MORE than 100,000 critical workers will be fast-tracked for lateral flow tests to stop essential services grinding to a halt, Boris Johnson has announced.
The PM is fighting to stop a surge of Omicron cases crippling the country as workers are forced into isolation or struggle to access a test.
Critical workers will get their hands on lateral flow tests first under new plans announced tonight by Boris JohnsonCredit: Alamy
Daily Covid cases have tipped over 200,000 for the first time in the UK – but experts have said they should start to fall next week
The number of people testing positive for Covid in the UK has tipped past 200,000 for the first time in the UK.
These figures are inflated because they include data from the past four days that went unreported from Northern Ireland and Wales due to the bank holiday.
Experts say cases should begin to drop next week.
Speaking to Brits this evening, Mr Johnson made a rallying cry for Brits to get boosted – and ruled out another lockdown.
He warned: “Anyone who thinks the battle with Covid is over, I’m afraid, is profoundly wrong.
“This is a moment for the utmost caution, but our position today differs from previous waves.
“We know now Omicron is milder than previous variants, and while hospital admissions are rising quickly, with over 15,000 patients in hospitals in England alone, this is not yet thankfully translating into the same number needing intensive care.”
He said there’s a chance we can “ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again”.
“We can keep schools and businesses open and 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,” he said.
‘WE CAN RIDE THIS OUT’
“There is no escaping the fact that some services are going to be disrupted by staff absences.
“We have been working through Christmas to prepare for this.
“If we all play our part, disruptions can be far less severe than a national lockdown with all the devastation that would bring for livelihoods and the life chances of our children.”
Critical workers in fields ranging from food processing to transport and the Border Force will get lateral flow tests every working day from January 10, he said.
Kits will be sent directly to organisations.
Elsewhere, Mr Johnson warned footie fans and nightclubbers will soon need all three jabs on their Covid passports.
Despite rising cases of the super-strain, ministers are increasingly confident that hospitals will not become overwhelmed as feared.
The PM yesterday said Omicron is “plainly milder” than previous variants following studies showing it is up to 70 per cent less severe.
And in cheering news tonight, Professor Chris Whitty confirmed booster doses provide 88 per cent of “overall protection against being hospitalised”.
In major developments:
- The PM said it will become “the norm” for people to need three jabs to travel to other countries quarantine-free
- Chris Whitty warned that one in 25 people in England now have Covid – and that figure is set to go up
- But in hugely positive news, a booster jab gives a person 88 per cent protection against hospitalisation
- Boris Johnson has vowed to steer the country away from lockdown
- 218,000 positive Covid tests were recorded today – yet another new record
Mr Johnson met officials this morning to pore over the latest data ahead of the decision to hold off slamming on any more harmful measures.
He has confirmed he will stick to the plan of working from home, indoor masks and Covid passports when Parliament returns tomorrow.
But he warned that nine million people who are eligible still haven’t come forward for their jabs.
Worryingly, nearly two in three in intensive care have not been vaccinated at all.
Two million booster slots are available this week alone, he said, rallying the nation to come forward now.
Pre-empting the PM’s announcement, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this afternoon: “There’s nothing in data at this point that suggests that we need to move away from Plan B.
“I think Plan B, implementing that, has been the right approach and also being absolutely focused on the vaccination programme.”
But officials are facing urgent calls to slash the isolation period from seven to five days to ease the pressure of Omicron-fuelled staff absences.
Cabinet Ministers have been told to hammer out back-up plans in case vital sectors creak under the strain of staff shortages.
Soldiers could even be deployed to plug the absences of critical workers if needed.
The PM’s spokesman said: “All departments have been asked to look at how they would mitigate against large-scale absences across their relevant workforces, up to 25%.”
Kids are also facing chaos on their first day back at school as teacher shortages threaten more closures and a return to damaging remote learning.
But ministers say it could spectacularly backfire and possibly lead to more infections overall.
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “We don’t feel it’s appropriate to reduce it any further because we will be very concerned that people will still be infectious and be able to pass on the disease.”
Ministers and experts are growingly optimistic that doomsday predictions of swamped hospitals will be avoided.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said hospital admissions seem to have “perhaps plateaued in London”.
Top boffin Prof Neil Ferguson also believes rates in the capital may be levelling off after a Christmas peak.
He said: “I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued, it’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet.”
And Oxford vaccines chief Sir Andrew Pollard hailed that “the worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter.”
A further 157,758 Covid cases were recorded yesterday and another 42 deaths.