The UK Covid alert has been raised after a sharp rise in Omicron cases.
Britain’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director told ministers UK should move from Level 3 to Level 4, after a further 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron mutation were recorded in the UK as of Sunday.
The figures amount of 3,137 total number of Omicron cases in the UK, a 65 per cent increase from Saturday’s 1,898 recorded cases.
Transmission is high
The new alert level means the infection is “in general circulation, transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising”, according to government guidance.
The CMOs and NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis said the emergence of Omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services”, according to PA news agency.
They added: “Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.
“Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.”
The five officials, including England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Sir Michael McBride, Scotland’s Professor Gregor Smith, and Wales’ Dr Frank Atherton, said the NHS was already under pressure “mainly driven by non-Covid pressures”, with Omicron’s ability to escape vaccines “likely” to add to those demands.
‘Get booster now’
They said: “It is extremely important that if you are eligible, you get your Covid vaccination now – whether this be your first, second or booster dose.
“People should continue to take sensible precautions including ventilating rooms, using face coverings, testing regularly and isolating when symptomatic.”
The news comes amid fears from the chief medical adviser for the UKHSA that Omicron may trigger further restrictions in the event of a high level of infections. Dr Susan Hopkins said people should reduce social contact as much as possible to avoid further lockdowns, as Omicron cases are detected among hospital patients – but no deaths have yet been reported as a result of the variant.
She added more measures may be required and the government has “very difficult” decisions ahead, even after triggering its winter Plan B proposals, which include introducing Covid passports for large venues.
“I think that the restrictions that the Government have announced are sensible. I think that we may need to go beyond them. But we’ll need to watch carefully what happens with hospitalisations,” she told the BBC.
Education Secretary and former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the UK is in a “race” to get the coronavirus vaccine booster to eligible adults “as quickly as possible”.