A single booster jab continues to provide high protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant of Covid among older adults meaning a fourth shot is not yet needed, UK experts have said.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency shows three months after boosting, protection against hospitalisation remains at about 90% for people aged 65 and over.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has taken this latest evidence into account in their ongoing review of the booster programme and have said there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to the most vulnerable - care home residents and those aged over 80.
Meanwhile London’s Covid reproduction (’R’) rate has fallen from between 1.2-1.6 to 0.9-1.2 in the past week, it was revealed on Friday.
The latest update suggests the pandemic may no longer be growing in the capital.
It comes as a top statistician said it is unlikely the UK will see a large spike in serious illness and deaths due to the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile some 200 armed forces personnel are being made available to hospitals across the capital to cover staff absences.
Macron has no regrets on remarks about anti-vaxxers
20:58 , Anthony France
Emmanuel Macron on Friday defended his rude remarks about the country’s vaccine refusers, saying he cannot accept them infringing on others’ freedom.
The French President enraged critics this week when he used inflammatory language to describe how he would rile the unvaccinated to get jabs.
Speaking in a news conference in Paris, Macron acknowledged it may have upset some, but said he takes full responsibility for it.
“When some make from their freedom ... a motto, not only do they put others’ lives at risk, but they are also curtailing others’ freedom. That I cannot accept.
“When you are a citizen you must agree to do your civic duty.”
Macron also advocated for the new vaccine pass to encourage more people to get jabbed by restricting their social life.
The measure will exclude them from restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights.
The bill is to be debated at the Senate next week. The government hopes to put it in place around mid-January.
Boosters 90% effective against hospital admission from Omicron for over-65s
20:47 , Michael Howie
Vaccine boosters are 90 per cent effective against admission to hospital from the Omicron variant for the over-65s, according to new figures.
The figures, from the UK Health Security Agency, show that level of protection three months after the over-65s had received the booster.
Meanwhile, protection for those with two doses dropped to about 70 per cent after three months and to 50 per cent after six months.
Taking this data into account, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised the Government against giving a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to care home residents and those aged over 80.
It added that priority should continue to be given to rolling out the first booster dose, and that unvaccinated people should come forward for their first two doses as soon as possible.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI's chair of Covid-19 immunisation, called the data "highly encouraging".
"The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups.
"For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed.
"The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab.
"With Omicron continuing to spread widely, I encourage everyone to come forward for their booster dose or, if unvaccinated, for their first two doses, to increase their protection against serious illness."
New South Wales in Australia bans dancing and singing in pubs
19:55 , Anthony France
Australia’s largest state reinstated some restrictions and suspended elective surgeries on Friday as Covid-19 cases surged to another record.
New South Wales reported 38,625 new postitive tests, prompting Premier Dominic Perrottet to announce regulations banning dancing and singing in pubs and nightclubs, and delaying non-urgent surgeries until mid-February.
Hospitalisations reached 1,738 in the state and health authorities warned that the number could spike to 4,700 or even 6,000 in a worst-case scenario within the next month.
Hospitals already are under strain as around 3,800 medical professionals are in isolation after catching Covid.
Perrottet acknowledged “it has been an incredibly challenging two years” but said the reintroduction of the protocols was “sensible and proportionate.”
The head of the Australian Medical Association criticized Perrottet on Friday, saying the spike in case numbers and hospitalizations resulted from his decision to relax restrictions just as the Omicron variant began to surge in the state.
Probe into alleged No10 rule-breaking parties looks at two garden events
19:15 , Anthony France
Senior civil servant Sue Gray’s investigations into alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street will include claims about events in the No 10 garden on May 10 and 15 2020, it is understood.
Cummings makes fresh allegations of potential lockdown-breaking party
18:59 , Anthony France
Dominic Cummings has made a fresh allegation of a potentially lockdown-breaking party in Downing Street’s garden after a “senior No 10 official” invited people to “social distanced drinks” in May 2020.
The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson said on Friday he warned at the time that it “seemed to be against the rules and should not happen” but was told it went ahead after he was ignored.
He said that he wrote the warning in an email that could be discovered by senior civil servant Sue Gray as she investigates a string of allegations of rule-breaking parties in Downing Street as the nation social distanced to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Ms Gray replaced Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in leading the Whitehall investigation after allegations emerged of an event taking place within his own office.
In a lengthy blog post on Friday, Mr Cummings insisted there was nothing “illegal or unethical” about a gathering in the Downing Street garden, where staff ate cheese and drank wine during the first lockdown, that was made public after an image was leaked.
But the Vote Leave veteran, who left Downing Street in November 2020 amid a bitter power struggle within No 10, wrote: “On Wednesday 20 May, the week after this photo, a senior No 10 official invited people to ‘socially distanced drinks’ in the garden.”
No need for a fourth Covid jab yet, say UK advisers
18:58 , Matt Watts
The UK Health Security Agency has said its latest data shows booster doses are continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant among older adults.
Figures show that around three months after they received the third jab, protection against hospitalisation among those aged 65 and over remains at about 90 per cent.
With just two vaccine doses, protection against severe disease drops to around 70 per cent after three months and to 50 per cent after six months.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has taken this latest evidence into account in their ongoing review of the booster programme.
It has said there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to the most vulnerable (care home residents and those aged over 80).
It said the timing and need for further booster doses will continue to be reviewed as the data evolves and priority should continue to be given to rolling out first booster doses to all age groups.
It said unvaccinated individuals should come forward for their first two doses as soon as possible.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chair of COVID-19 immunisation, said: “The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups. For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed.
“The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab. With Omicron continuing to spread widely, I encourage everyone to come forwards for their booster dose, or if unvaccinated, for their first two doses, to increase their protection against serious illness.”
The latest study looked at booster doses in those aged over 65, who were among the first to be eligible when the booster rollout began in mid-September.
Whilst with a booster dose, the duration of protection against severe disease remains high, protection against mild symptomatic infection is more short-lived and drops to around 30 per cent by about three months.
Olly Alexander pulls out of Graham Norton Show after testing positive for Covid
18:27 , Anthony France
Olly Alexander has been forced to pull out of The Graham Norton Show after testing positive for Covid-19.
The Years & Years singer, 31, had been hoping to test negative and come out of isolation early in time to film the BBC chat show but was disappointed by his test results.
The pop star, who has been fully vaccinated and boosted, has said it is “a bit sad” to pull out of his scheduled appearance but will continue to self-isolate.
In a post to his Instagram story on Friday, Alexander wrote: “Hi honeys. Sadly I won’t be on tonight’s @thegrahamnortonshowofficial. I tested positive for Covid over a week ago.
“I was hoping I would test negative and get to end isolation early but alas no.
“My symptoms thankfully haven’t been bad and I’m a boosted baby so that’s good.
“I love Graham and singing so it’s a bit sad but I’m almost back to fighting fit woooo I love you all.
The singer revealed he had been watching “a lot of TV” including all seasons of Dark, Silent Sea and the Sex And The City reboot And Just Like That.
He has said he has been playing a lot of Two Point Hospital on the Nintendo Switch, adding “And I even made Cauliflower Cheese.”
Norton was set to kick off the New Year with double-Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, British actors Martin Freeman and Nina Sosanya, top comic Josh Widdicombe, and singer songwriter James Morrison.
Germans must show vaccine passports to enter restaurants and bars
18:02 , Anthony France
Germany’s leaders have agreed to toughen requirements for entry to restaurants and bars
Quarantine and self-isolation periods will be shortened as the Omicron variant spreads fast through the country.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 state governors built on restrictions introduced just after Christmas that limited private gatherings to 10 people and effectively shut nightclubs.
People have already been required for some time to show proof of full vaccination or recovery to enter restaurants and bars - as well as many non-essential shops, theatres and cinemas.
Friday’s decision calls for the requirements to be ratcheted up for restaurants and bars.
Customers will have to show either that they have received a booster shot or provide a negative test result on top of proof that they have been vaccinated or recovered.
“Half the population will be boosted... in a few days,” and will be able to go to restaurants without a test, Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey told reporters.
“This is an extra incentive to get boosters.”
Novak Djokovic’s father: “Australians hate him because he thinks with his own brain"
17:56 , Anthony France
Hundreds of Novak Djokovic’s supporters gathered at a rally in downtown Belgrade on Friday to protest his confinement in Australia after his entry was denied by border authorities due to Covid-19 vaccination rules.
Djokovic is still in an immigration detention hotel awaiting a court hearing scheduled for Monday to challenge his deportation.
The detention has triggered anger among Djokovic’s fans in his native Serbia, with his family calling for protests until he is released.
Speaking at the rally, Srdjan Djokovic described his son’s struggle to play at the Australian Open as a
fight against “globalists who want to ruin everything”. “He is fighting for himself, his people and all freedom-loving nations in the world,” said Mr Djokovic.
The player’s father is an outspoken critic of the West and supporter of Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally Russia.
“They hate him because Australian politicians have put pressure on people to hate him because he thinks with his own brain.”
Lateral flow tests required for jockeys’ weighing room from next week
17:44 , Anthony France
Jockeys will be required to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test before being allowed to enter the weighing room from next Tuesday.
The additional safeguard against Covid-19 should have brought in on Wednesday this week, but the measure was delayed temporarily by the British Horseracing Authority to give participants and officials planning to enter the weighing room an opportunity to obtain lateral flow testing kits.
The decision to implement the new testing requirements from Tuesday follows reports of an improvement in the availability of LFTs. Supplies will continue to be monitored, with participants and officials kept updated as to any further adjustments that may be required.
The introduction of mandatory testing builds on the existing infection control measures in place in the weighing-room complex, including social distancing and the use of face coverings.
18,454 in UK hospitals with Covid-19
16:51 , Anthony France
A total of 18,454 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 6, government data shows.
This is up 40 per cent week on week and is the highest number since February 18, 2021.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 39,254 in January 2021.
There were 2,434 Covid-19 hospital admissions on January 3, the latest UK-wide figure available, up 26 per cent in seven days slightly below the 2,590 admissions on December 29.
Admissions during the second wave peaked at 4,583 on January 12 2021.
London doctor says Sajid Javid ‘politely disagreed’ with his anti-Covid jab stance
16:45 , Anthony France
A doctor has spoken to the Health Secretary about his refusal to be vaccinated despite working in intensive care since the start of the pandemic.
Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London, who has worked in the ICU since early 2020 treating Covid patients, told Sajid Javid why he did not believe in vaccination.
The Health Secretary politely expressed his disagreement and urged the public to get boosted during his visit.
Mr James said he did not believe Covid-19 was causing “very significant problems” for young people, adding that his patients in the ICU had been “extremely overweight” with multiple other co-morbidities.
He said the Health Secretary did not seem to agree with him but had listened to his opinion.
“I wouldn’t say he agreed with me,” he said. “I had the feeling he was listening.”
Labour MP Jack Dromey has died aged 73
16:40 , Anthony France
Labour MP Jack Dromey died suddenly in his flat in Erdington, Birmingham, on Friday, a statement from the shadow minister’s family said.
Mr Dromey, 73, married to party grandee Harriet Harman, was understood to have died from natural causes.
A statement issued on behalf of Mr Dromey’s family by the Labour Party said: “Jack Dromey MP died suddenly this morning aged 73 in his flat in Erdington.
“He had been a dedicated Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington since 2010.
“He was a much loved husband, father and grandfather, and he will be greatly missed.”
More than 175,000 Covid cases recorded on Friday
16:09 , Elly Blake
A further 178,250 positive infections were recorded on Friday, according to latest data.
This is down slightly on 179,756 recorded a day earlier.
There were 229 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, compared with 231 on Thursday.
A total of 51,897,289 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by January 6, the figures show.
This is a rise of 22,741 on the previous day.
Some 47,600,028 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 34,688.
A combined total of 35,066,144 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 231,856.
Separate totals for booster and third doses are not available.
Major incident will help keep Northamptonshire ‘in front of the curve’
15:57 , Elly Blake
More from a media briefing which took place earlier on Friday after Northamptonshire declared a system-wide major incident.
Local resilience forum chairman and chief fire officer at Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service Darren Dovey said: “We see it as a positive move in us being able to share intelligence between each other in order to get in front of the curve, should the situation deteriorate.
“Most of that pressure is being felt in the health and social care arena... but as we are seeing across the country, staff absence rates are very, very high, admissions are increasing into hospital and social care absences and the pressure in that system is creating full system pressure.
“In order just to coordinate our activity and assist each other where we can, we felt the best way to do that was to declare a major incident and put the structures in place to be able to deal with it.”
NHS is facing ‘rocky few weeks ahead’, Sajid Javid warns
15:40 , Elly Blake
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned hospital admissions are rising and that the NHS was facing a “rocky few weeks ahead”.
Speaking during a visit to King’s College Hospital London, Mr Javid said: “We are in a stronger position than we were last year thanks to the vaccinations and the testing, we have boosted more people in this country than in any other country in Europe, we’ve got more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, we’re testing more people per head than any other country in Europe.
“The best thing anyone can do if they haven’t already is get boosted or get your first or second jab if you haven’t had one.”
During the visit he said the intensive care unit for Covid patients had an estimated 70 per cent of patients unvaccinated and that this was a “reminder to us all” of the importance of vaccination.
Asked about his reported opposition to relaxing international travel testing rules, Mr Javid said: “I want to see more travel open up - I want to see it being made as easy as it possibly can be and it should always be a balance of caution and approach”, adding the approach announced this week was the “right balance”.
R number between 1.2 and 1.5 in England
15:23 , Elly Blake
England’s reproduction “R” number is estimated at between 1.2 and 1.5, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
This has risen on the previous estimate of 1.0 to 1.2, published by the UKHSA on December 23.
An R number between 1.2 and 1.5 means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 12 and 15 other people.
Meanwhile, London’s R number is 0.9 to 1.2.
Scotland’s latest Covid data is out
15:12 , Elly Blake
Scotland recorded 15 coronavirus-linked deaths and 14,486 new cases in the past 24 hours, figures published on Friday show.
Some 21.7 per cent of all coronavirus tests were positive, down from 23.1 per cent on Thursday.
The new data takes the total number of deaths in people who tested positive for the virus in the past 28 days to 9,905.
The figures include a note advising of delays between tests being taken and results reported.
Public Health Scotland is monitoring the situation.
There were 1,323 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 56 in 24 hours, and 48 were in intensive care, up five.
More than 35 million people in the UK have now had a booster, data shows
14:28 , Elly Blake
A total of 231,856 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported across the UK on Thursday, new figures show.
More than 35 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with just over one million in the past seven days.
Nearly 66% of all adults in the UK have now received a booster or third dose.
The figures have been published by the UK’s four health agencies.
Military not required in West Northamptonshire, says council chief executive
13:50 , Elly Blake
Anna Earnshaw, chief executive of West Northamptonshire Council, said she does not think military support is currently required after the council declared a system-wide major incident.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, she said: “We benefited hugely in the first wave of the pandemic from military help around planning – they are extremely good at planning and logistics and everything else – so the chances are that if we need that, it may well be there that we need it.
“But at the moment we are fortunate in the sense that our fire and police services are not quite at that same stage, and are absolutely helping us too in terms of that coverage.
No decision about the Six Nations rugby in Wales next month - First Minister
13:31 , Elly Blake
First Minister Mark Drakeford told a Welsh Government briefing that no decisions have been made about whether the Six Nations rugby matches can go ahead in Wales next month with crowds attending.
He said: “We have to see the tide turn on the Omicron wave, we have to manage our way through the very difficult weeks that follow while numbers are still rising.
“If the model is accurate, we see those numbers coming down – reasonably rapidly as they have risen – then we will be in a position to see whether it is safe to allow greater social mixing.
Wales’ health service ‘not overwhelmed by facing challenging circumstances’
13:14 , Elly Blake
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has denied the Welsh NHS has been “overwhelmed” by the Omicron variant.
He said: “I don’t think it would be right to describe it as being overwhelmed but the health service in Wales is quite certainly having to deal with the very real impact of coronavirus – both in the way it is driving more people to fall ill and then to need hospital treatment but the fact staff in the health service are themselves falling ill from the Omicron wave.
“Health boards are having to make difficult decisions, such as in maternity services, to concentrate the staff they have available in fewer places so that a service can go on to be provided.
“Not overwhelmed but quite certainly facing very challenging circumstances.”
Boris Johnson has no plans to introduce further restrictions, Downing Street says
12:54 , Sami Quadri
Boris Johnson still sees no need for further Covid restrictions in England despite rising staff absences in the NHS due to the virus, Downing Street has said.
After the Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of 200 troops to assist hospitals in London, a No 10 spokesman said ministers would ensure the health service had the support it needed.
However, he said the Covid booster jab programme meant there was not the same level of pressure on intensive care units seen in previous waves.
“The Prime Minister has been clear on controls. Plan B is balanced and proportionate to respond to the Omicron variant. It is continuing to help reduce its spread. But the important thing is the booster programme and the effectiveness it has in stopping the disease,” the spokesman said.
He added: “The military have helped out throughout the pandemic and they will do so again. We know that staff absences are contributing to the pressure the NHS is currently facing. Of course we will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure the NHS has the support they need.”
Fortnight of further hospital admissions already ‘baked in’, NHS chief says
12:18 , Sami Quadri
A fortnight of further hospital admissions for Covid-19 are “already baked in” as some NHS staff face “the steepest climb of the pandemic yet”, the head of the health service has said.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, thanked staff during a visit to King’s College Hospital in London on Friday.
More than 400 people are currently in the hospital with Covid-19.
She said: “We’re a week into 2022 but I do know that for some colleagues it already feels like it’s been a long year.
“Case rates of the new variant have been highest so far here in London, but there is no community, no part of the country, that has been untouched by Omicron and this has obviously had, and will continue to have, an impact on NHS staff and on the services that we’re able to provide.
“Realistically, another fortnight of admissions from Omicron are baked in. The only unknown is what level we will see and, of course, we will hope that the more optimistic forecasts are going to be the right ones.”
Council office workers urged to take on social care roles amid staff absences
12:08 , Sami Quadri
Back-office council workers are being asked to volunteer to step into social care roles as the Omicron variant is reducing staffing levels due to illness and isolation.
North Yorkshire County Council is asking those in “non-critical services” in highways, planning and other office roles to help keep vulnerable people safe.
They would be asked to carry out tasks such as cooking, cleaning and helping older people to eat, as well as assisting them to speak to relatives on the phone or online.
The council said training will be provided and it will match new duties with volunteers’ normal working patterns.
NHS staff Covid absences double in a week in some areas, data shows
11:59 , Sami Quadri
NHS hospital staff absences due to Covid more than doubled in a week across the North East and Yorkshire, new figures show.
A total of 8,788 NHS staff at hospital trusts in the region were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on January 2, up 110% on the 4,179 reported on Boxing Day.
The new NHS England figures, published on Friday, also show Covid hospital staff absences in the North West rose by 85% week-on-week from 3,966 to 7,338, while in the Midlands it was up 65% to 7,931, from 4,812.
Covid staff absences at acute trusts rose by 58% week-on-week in the South West, 42% in the South East and 40% in eastern England.
But the lowest rise was in London, where the Omicron variant first began to surge, with hospital staff absences due to Covid rising 4% from 4,580 on Boxing Day to 4,765 on January 2.
Weekly Covid deaths revised up by 261 after coding error – ONS
11:35 , Elly Blake
The number of weekly registered coronavirus deaths in England and Wales has been revised upwards by more than 250 after a coding error, statisticians say.
Some 261 deaths registered in the week to December 24 were mistakenly not recorded as having involved Covid-19, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows.
It takes the total number of registered deaths that week, where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, to 852, up from 591.
The ONS said an issue with its automated coding system meant the causes and contributory factors for some deaths were coded late.
International travel returning to pre-pandemic levels, says holiday boss
10:44 , Elly Blake
Demand for foreign holidays is recovering towards pre-pandemic levels following the relaxation of coronavirus travel rules, according to travel firms.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of tour operator Jet2holidays and leisure airline Jet2.com, said bookings soared after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that the testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals will be eased.
His firm reported huge popularity for trips to mainland Spain, the Canaries, the Balearic Islands, Turkey, and Greece.
James Corden tests positive for COVID
10:19 , Elly Blake
James Corden has tested positive for coronavirus.
The Late Late Show host said on Instagram that he felt “completely fine” – but added the programme would be off the air for several days.
“I just tested positive for covid 19,” he wrote.
“I’m fully vaccinated, boosted and because of this am fortunate enough to say I feel completely fine.
“Stay safe everyone. All my love, James x”
Corden is the latest US TV talk show host to test positive for coronavirus after Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Whoopi Goldberg.
More than 4,700 NHS staff absent in London last week
09:49 , Elly Blake
A total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, up 59 per cent on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508), according to new figures from NHS England.
The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.
In London absences were up four per cent week-on-week, from 4,580 to 4,765.
‘People are suffering’, chairman of BMA says
09:01 , Elly Blake
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), told Sky News it was important that “the Government doesn’t just wait to ride this out, because every day people are suffering.”
He said there are two or three things that must be done, adding: “One is we do need to bring down levels of Omicron infections in the community because healthcare staff and frontline key staff, just members of the general population, if you have such high levels of Omicron, over 200,000 on many days last week on a daily basis, you will have NHS staff and other staff isolating and off ill, it’s as simple as that.
“So the infection rates do need to be brought down. The second thing is we need to ensure that those of us who are working on the front line who are mixing with patients who are infectious, need to be properly protected.
“And one of the things we’ve been calling for is higher grade masks that can filtrate the airborne spread of Covid-19 and Omicron as opposed to the normal paper surgical masks.”
He said some NHS staff still could not access the lateral flow tests needed to allow them to return to work after seven days of isolation instead of 10 days.
Military remains in discussion about more NHS support in other parts of country - Air Commodore
08:53 , Elly Blake
Air Commodore John Lyle told BBC Breakfast the military remains in discussion about further support for the NHS in other parts of the country.
“We can’t really forecast too far ahead, but certainly, throughout this current surge, we know that it’s particularly difficult in London at the minute but we are aware that this is impacting all across the United Kingdom,” he said.
“And so we remain in discussions and there are a number of areas where we’re looking at the potential for more assistance.
“So, over the coming weeks or months, I think we’ll learn a lot from how the progress is made through London and potentially there could be further military support required in other areas.”
Encouraging signs London emerging from Omicron wave, says minister
08:45 , Elly Blake
London will receive armed forces support to deal with a high absence rate among health staff but there are “encouraging” signs the city is emerging from the Omicron wave, according to a minister.
Minister for London Paul Scully, when asked whether Omicron was easing in the capital, told LBC: “I think it is looking encouraging, the trend at the moment, but clearly we need to be on our guard because there is still pressure on the NHS in London.
“It is not just about the case numbers – there is a clear disconnect between case numbers and hospitalisations – but you’ve also then, because of the increased testing and the increased awareness by people, you’ve got bigger absences as well, and that’s obviously putting extra pressure on the NHS and other public services.”
Mr Scully said the military personnel being deployed in the capital would be a “mixture of medics, porterage and these kinds of things” to assist hospitals, but said he did not have details about where they would be helping out.
He added: “What we also have is a digital staff passport for the NHS, which allows staff to move between hospitals, so where the pressure is most acute, that’s where NHS staff will be put, but also the military staff as well.”
Army ‘helping out in different ways’, says health boss
07:59 , Elly Blake
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the personnel would be “helping out in different ways depending on whether or not they are clinically qualified, so obviously if people have medical skills, then they can be used in clinical settings”.
Others would be used helping “in relation to transport or potentially setting up facilities… we’re building a surge capacity in some of our hospitals to deal with the numbers of patients coming in”.
Mr Taylor said there were several thousand NHS staff absent primarily due to Covid, and that “having two hundred extra people is going to help but it’s only a very small part of what will continue to be a very difficult situation”.
Minister: Armed forces ‘helping out with the undoubted pressures on the NHS'
07:43 , Elly Blake
The UK Government does not see the need “at this moment in time” for more coronavirus restrictions, despite the military being called in to support some London hospitals through the Omicron wave.
Business minister Paul Scully, asked whether extra measures were “off the table”, told Sky News: “At the moment we are looking at the data but we’ve seen what is happening in London, which was leading the way in the curve of the case numbers, and we don’t see the need to do it at this moment in time.
“We’ll clearly be reviewing our Plan B scenario before January 26 and then we’ll come to Parliament with the decision that has been taken at that time.”
He added: “When you talk about armed forces around hospitals, they are not sitting there in combats or anything like that.
“It is more people helping out with the undoubted pressures on the NHS and that’s why we want people to get out and get vaccinated and get boosted, because that remains our best weapon against the pressures on the NHS and against Covid, as we learn to live with Covid.”
Military sends 200 personnel to support the NHS in London
07:38 , Elly Blake
The Armed Forces have sent 200 personnel into NHS hospitals across London to plug staff shortages.
The Ministry of Defence will provide 40 defence medics and 160 general duty personnel for the next three weeks.
Hospitals in London have been hit hard by staff absences, with thousands off sick or isolating as the Omicron variant surged through the capital.
Read more here.
Daily Covid figures will become less relevant - expert
07:32 , Sarah Harvey
The daily coronavirus figures will become less relevant as positive lateral flow tests no longer need a PCR confirmation, a senior public health adviser has said.
Professor Linda Bauld said clear communication around lateral flow tests is key during the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, saying there will be challenges posed by a more voluntary system.
On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow device no longer need a confirmatory PCR test.
Instead they must immediately isolate and report the result of their lateral flow test to allow Test and Protect to begin contact tracing.
However those with symptoms should still book a PCR test.