The Prime Minister told virtual Downing Street press conference that he wanted to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave (Picture: AFP)
Boris Johnson has once again resisted calls to introduce a new Covid crackdown to tackle the unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases.
But the Prime Minister declined to rule out future restrictions.
He said England will continue with plan B for now and admitted that the NHS is ‘on a war footing’.
Addressing a virtual press conference from Downing Street, Mr Johnson conceded the weeks ahead would be ‘challenging’ – and said there was a ‘chance’ extra measures would not be needed in England.
The PM promised that critical workers would now get daily tests as part of efforts to ‘ride out’ the Omicron variant.
It comes as the UK reported a record number of new cases on Tuesday, with nearly 220,000 confirmed infections.
The PM has been insisting for weeks that new measures are not needed, despite the Omicron surge piling pressure on the NHS and a spate of hospitals declaring critical incidents.
Experts are warning that the health system is in ‘a state of crisis’.
There are ‘unprecedented’ health worker shortages, while staff still able to come in are ‘exhausted’ after giving up their days off, according to the chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
Mr Johnson said that the latest Covid data shows that those who believe the pandemic to be over are ‘profoundly wrong’.
He added: ‘Our United Kingdom is in the midst of the fastest growth in Covid cases that we’ve ever known.
‘This is a moment for the utmost caution.’
Again branding the Omicron variant ‘milder’, he continued: ‘We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.’
Mr Johnson’s reluctance to impose measures is in spite of many other European nations doing so, including in the UK.
Earlier there was a ‘crunch’ meeting on new Covid rules – but the PM’s mind was thought to be made up before it took place.
Meanwhile, many people faced a chaotic first day of the working year, fuelled by Covid-related absences.
Children face being turned away from school or put in merged classes if their teacher is off, while businesses feared having to shut down if too many staff are isolating.
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The shortages are also causing delays for rubbish collections, with bins ‘overflowing’ with Christmas waste.
In a bid to slow the shortages, Mr Johnson said the Government has identified 100,000 critical workers who will be offered daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open.
He said people working in areas such as food processing, transport and the Border Force would be sent test kits for every working day from January 10.
‘As the NHS moves to a war footing I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow we continue with Plan B because the public have responded and changed their behaviour buying valuable time to get boosters in arms,’ Mr Johnson added..
The Prime Minister and England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty again urged people to get vaccinated.
Sir Chris argued: ‘Anybody who has not been boosted who is eligible really should do so.
‘I think the idea that this is a mild disease, as opposed to less likely to be hospitalised, is easily demonstrated to be incorrect based on these data.’
The PM – who declined to give a threshold for when new restrictions might be needed – added: ‘It’s absolutely heart-breaking that as many as 90% of those in intensive care with Covid have not had their booster, and over 60% of those in intensive care, who have Covid, have not had any vaccination at all.’
But, on whether further restrictions would be needed, he said: ‘It depends on whether the virus will behave in the way it perhaps has behaved in South Africa, whether it peaks, how quickly it blows through.
‘But if you ask me to guess, I would say we have a good chance of getting through the Omicron wave without the need for further restrictions, and without the need certainly for a lockdown.’
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