Eight Omicron developments we learned today

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson addresses the nation during a Covid Update at Downing Street on December 15, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Tolga Akmen - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson gives a COVID Update at Downing Street. (Getty Images)

The Prime Minister held a press conference on Wednesday to give an update on the situation with the Omicron variant.

Boris Johnson urged people to have their booster vaccines and said a “great national fightback has begun” against Omicron.

England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty added the UK can expect several more weeks where COVID cases hit a record high as the variant continues its exponential rise.

He said: “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.”

Here are the important things we learnt about Omicron today:

Record cases The UK recorded the highest daily total of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Official data showed there had been 78,610 new cases recorded as of 9am on Wednesday. It is the highest figure announced since mass testing began in summer last year, and surpasses the previous record of 8 January when 68,053 new cases were reported. The number of Delta cases remains broadly flat, with Omicron responsible for the significant growth. The number of deaths remains flat, but that is expected and the impact of Omicron on these numbers will not happen for a few more days. Read more here.

Boosted boosters The UK did 656,711 booster vaccinations on Tuesday (up from 391,050 the previous week) with Johnson saying the government is doing everything it can to give more people boosters. 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.” However, the number of daily doses has so far fallen short of the number needed to hit Johnson's target of giving a booster this year to everyone eligible over 18. Read more here.

Volunteer army The PM said a “territorial army” is emerging to fight the spread of COVID. He said more than 20,000 new volunteers have signed up to help with the booster effort as stewards since Sunday night, taking the total number to almost 33,000. He said: “With every day we are expanding the ranks of these healthcare auxiliaries, an emerging territorial army of the NHS in a race against time to get those jabs in arms and save lives.”

Doubling trouble Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), warned that Omicron is doubling in just under two days. She said: “The difficulty is that the growth of this virus, it has a doubling time which is shortening – ie it’s doubling faster, growing faster. In most regions in the UK it is now under two days. "When it started we were estimating about four or five." Dr Harries said the real potential risk was in relation to the variant’s severity, clinical severity, and whether cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths. Read more here.

Watch: PM: Wave of Omicron continues to roll in across the whole of the UK

Omicron dominant in London Analysis now suggests Omicron has become the dominant strain in London, with UKHSA data shows the variant now makes up more than half of cases in the capital. Around 51.8% of a sample of new coronavirus cases in London with specimen dates for 11 and 12 December were found to have S gene target failure (SGTF) – a way of detecting the likely presence of Omicron. The capital is the worst hit so far but experts say Omicron will soon dominate the whole UK.

WHO warning The World Health Organization (WHO) said preliminary evidence indicates COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against infection and transmission linked to the Omicron variant, which also carries a higher risk of reinfection. It said more data was needed to better understand the extent to which the variant may evade immunity derived from either vaccines or previous infection. "As a result of this, the overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high," it said. Read more here

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/12/14: A person wearing a facial mask walks past the NHS COVID-19 vaccination centre at Westfield Stratford.
British government urges citizens to get their booster dose in view of the quick spread of the omicron variant in the UK. (Photo by Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The WHO said vaccines may be less effective. (Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 05:  Tom Kerridge prepares food in the kitchen at Who's Cooking Dinner? 2018, a charity dinner featuring 20 of the capital's finest chefs cooking for 200 diners in aid of leukaemia charity Leuka, at the Rosewood London on March 5, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Chef Tom Kerridge has warned restaurants "will crumble". (Getty Images)

Restaurants 'will crumble' Leading chefs and hospitality bosses have said the pub and restaurant industry needs urgent financial support to avoid collapses and job losses as cancellations soar. Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge wrote on Instagram: “The problem is what will the government do to support the hospitality industry? Many places are going to crumble without help.” The Times reported Chancellor Rishi Sunak could hand new state support to businesses if the Prime Minister orders hospitality firms to shut their doors. However, currently no additional support has been offered to the sector. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the Treasury should consider reintroducing furlough. Read more here

Keep kids in school Parents have been told not to take their children out of school before term ends. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it is “important” that schools and parents “don’t take precautionary steps to deprive their children of education”. The plea comes amid reports that parents are choosing to keep their children out of class ahead of Christmas due to concerns about the Omicron variant. Some schools and colleges have switched to remote lessons this week in the run-up to the festive break. Secondary schools may be able to stagger their return in the new year after the government confirmed they would be offered a “small amount of flexibility” on when they return after Christmas.

Watch: UK records highest daily total of Covid cases