The UK raised its Covid-19 alert level on Sunday and is once again speeding up the deployment of boosters in a bid to respond to a new wave of cases.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned on Monday that the data on Omicron infections was not the same as data for earlier variants.
“It’s spreading at an extraordinary rate, something we’ve never seen before – doubling the number of infections every two to three days,” Javid told Sky News on Monday. He added that it is too early to know if the cases of the new variant will be milder.
“It means we are facing a tidal wave of infections, we are once again in a race between a vaccine and a virus,” he added, echoing language adopted by Prime Minister Boris. Johnson used in a televised speech on Sunday night.
Johnson confirmed the first UK death of someone with this variant on Monday. He told reporters at a vaccination room: “I think the idea that this is a milder version of the virus, I think it’s something that we need to put on one side and just realize the speed. absolute that it increases in population.”
On Sunday, the Prime Minister set a new target of giving all adults a third nose by the end of December – a month earlier than originally planned. He had previously cut the interval between the second and third doses from six months to three. The UK government has focused its Covid response around its vaccine program since last summer and has resisted reimposing restrictions until the Omicron variant came to light.
“There’s no doubt about it: There’s a tidal wave of Omicron coming,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with the third dose – the booster dose – we can all recover our level of protection.”
The UK has so far reported 3,137 cases of the Omicron variant, although the true number may be higher. Javid said “about 10 people” are in hospital with the new variant. Overall, the country’s seven-day average of Covid-19 cases has surpassed 50,000 cases a day.
Omicron is probably behind around 40% of infections in London, Javid said on Monday. But Johnson said that “tomorrow will be the majority of cases”, highlighting how quickly the new strain of bacteria spread in the first weeks of its appearance in the UK.
New guidance asking people to work from home goes into effect on Monday. The UK has also reinstated mask-wearing for shops and public transport, and now requires proof of vaccination or a negative test for those attending large events.
The recent outbreak of new restrictions marks a major turnaround from the past few months, in which Johnson resisted Europe’s move towards longer-term mitigation measures like vaccine passports and face masks.
However, the Prime Minister is facing significant opposition from supporters of his own Conservative party over his move to reintroduce Covid rules, relying on the support of the opposition Labor Party. to pass them into law.
CNN’s Robert Iddiols contributed reporting.