are eligible for their booster but they are not yet coming forward to get it.
‘So I would say to people, come forward and get your booster, it is a fantastic thing to do, it makes a huge amount of difference to you, it protects you, and I’m sorry to say this but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted.
In the week to December 23 (second image), 2.8 per cent of people in Lambeth (2,874 per 100,000) tested positive, followed by 2.6 per cent in Wandsworth and Southwark (2,686 and 2,621 per 100,000) and 2.5 per cent in Lewisham (2,531 per 100,000) . But these boroughs had some of the lowest week-on-week growth in infection rates compared to the week to December 16 (first image), suggesting the capital’s outbreak is flattening. Cases rose 11 per cent in Wandsworth, 15 per cent in Lambeth, 25 per cent in Southwark and 43 per cent in Lewisham
Cases rose by 12 per cent in the week ending December 23 in Wandsworth, 15 per cent in Lambeth, 25 per cent in Southwark and 43 per cent in Lewisham – the areas with the highest infection rate
‘I have talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 per cent of people in intensive care who are not boosted.
‘If you are not vaccinated you are eight times more likely to get into hospital altogether.’
Mr Johnson was also asked for his opinion on people crossing the border to come to England on New Year’s Eve.
He said: ‘I think everybody should enjoy New Year but in a cautious and sensible way. Take a test, ventilation, think about others, but above all get a booster.’
Asked why England is taking a different approach to curbs to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said: ‘We are looking at the data and what we are seeing is that we have got cases certainly going up, we have got a lot of cases of Omicron, but on the other hand we can see the data about the relative mildness of Omicron and what we can also see is the very, very clear effect of getting those jabs, getting those boosters in particular.
‘That is what is making a huge difference. According to some of the surveys I have seen, 90 per cent of the patients in ICU are people who are not boosted.
‘So think about that, think about the risk you are running with your own health if you fail to get a booster.’
Mr Johnson added that the Government had ‘looked at the balance of the risk’ and while cases are rising ‘what is making a huge difference is the level of booster resistance, the level of vaccine-induced resistance in the population’.
The PM also said he believes ministers will hit their goal of offering every eligible adult a booster jab by the end of the year.
‘What we need to do now is really finish off that work and I have no doubt at all that by January 1, by the New Year, everybody, every adult in the country, will have been offered a slot to get a booster,’ he said.
Cases of Covid in South Africa are continuing to fall, as the wave caused by Omicron appears to burn itself out. The country, which was one of the first in the world to fall victim to Omicron, hit its peak in the seven days to December 17, when an average of 23,437 cases were recorded. But by Monday, the number had plummeted by 38 per cent to 14,390 cases
Covid test shortage puts New Year plans under threat
Pharmacists have called for urgent action to improve the supply of lateral flow tests as they say they are being forced to turn people empty-handed while home delivery kits are unavailable for the third day in a row.
The Government has advised people to take lateral flow tests before they socialise after confirming on Monday that no new Covid restrictions would be brought in for New Year’s Eve festivities.
But the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies says people are being turned away every five minutes due to ‘patchy’ supply and said it was frustrating that chemists it represented were having to wait several days for each delivery.
The UK Health Security Agency said it was facing ‘unprecedented demand’ for the tests but insisted it had doubled its capacity since mid December, sending out 900,000 a day across the country.
Meanwhile, there are currently no appointments for walk-in PCR tests anywhere in England or Northern Ireland and lateral flow tests are unavailable for home delivery for a third day running meaning some families will be unable to test ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations this weekend.
The Government’s website states it is not possible to order lateral flow testing kits for home delivery with a message stating: ‘Sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for rapid lateral flow tests right now.
‘You may still be able to pick up rapid lateral flow tests from a pharmacy or collection point, where these are available. Only pick up tests if you do not have symptoms.’
Pharmacies across the country have reported shortages of LFTs and many are unable to replenish their kits as the supply chain has been affected by Christmas and New Year holidays.
Some pharmacies reported they have not had stock since last Monday and it could take three days for new supplies to arrive.
Regional differences on social gathering rules are expected to result in a surge of Scottish and Welsh revellers crossing into England on New Year’s Eve.
Greg Mulholland, at the Campaign for Pubs, said as many as 100,000 could cross the borders for a ‘normal’ New Year’s Eve without table service-only or mask wearing requirements.
He told The Sun: ‘We need a more coordinated, common sense approach. It’s confusing for the many thousands of people who live near a border, and frustrating for publicans in Scotland and Wales.’
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney today admitted the Scottish government is powerless to stop Scots heading to England.
Mr Swinney told BBC Breakfast that he would ‘discourage’ Scots from making such trips.
‘Well, people have got to make their own choices, they have got to follow the advice that we have put in place,’ he said.
‘We have the power in Scotland to put in place certain restrictions and we have done those on what we consider to be a proportionate and an appropriate basis.
‘I would discourage people from doing what you have suggested to me. I don’t think it is in the spirit of the rules that we are putting forward.
‘But people are free to make their own judgements. What we have got to recognise is that Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everybody within our society and we have all got to take measures to protect ourselves by limiting our social contacts and connections and by complying with the restrictions that we have in place.’
Asked if the Scottish government will be policing the border to stop people from crossing, Mr Swinney said: ‘No, people are free to take those decisions but I would discourage them from doing so.
‘I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation that we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.
‘The best thing people could do is limit their social connections and to wear face coverings, to get vaccinated and to make sure they get their booster before Hogmanay and with all of these measures we can all play a contribution in ensuring that we tackle the issues and the serious challenges that we face.’
Ms Smith was later asked about Mr Swinney’s remarks and she told the BBC’s World at One programme: ‘I think perhaps I should just add the obvious constitutional point here which is we are one country and people are more than free to move around inside our country under the general law, obviously, but also at this time in terms of any Covid restrictions, as I understand it, there are of course slightly different points of guidance and regulation operating in the different parts of the UK.
Ministers ‘will NOT impose regional restrictions to fight Omicron’
Ministers have ruled out regional lockdowns to tackle the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to reports – meaning that all of Britain could pay the price for some Londoners not getting jabbed.
A government source told the newspaper: ‘We are not looking at doing regional restrictions. That is not on the table.’
Referring to regional curbs, another source added: ‘It is difficult for people to understand because of different sets of rules. We want one set of rules for everyone in the country, which is easier for people to understand.’
The move could result in regulations being imposed on parts of the UK with comparatively low hospital admissions to areas such as London, where medics fear that rate could increase in the coming weeks due to a lag between people getting infected and becoming severely ill.
The latest data shows 374 people were admitted to hospitals in the capital on Boxing Day – nearing the 400-a-day level that could trigger a Government intervention – up 73 per cent on the week before.
London also has the lowest vaccination rate of any region in the country and therefore is more susceptible to a rise in severe infections.
‘But given the general point that I think people could hear from all of the administrations in the UK, is that it is time to be cautious.
‘The best thing to do is to get boosted and make use of lateral flow testing so that you can keep yourself healthier and crucially keep those around you, wherever you are, healthier and safer too.’
Hospitality firms and opposition politicians in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been left furious by post-Christmas Covid rules, particularly over the lack of figures published to justify the decisions.
Tory MP Fay Jones, whose constituency sits on the border between England and Wales said: ‘I’ve been inundated with messages from worried businesses in Brecon and Radnorshire, particularly for those who have competitors across the border. We really must see the evidence.’
Andrew Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, added: ‘As businesses struggle in the run up to the new year, we still haven’t seen any scientific evidence or advice from the Welsh Government on these new restrictions. Another example of why we need to see a Wales-specific inquiry into their handling of the pandemic.’
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told Nation.Cymru: ‘Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have let Scotland and Wales down badly and shown their true authoritarian nature.’
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, told Sky News there has already been a significant difference in trading levels in English venues compared to those in Scotland and Wales, and warned that imposing the rule of six and table-only service can see firms lose up to 70% of their regular takings.
She said: ‘We welcome the fact that this is a pragmatic step, it’s a cautious step but it does allow our businesses to continue trading and opening their doors.
‘We can see already the impact hospitality restrictions are having in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are devastating their level of revenue and ability to trade. It’s very welcome that in England at least we have that ability to continue to trade.
‘This is the last big weekend that our businesses have before we go into those quieter periods in January and February where they make a loss, even in a good year. This is the last weekend to get some much-needed cash into the tills so it’s very welcome they can remain open and trading.
‘The trading levels in the devolved administrations are down 70, sometimes 80% in city centres and for those businesses like nightclubs that are closed, they are back to earning no money at all. In England we’re still seeing suppressed levels of trading but there’s about 40-50% of normal trade we’re seeing.
‘We would appeal for [the government] to continue with the pragmatic, cautious approach they’ve adopted, to balance the economic cost of restrictions against the need to protect the NHS and deal with rising cases, but to err on the side of caution by not imposing restrictions unless they are absolutely necessary.’