Boris Johnson Omicron announcement LATEST – PM holds Covid press conference amid fears Covid strain will ruin Christmas

BORIS Johnson held a Downing Street press conference yesterday evening amid fears Omicron will wreck Christmas for millions and spark a January lockdown.

The PM appeared in No 10 alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to give the nation a grim update on the spread of the variant.

He issued a fresh pledge for even more Brits to come forward for their boosters to help avoid the need for tougher curbs on daily life.

The PM's address came after scientists gave a "bleak" update to Cabinet yesterday about the spread of Omicron across the country.

Read our Covid-19 live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Joseph Gamp

    Working on Xmas Day likely for NHS workers and the PM

    Working on Christmas Day is likely for those leading the effort to tackle coronavirus, as the threat posed by the Omicron variant increased, England's chief medical officer has said.

    Professor Chris Whitty said the situation was "pretty depressing" to think about the gaps on rotas that would be seen in the health service, and that he expected his plans to be cancelled.

    Boris Johnson said he has "pretty modest" arrangements, adding: "I think the way things are looking I expect a lot of us are going to be working throughout the period."

    It comes as Prof Whitty urged people to deprioritise some social interactions in order to make sure the meetings they wanted to keep could be met.

    He said it was likely his Christmas plans this year with family will be interrupted.

    He told a Downing Street press conference: "Realistically, I think there's a high chance that my original Christmas plans with family are going to be interrupted. I hope it's not completely but we shall see."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Footie fans told to prioritise jabs over matches at stadiums

    A national health chief has urged football fans to go to a stadium this weekend to get their booster "rather than going to watch a match".

    Dr Nikki Kanani, director of primary care at NHS England, offered the advice during a press conference in Downing Street on Wednesday night amid surging cases of the Omicron Covid variant.

    Dr Kanani said: "This is our chance to make choices for each other and for our NHS, so my advice would be if you're going to go to a stadium at the weekend, make it one where you can get your vaccine or help out to give a vaccine, rather than going to watch a match.

    "And to that point, if you're a role model in society, please get your vaccine because actually it's dependent on all of us to show the way right now and to make decisions that help to protect society."

    Downing Street earlier announced mass vaccination centres would open at Wembley Stadium and at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, within days.

  • Joseph Gamp

    PM brushes aside Tory calls for change

    Boris Johnson brushed aside calls to change from Conservative MPs after a record rebellion against his coronavirus restrictions left the opposition parties questioning his authority to lead the country through the pandemic.

    The Prime Minister said he "would respectfully suggest" the public are focused on jobs and the booster vaccines roll-out in response to the Omicron variant after 100 Conservatives opposed the mandatory use of Covid health certificates during a Commons vote.

    After the biggest Conservative rebellion since he entered No 10, backbenchers called for Mr Johnson to change his approach.

    One senior Tory said a leadership challenge had to be "on the cards" if the Prime Minister did not alter the way he dealt with his own MPs.

    Mr Johnson was pressed on how he would change in response to Tory anger, during a Downing Street press conference after the UK recorded the highest daily total of lab-confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

    "I'm certainly not going to change the policies that have led to the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, the fastest booster campaign in Europe now and delivered 500,000 more people in jobs now than there were before the pandemic began," he responded.

    "Those are the things I would respectfully suggest the public are also keen to focus on."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Long line of Government slogans

    "Get boosted now" is just one in a long line of slogans used by the Government through the course of the pandemic.

    When the UK first went into lockdown in March 2020, the Prime Minister introduced the slogan "Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" as non-essential businesses were instructed to shut.

    The messaging then changed in May that year to "Stay alert, control the virus, save lives", in a move to help ease the UK lockdown but not end it immediately.

    In June 2020, the public were urged to remember the slogan "hands, face, space" to encourage people to wash their hands, cover their face in indoor settings and to continue to observe social distancing.

    "Eat out to help out" hit headlines in August 2020 for a month-long scheme which saw Britons eat more than 100 million discounted meals to bolster the hospitalist industry.

    Then, in September 2020, the slogan of "Rule of six" was used after a rise in coronavirus cases across the UK prompted the Government to ban gathering of more than six people in England, significantly reducing the then-legal limit of 30 people.

    In January 2021 "Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" saw a revival, and two months later, in March, "hands, face, space" was amended to add "fresh air" as a reminder that ventilation was also a crucial element in reducing the risk of Covid transmission indoors.

    July saw the introduction of "keep life moving", a slogan the PM said emphasised "the need to continue to progress cautiously", but which drew criticism in the Commons from Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer.

  • Joseph Gamp

    'Get boosted now' logo compared to Hula Hoops

    The Government's latest Covid slogan, "Get boosted now", has been made the subject of online jokes – with many comparing the new accompanying logo to a Hula Hoop.

    The phrase featured in the Prime Minister's address to the nation on Sunday, and was then emblazoned on the front of podiums during the subsequent Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

    Social media users compared the yellow "O" in "now" to the circular salted snack.

    One user wrote: "Why is there a KP Hula Hoop in the 'Now'? And what is it meant to represent?"

    Another chimed in, remarking of the diagonal lines also incorporated into the design: "Now I'm no graphic design expert but this looks like a sign from a hula hoop themed laser quest."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Over-40s can book Covid booster jabs next week

    Those aged 40 and over will be able to book a Covid-19 vaccine booster from next week, the minister from health has said.

    Stephen Donnelly also said that the 15-minute wait after receiving the jab is to be waived to allow more to receive it.

    On Wednesday evening, he said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) made the recommendation, which he has accepted.

    "Particularly for our GP and our pharmacists, what they signalled was that it would be very very useful in terms of being able to vaccinate more people," he told RTE.

    "It's something we looked at again with the impending threat of Omicron to get as many people boosted as possible."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Chris Whitty warns against over-interpreting Omicron data

    England's top medic has warned that early data from South Africa on the Omicron variant should be treated with caution as there is a danger people have over-interpreted it to mean there is no problem.

    Professor Chris Whitty said what is lacking currently is "clear data on some of the really key questions".

    The chief medical officer said even if the new variant is milder, its ability to spread faster means there could still be an issue.

    He told Wednesday's Downing Street press conference: "The first caution on this is simply a numerical one – if the rate of hospitalisation were to halve but you're doubling every two days, in two days you're back to where you were before you actually had the hospitalisation.

    "If the peak of this is twice as great, then halving of the size of the hospitalisation rate, you still end up in the same place. And this peak is going very fast."

    He said it is also important to note that immunity in South Africa is "far higher" in the face of this wave, due to a prior Delta wave and the country's vaccination programme, adding that that makes their lower hospitalisation rate so far "unsurprising".

  • Joseph Gamp

    Greece demands negative PCR tests from UK travellers

    Travellers to Greece from Britain and Denmark will need a negative PCR COVID-19 test to enter the country, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

    The measure will be in effect from Dec. 19 as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry said. The tests will need to be no more than 48 hours old.

    The quickly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant is expected to become the dominant strain in Denmark this week. In Britain, at least one person has died after contracting Omicron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, the first publicly confirmed death globally from the variant.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Get jabbed before next term, PM tells schoolkids

    Boris Johnson has called on schoolchildren eligible for the coronavirus vaccine to be jabbed before the new term as bookings open for 12 to 15 year-olds to get their second dose.

    Appointments for children in this age group for their follow-up jab can be made from Monday in England, the Prime Minister said.

    He encouraged all young people entitled to a vaccine to take up the offer before they return to their desks after Christmas.

    He told the Downing Street press conference: "From Monday, 12 to 15-year-olds can book in for a second jab and we know how crucial it is to keep children in school, so let's all make sure our children and young people are vaccinated before they go back next term."

    Last month, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said children aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the vaccine 12 weeks after the first jab.

    The rollout for first doses to this age group in England began on September 20, and the figure stood at 54% unvaccinated up to December 5.

  • Joseph Gamp

    PM defends No.10 staff or working 'blindingly hard' during pandemic

    The Prime Minister said staff in No 10 had worked "blindingly hard" throughout the pandemic.

    He told a Downing Street press conference: "We'll, of course, hear from the Cabinet Secretary about what he believes has happened, and, indeed, if the police think there's anything to follow up I'm sure that they will.

    "If I may say so, I think that the public can readily … as I think colleagues have said … the public can readily distinguish between these types of reports and these types of accounts, and the overwhelming imperative that we have now together to tackle this disease in the two-pronged way that we are.

    "I think those are the messages that I'm seeing the public understand very, very loud and clear, and really responding magnificently."

  • Joseph Gamp

    NHS staff will 'keep going whatever else happens nationally'

    Medical director of primary care for NHS England Dr Nikki Kanani said staff would "keep going, whatever else happens nationally", when asked about parties and gatherings.

    She told a Downing Street press conference: "We're here to look after our patients and our public, and that's what drives me every day no matter what else is going on, and that's what my teams and my colleagues will continue to focus on."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Chris Whitty warns the worst 'is yet to come'

    The UK can expect several more weeks where Covid cases hit a record high, England's chief medical officer has warned, as Omicron continues its exponential rise across the country.

    Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street briefing there were "two epidemics on top of one another" as the UK recorded 78,610 new cases of coronavirus, including cases of the new variant.

    He said: "I'm afraid we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up.

    "What we've got is two epidemics on top of one another – an existing Delta epidemic, roughly flat, and a very rapidly growing Omicron epidemic on top of it."

    Prof Whitty said the Government had to choose between "really unpalatable options", adding that there was no clear data yet on severe disease and deaths from Omicron with two jabs, and what the picture was for those who have had boosters.

    He said: "I think what most people are doing – and I think this seems very sensible – is prioritising the social interactions that mean a lot to them and, to prioritise those ones, de-prioritising ones that mean much less to them."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Italy reports 129 new Covid-related deaths today

    Italy reported 129 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday against 120 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 23,195 from 20,677.

    Italy has registered 135,178 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 5.28 million cases to date.

    Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 7,309 on Wednesday, up from 7,163 a day earlier.

    There were 84 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 93 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 870 from a previous 863.

    Some 634,638 tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 776,563, the health ministry said. 

  • Joseph Gamp

    Plan B 'is the right thing to do'

    Boris Johnson said Plan B is the "right thing to do" when asked about the possibility of further restrictions.

    He said the current measures in place and the ramped-up booster rollout are the "right mixture" of approaches.

    He said: "We think that, given the balance of risks and the balance of continuing uncertainties about Omicron, this is the right approach to take, the right mixture of approaches, to do these two things at once.

    "The progress that we're making with the booster is absolutely vital."

    He described the current approach as a "two-pronged effort".

  • Joseph Gamp

    'Lockdown never really stopped for vulnerable patients'

    Lockdown for cancer patients and other vulnerable groups has "never truly stopped", a charity urging people to follow Covid restrictions has said.

    Macmillan Wales is asking people to adhere to the rules and guidance put out by governments to protect those most at risk from becoming severely ill before Christmas.

    The plea comes after concerns were raised with Wales' health minister Eluned Morgan this week about what the Omicron variant, of which there are 30 confirmed cases in the country, means for people who have been shielding since the pandemic.

    Baroness Morgan said the development of anti-viral drugs and vaccines to tackle Covid-19 should leave everyone, including those on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, in a better position to fight infection than in the first wave in March 2020.

    Dr Gill Richardson, from Public Health Wales, said: "The severely immunocompromised have already been invited for their third primary dose.

    "We are working through our cohorts in priority, so those have not yet been called will be very close to being called. And we've asked out health boards to go through those priority groups."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Omicron responsible for 60% of London cases

    Britain's health minister Sajid Javid said on Wednesday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was now responsible for about 60% of cases of COVID-19 in London.

    "No one wants to see any more restrictions," Javid told BBC television when asked if the government planned to tighten its rules to slow the spread. "At the same time, people want to be safe, for themselves, for their family for their friends."

    The United Kingdom recorded its highest daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic earlier on Wednesday.

  • Joseph Gamp

    No plans for further Covid restrictions, says PM's spokesman

    The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted there was no change to Plan B. 

    He said: "It remains our position that there are no plans to go beyond what Parliament voted for yesterday and we already have in place.

    "The focus for us, now that we have these Plan B measures in, is on the booster programme and further increasing the delivery of jabs into arms."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Omicron is a 'really big threat' says Whitty

    "This is a really serious threat at the moment – how big a threat, we don't know, but the things we do know are bad," Prof Whitty says.

    "This is moving at an absolutely phenomenal pace and between the time when it takes off and people are going to be able to see and the time when we get to absolutely phenomenal numbers will be quite a short one.

    "I certainly echo the fact that this is a very serious threat. I think to compare it to each of the very major threats we've faced are quite difficult.

    "I do not wish to underestimate this and for my NHS colleagues in primary and secondary care, I'm afraid there will be an increasing number of NHS patients…

    "There will be substantial numbers and that will become fairly apparent after Christmas. That's a reasonably nailed on prospect."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Kanani urges teachers to get jabbed during Christmas holidays

    NHS England's medical director of primary care urged teachers to come forward for their booster jabs during the Christmas holidays.

    Dr Nikki Kanani, Britain's most senior GP, told a Downing Street press conference: "We are asking teachers to come forward during the school holidays to get protected, before school starts again."

    Dr Kanani also urged people to "be patient" with the NHS during the Covid-19 booster drive.

    "Be patient with your NHS and with your general practice teams because they are trying to do everything to protect you as quickly as possible," she said.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Whitty tells Brits: 'Prioritise your social interactions'

    Professor Whitty said: "I think what most people are doing, and I think this seems very sensible, is prioritising social interactions that really matter to them, and to protect those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them.

    "And I think that's going to become increasingly important as we for example go into the Christmas period."

    He says it is "exactly right" for people to take precautions such as testing before visiting a group of people or vulnerable people.

    "I would strongly encourage sensible things like ventilation and meeting outdoors if appropriate.

    "A lot of this is following sensible rules but prioritising things that really matter to them." 

  • Joseph Gamp

    Government is 'throwing everything booster rollout'

    Boris Johnson said the Government is "throwing everything" at the booster rollout.

    He said: "We are throwing everything at it and wherever you are, we'll be there with a jab for you, so please get boosted now."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Isolation rules can avoid another 'pingdemic'

    The prime minister stressed another "pingdemic" can be avoided by a change in Government rules.

    It means the 10-day isolation period for omicron contacts has now been replaced with a seven-day daily lateral flow testing requirement.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Immunity in South Africa much higher 'than their Delta wave'

    Professor Chris Whitty says hospitalisations for the alpha variant totalled around 22 per cent for over-65s, but there is now a lot of immunity so this number has fallen to six per cent.

    Whitty said: "There is more immunity in South Africa now than there was in their last wave.

    "That doesn't mean there isn't some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible, but I just think there's a danger people have over-interpreted this to say 'what are we worrying about?' 

    "I'm afraid to say this is going to be a problem."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Dr Nikki Kanani begs public to be patient with NHS

    Dr Kanani said: "Thank you for coming forward when you're asked to, thank you for booking once now you're able to.

    "Fighting omicron is the most important thing we can do, but while our GP teams will be vaccinating more again, they will also protect urgent and lifesaving care alongside cancer care.

    "So be patient with your NHS and general practice teams, because they're trying to do everything to protect you as quickly as possible."

  • Joseph Gamp

    PM: 'We'll be there with a jab for you'

    Boris Johnson said the Government is "throwing everything" at the booster rollout.

    He said: "We are throwing everything at it and wherever you are, we'll be there with a jab for you.

    "So please get boosted now."

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