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UK Covid latest news LIVE: Boris says UK can ride out Omicron without shutdown as London nears 2million cases

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Boris Johnson has told a Downing Street press conference that the UK has a “chance” to ride out the wave of Omicron infections without needing a further lockdown.

The Prime Minister spoke out as it was revealed another 218,724 daily Covid-19 cases have been reported in the UK.

At the same briefing, Professor Sir Chris Whitty attacked “misinformation” on the internet, “a lot of it deliberately placed”, about potential side effects from jabs.

Meanwhile non-urgent surgeries in Greater Manchester are reportedly being paused as NHS hospitals struggle to cope with the growing pressure on services.

A string of NHS trusts around the country were declaring “critical incidents” amid staff shortages and rising pressures due to Covid-19.

In London, another 5,171 confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the last 24-hour period, bringing the capital’s total to 1,899,929.

NHS staff ‘reduced to tears’ by Covid shortages

22:02 , Anthony France

NHS workers in England have been “reduced to tears” by staff shortages caused by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Royal College of Nursing has said.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said the Government needs to be “honest” with the public about the pressure being put on the health service, adding that patient care is being impacted.

“Pressures are coming at staff from all angles, and it is important government is honest with the public about the state the NHS and social care is in at the moment as well as give an honest assessment as to why we are not able to consider other restrictions, either in terms of public health or on what the NHS can actually deliver,” she said.

Manchester hospitals will pause some “non-urgent” surgery and appointments

21:15 , Anthony France

Hospitals in Greater Manchester will pause some “non-urgent” surgery and appointments due to the “rising impact” of Covid-19.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority said hospitals had taken the “difficult decision” as a temporary measure and that this would not impact cancer treatment, cardiac surgery, vascular surgery or transplants.

Schools told to order tests by 5pm to avoid two-week wait

21:08 , Anthony France

Headteachers were told to order lateral flow tests by 5pm on Tuesday to avoid a two-week wait for their arrival.

In an email to school leaders from the Department for Education sent on Tuesday, the Government said that schools had been “invited to order tests before Christmas and will have received these in advance of pupils returning”.

But the DfE added that orders for test kits received by 5pm would “be scheduled for delivery during next week” but that orders placed after 5pm would be delivered the following week beginning January 17.

On Twitter, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that all schools and colleges that had ordered test kits for the new term “have received them, we’ve delivered a massive 31 million kits”.

Tribute to NHS Covid heroes planned for London’s Postman’s Park

21:01 , Anthony France

NHS heroes of the pandemic could be celebrated for their “sacrifice” in a new memorial in Postman’s Park in the City of London.

Proposals for the memorial have been backed in principle by the City of London Corporation’s Open Spaces and City Gardens Committee, which has said it is considering a competition for young sculptors and artists to design the “tribute” to the heroes of the NHS.

Designs would include the sundial sitting in the middle of the park.

The corporation said it is also considering proposals for engravings of individual paving stones.

Oliver Sells QC, chairman of the committee, said: “We want to pay tribute to NHS workers for their sacrifice, and by extension, give all Londoners an opportunity to thank the key workers who work so tirelessly, and with such dedication, at the front line of the pandemic today.”

Greater Manchester hospitals ‘pause’ some non-urgent surgeries

20:15 , Michael Howie

It’s being reported tonight that hospitals in Greater Manchester have decided to “pause” some non-urgent surgeries and appointments due to the rising impact of Covid.

Man charged after ‘anti-vaxx protest’ outside Sajid Javid’s home

19:48 , Michael Howie

A 60-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage following reports of an anti-vaccine protest outside the Health Secretary’s London home.

The Metropolitan Police said Geza Tarjanyi, 60, of Leyland, Lancashire, was arrested in Fulham on Monday.

Sir Chris Whitty’s attack on online vaccine ‘misinformation'

19:46 , Michael Howie

England’s chief medical officer delivered a strongly-worded attack on “misinformation” on the internet, “a lot of it deliberately placed”, about potential side effects from jabs. You can read more on that story here.

‘Volunteer army' for social care calls amid Covid staff crisis

18:49 , Anthony France

A care group boss has called for the Government to set up an emergency volunteer army for social care amid fears that providers could run out of staff.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and north Yorkshire, said the staffing challenge “is now at the worst it has been throughout the pandemic”.

Shortages are being fuelled by the rapid spread of Omicron, he said.

Mr Padgham first made the call for volunteer help in a letter to Health Secretary Sajid Javid in August, and has again written to him “as the situation is becoming desperate”.

He said he is hearing daily that some care homes and home care providers across England are struggling to operate properly due to shortages.

In his latest letter, he says the Government should appeal for retired nurses, doctors, and carers to come forward for checks and training so they can help struggling social care services.

Sir Patrick Vallance: No evidence the Omicron has peaked in London

18:22 , Anthony France

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there is no evidence the Omicron wave has peaked in London and stressed it is important people retain “caution”.

He said: “So in terms of has it reached a peak in London? The answer is there is no evidence it has clearly reached a peak. And whilst it may be the case that in the younger age groups, this is flattening off or possibly beginning to come down, not least because they had such a big wave of infection, that is not true in the older age groups.

“It’s still going up in the older age groups. So I think it will be very wrong, and Chris (Whitty) alluded to this, to suggest that there’s a peak which means it’s all over in London.”

Sir Patrick said “we don’t know when the peak is going to occur, or how big it’s going to be”, adding: “Just to build on the other point about Plan B. It wasn’t Plan B alone that was important to bring it down.

“It was the behaviour that everyone took up really well in the run-up to Christmas and over the holiday periods to change their behaviours, to try and reduce social contacts… that’s a really important part of this and until we got to the older age groups coming down, it’s important that we retain that caution.”

Professor Sir Chris Whitty said hospitals across the country were likely to face “very substantial pressure over the next couple of weeks”.

Sir Patrick Vallance: Hospital pressures depend on how Omicron impacts on the old

18:04 , Anthony France

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said there was “extraordinarily high levels of infection at the moment” in the UK, and that hospital pressures will depend on how Omicron impacts on the older generation.

He told a Downing Street press briefing: “What we don’t know, and these are two things we don’t know that are key, exactly when the peak is going to occur or how big the peak is going to be.”

He added booster jabs should not be given to everyone every few months, agreeing with Professor Andrew Pollard of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Boris Johnson: “Absolutely crazy” unvaccinated ending up in intensive care with Covid

17:56 , Anthony France

Boris Johnson has said it is “absolutely crazy” that people are ending up in intensive care with Covid because they have not been vaccinated.

“How absolutely crazy it is, absolutely crazy, that there are two million slots this week for people to get vaccinated and yet the majority of people in ICU for Covid are not vaccinated – 61%,” he told a Downing Street news conference.

“It is sad but it is also a huge opportunity for us to correct it.”

Professor Sir Chris Whitty said he was “saddened” by the numbers of unvaccinated people in intensive care.

“The great majority of them are not anti-vaxxers in ordinary sense with some really weird ideas,” he said.

He said that people wanted to know if disease important enough to warrant vaccination and whether the vaccines were effective.

At the same time he said there was “misinformation” on the internet “a lot of it deliberately placed” about the potential side effects of the jabs.

“In so far as I am frustrated it is simply people deliberately trying to scare away fellow citizens from something that is potentially going to be life-saving for them,” he said.

Sir Chris Whitty: Lateral flow tests a “very good guide” to whether someone is infectious with Covid-19

17:48 , Anthony France

England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty said lateral flow tests are a “very good guide actually to whether someone is at that moment infectious”.

When asked about the shortening of the self-isolation regime, Sir Chris said: “The reason that we feel it is a useful tool to allow on day six and day seven, someone is isolated because they know they’ve got Covid to day five and then they have a negative test on day six and a negative test on day seven, we have confidence they’re much less likely to be in any way infectious to other people if they then leave isolation than if they had not done those tests.

“So that’s the reason why adding those tests on allowed ministers to decide to move from 10 days isolation down to seven but the last two you do the lateral tests because they’re very predictive of how infectious someone is… obviously if they’re still positive, then they do need to stay in isolation until it goes negative.”

On PCR tests, Sir Chris added: “The PCR tests which are the other way of testing, they can remain positive for a long time after someone has had an infection, including beyond the point where they are infectious.

“So the reason that we find the PCR is extremely good because they’re very sensitive and they’re extremely because they tell you which type of variants of Covid, it has got many advantages, but the lateral flows are really good at helping to determine whether someone is infectious at that point to other people.”

Boris Johnson: “We can’t rule anything out on Omicron restrictions"

17:44 , Anthony France

The question of whether further Omicron controls could be needed in England will depend on if the variant “peaks how quickly it blows through”, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister, asked about the likelihood of restrictions at a Downing Street press briefing, said: “We will monitor everything very closely – we clearly can’t rule anything out.

“What we are trying to do is take a balanced approach where we rely on people to implement Plan B carefully and to behave carefully with other people – and people are doing that, you can tell people are really responding to this and they are doing their absolute best, despite the extreme transmissibility of Omicron.

“What we’re also doing is massively accelerating the booster rollout and it has gone incredibly fast.”

Boris Johnson: ‘Difficult balance’ on Omicron lockdown

17:38 , Anthony France

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is “no easy answer to a problem like Omicron” and “there is no easy lockdown”.

He said: “There’s no easy restriction on people’s lives or livelihoods. And the best thing I think we can do now is to continue to follow the guidance, protect our NHS in the way that that we are, increase the support that we’re giving to the NHS and as you know, you’ve heard from what I said earlier on, we’re increasing the numbers of staff, we have got a record number of people working in the NHS now than at any time in the past.”

Mr Johnson added that the Government will continue to “watch what happens very closely”, but noted: “We think that this is the right approach to take. It’s a balanced approach. It has to balance a lot of considerations.

“It has to balance the the effect on people’s lives and livelihoods of lockdowns, which are painful, which take away people’s life chances and which do a great deal of social damage, damage to people’s mental health as well as damage to the economy.

“So it’s a difficult balance to strike. But that is that is where we are.”

Sir Chris Whitty: “Critical people get vaccinated whatever their age.”

17:33 , Anthony France

England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty said people in every age band are “significantly protected by vaccination”.

Speaking at a press briefing in Downing Street, Sir Chris said: “Every age band, being vaccinated, whether it’s previous variants and is likely to be true for this variant, every age band people are significantly protected by vaccination.

“And it is really critical whatever age people are, that they do get vaccinated.”

Sir Chris added that in terms of reducing hospitalisations, “we are now confident that boosting provides very significant protection and that the one or two vaccines provide some level of protection”.

PM says people are dying “needlessly”. 90 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care have not had their booster jab.

17:31 , Anthony France

Boris Johnson has said people are dying “needlessly” because they have not been properly vaccinated against Covid-19.

“There are still almost nine million people eligible, who haven’t had their booster,” he told a Downing Street news conference.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking that as many as 90 per cent of those in intensive care with Covid have not had their booster, and over 60 per cent of those in intensive care, who have Covid, have not had any vaccination at all.

“People are dying needlessly because they haven’t had their jabs, they haven’t had that booster.”

Boosters provide around 88 per cent protection against Covid hospitalisation

17:26 , Anthony France

Booster doses provide nearly 90 per cent of “overall protection against being hospitalised”, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Professor Sir Chris Whitty said: “We now have confidence that the booster provides around 88% overall protection against being hospitalised and it is likely to be even greater than that for severe disease and mortality.”

Sir Chris also urged anyone how had not yet received a booster to come forward.

He said: “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.”

He was referring to the high numbers of older people still being sent to hospital, because of the Omicron variant’s transmissibility.

PM: 100,000 critical workers offered daily lateral flow tests to keep services open

17:24 , Anthony France

Boris Johnson has said the Government has identified 100,000 critical workers who will be offered daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open.

He told a Downing Street news conference staff 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,” he said.

Boris Johnson: “Chance extra Covid restrictions will not be needed in England"

17:22 , Anthony France

Boris Johnson said, despite the high number of coronavirus cases being recorded in the UK, there was a “chance” extra restrictions would not be needed in England.

The PM told the Downing Street press briefing “our position today differs from previous waves in two crucial respects”.

He added: “First, we now know that Omicron is milder than previous variants, so while hospital admissions are rising quickly, with over 15,000 Covid patients now in hospital in England alone, this is not yet, thankfully, translating into the same numbers needing intensive care that we saw in previous waves.

“Second, thanks to the fantastic national effort to get Britain boosted, we now have a substantial level of protection, higher than any of our European neighbours, with over 34 million boosters administered, including in England reaching more than 90 per cent of the over 70s and 80 per cent of the over 50s.

“And so, together with the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas, we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.

“We can keep our schools and our businesses open and we can find a way to live with this virus.”

Boris Johnson ‘fastest growth in Covid cases that we’ve ever known'

17:15 , Anthony France

Speaking at a press briefing in Downing Street, the PM added: “Our United Kingdom is in the midst of the fastest growth in Covid cases that we’ve ever known.

“Previous waves of the pandemic didn’t have a single day with more than 100,000 new cases reported, one day last week we had 200,000 people test positive.

“And the latest figure today is another 218,000, though that includes some delayed reports.”

Boris Johnson warns war against Omicron variant ‘is not over’ in No10 briefing

17:12 , Anthony France

Boris Johnson said in his live TV address to the nation that after more than 200,000 positive tests in 24 hours: “Anyone who thinks our battle with Covid is over, I’m afraid is profoundly wrong.

“This is a moment for the utmost caution,”

Peak of Omicron surge ‘coming in early to mid January’, expert

17:00 , Anthony France

Professor Ian Young said he expects to see the peak of case numbers in the Omicron surge coming in early to mid January.

In terms of hospital admissions and occupancy he said expects to see a peak in mid-late January.

Meanwhile he said the Delta variant is still circulating in the community but numbers have been falling steadily.

347 admitted to hospitals in the capital with Covid on Sunday - NHS England

16:49 , Anthony France

There were 1,881 Covid-19 hospital admissions in England on January 2, NHS England said.

This is up 37% week on week but is below the 2,370 admissions recorded on December 29.

During the second wave of coronavirus, daily admissions peaked at 4,134 on January 12.

In London, 347 admissions were reported on January 2, down 7% week on week.

The number of Covid-19 admissions includes people admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours who were known to have Covid-19, plus patients diagnosed in hospital with Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours.

3,993 people in London hospitals with Covid-19, highest number since February

16:41 , Anthony France

A total of 15,044 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am on January 4, according to figures from NHS England.

This is up 58% from a week earlier and is the highest number since February 18.

During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on January 18.

In London, 3,993 people were in hospital with Covid-19 on January 4, up 32% week on week and the highest number since February 11.

In north-east England and Yorkshire, patient numbers are up 99% week on week to 2,146, the highest since February 21, while in north-west England numbers are up 88% week-on-week to 2,618, the highest since February 15.

First time Covid-19 positive tests above 200,000

16:37 , Anthony France

A further 218,724 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in England and Scotland as of 9am on Tuesday, the Government said, the first time the figure has been over 200,000.

The Government also said a further 48 people had died in England within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Tuesday’s figures contain some delayed reporting of cases because of the holiday period.

Hospital declares major incident after almost 500 staff were absent due to Covid

16:27 , Sami Quadri

Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital has declared a major incident after nearly 500 staff were absent due to Covid-19.

Jo Beer, chief operating officer of the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, said there was “high pressure” on urgent care and an increasing demand for Covid-19 beds.

“This morning we communicated to our staff that we are operating in an internal critical incident,” she said. “This is due to the high pressure on urgent care services and increasing demand for Covid-19 beds.

“We currently have 99 Covid-19 positive patients across Derriford and our three community hospitals and just under 500 staff absent for Covid-19-related reasons.

“We don’t want people to be alarmed by this. We took the decision to escalate to the highest level of internal incident because this allows us to be able to take additional steps to maintain safe services for our patients and help us cope with the growing pressures.

“We are running at extremely high levels of occupancy and like a number of other hospitals across the country, we are seeing huge rises in demands for our services at the moment. Attendances in our emergency department are high; there are ongoing challenges in discharging patients who are well enough to leave hospital, and we are seeing an increase in staff sickness, all of which leads to longer waits than we would like for patients to be seen and admitted.”

NHS England urges people to get booster

16:24 , Sami Quadri

NHS England is urging people to come forward for a booster jab as more than two million appointments are still available over the next week.

The NHS added there is “plenty of capacity” for those who have so far been unable to come forward because they have had Covid.

Anyone who has had Covid must wait 28 days before being able to have a booster.

As of Tuesday morning there were almost 300,000 slots still available on Wednesday, with 175,000 booked and a further 330,000 up for grabs on Thursday.

In total, there are 2,008,483 jab slots available over the next seven days.

Dr Nikki Kanani, deputy for the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme, said: “There are more than two million appointments available for you to get your booster over the next seven days alone, with more slots popping up all the time, meaning everyone can find a time and place that’s convenient for them. If you haven’t yet had your booster, please do come forward, as we know this provides the best protection from the Omicron variant with trusted healthcare professionals on hand to answer any questions you may have.”

UK records 218,724 cases and 48 deaths in latest daily figures

16:13 , Sami Quadri

A further 218,724 coronavirus cases and 48 Covid-related deaths have been recorded in the UK, official figures show.

It comes as a further 141,825 people had their booster jab - bringing the total to 34,363,98.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Tuesday’s figures contain some delayed reporting of cases because of the holiday period.

Spreading lies about vaccines ‘is costing lives’

15:39 , Sami Quadri

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said spreading lies about vaccines is ‘something that is costing lives’.

Mr Javid said: ‘We are working very hard across Government, particularly the Home Office and the police are doing everything they can to tackle anti-vax protesters that are breaking the law.”

He added: ‘That kind of information which is frankly just lies about vaccines and misinformation is something that is costing lives.

‘And what we really need to do is focus on the positive messages about how vaccines are saving lives, preventing people from going to the hospital, helping you, your family and your community.’

Home care staff ‘waiting more than a week’ for coronavirus test results

15:37 , Anthony France

A home care chief has called for care workers to be prioritised when coronavirus tests are processed, as it emerged some carers are waiting more than a week for results.

Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association, said this will help maintain workforce capacity amid ongoing pressures that are being exacerbated by the spread of Omicron.

Examples provided by a national home care provider, which have been flagged to the Government, illustrate some of the problems staff are experiencing in getting PCR test results.

One staff member in Wimbledon, south London, who took a PCR on December 23, was still awaiting results on December 31.

Another care worker in Basingstoke, Hampshire, was told to travel to Newbury in Berkshire to get a walk-in PCR test, but discovered their local centre was “completely quiet” when they supported a client to get tested.

In North Cheshire, care staff are waiting seven days on average for PCR test results to be returned.

At one point, 12 staff in this area were isolating while they awaited test results.

Government ‘not looking at cutting self-isolation period'

15:32 , Daniel Keane

Mr Javid said the Government is not looking at cutting the self-isolation period for those who test positive to five days.

Speaking after visiting a vaccination centre in south London, Mr Javid told broadcasters: “Our decisions are based on the very latest evidence.

“So we’re quite clear where we are with your seven days, but you know, you need those two negative lateral flow tests in the final two days, is the right balanced proportionate approach.”

Javid says ‘military is already helping’ when asked about staff shortages

15:23 , Daniel Keane

When asked about the problem of staff absences in the NHS and if the military could help, health secretary Sajid Javid noted the military is “helping already in vaccination centres across the country”.

He added: “For instance, with that delivery, the NHS is getting a huge amount of support from volunteers and others as well.

“But the NHS is also widely using an emergency list of workers that has been able to develop over the pandemic so far, and then call on clinicians and others that may have retired for example, to come back and help.

“Also the NHS Reserves Programme is something that the Government set up with the NHS.

“We piloted it in six regions across England and now it’s being rolled out nationally and that’s helping as well.”

Northern Ireland sees huge surge in cases

15:01 , Daniel Keane

More than 30,000 new cases of Covid were confirmed in Northern Ireland in four days across the new year.

The latest figures, which cover from midnight on December 30 to midnight on January 3, also notified the deaths of 15 patients who previously tested positive for the virus.

A total of 30,423 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 50,627 new positive cases have been confirmed in the last seven days.

More than 400,000 boosters given out in past 4 days

14:41 , Daniel Keane

More than 400,000 booster and third doses of Covid vaccine were recorded across the UK during the past four days, figures show.

A total of 34,363,986 extra doses had been delivered as of January 3, the first time a UK-wide figure has been available since December 30, when the number stood at 33,924,738.

It means 439,248 booster and third doses have been recorded from New Year’s Eve to January 3.

Government has ‘let us down’ on Covid tests, says Starmer

14:28 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer said the Government had “let us down” on Covid tests.

He said: “What we know about this variant is it’s obviously highly infectious, but also there are many people without any symptoms at all, and so we need to separate out those who’ve got the variant and those who haven’t.

“The best way to do that is mass lateral flow tests and the Government has let us down because those tests aren’t available on anything like the scale that we need.

“It’s all very well saying Omicron wasn’t something we had heard of several weeks or months ago, but the idea of a variant that will get through some of the protections is something we knew about, it was a known unknown, the Government should have planned.”

Scotland records over 17,000 new Covid cases

14:08 , Daniel Keane

The figures published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday show 56,290 new tests for Covid reported results and 35.3 per cent were positive.

This represents a marginal increase from 34.9 per cent on Monday.

Scotland recorded 17,259 Covid cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data.

Sturgeon urged to cut isolation requirements by Scottish Tories

13:57 , Josh Salisbury

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to cut the length of time required for self-isolation in Scotland.

The First Minister is set to address the Scottish parliament on Wednesday. She had said last week she hoped to give an update on any changes to isolation, which is currently at ten days.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called for the period to be cut to seven days, if two negative tests are returned in the final two days. This rule is already in place in England.

Mr Ross also called for household contacts to be allowed to leave isolation if they test negative.

Two more trusts declare ‘critical incidents’ over Covid

13:49 , Josh Salisbury

Two more NHS Trusts have declared a ‘critical incident’ over Covid staff shortages and case numbers.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, which serves Lancashire and South Cumbria, and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust both declared critical incidents on Tuesday.

The status is used as an indicator by hospitals that they are worried about not being able to provide all the necessary care.

Trish Armstrong-Child, chief executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said it would mean “high demand and long waits to be seen in our Emergency Department and urgent care pathways” among other service pressures.

Boris Johnson to hold 5pm Downing Street press conference

13:39 , Josh Salisbury

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm.

He is set to be joined by England's chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

It is not yet clear what developments the press conference will bring, but earlier today Mr Johnson’s office said there was nothing in the data around Omicron to suggest new restrictions were yet needed in England.

French TV twins ‘die of Covid’ within days of each other

13:17 , Josh Salisbury

A set of twins who were French TV personalities have died within days of each of Covid, according to media reports.

Grichka and Igor Bogdanoff household names in France, known for hosting a TV science and science-fiction show in the 1980s.

The BBC reports that both died from coronavirus age 72 within just a week of each other.

The two men had reportedly not been vaccinated, according to friends, with one, Pierre-Jean Chalençon saying they had not sought vaccination because they did not feel at risk because of their healthy lifestyle.

No10 acknowledges increase in hospital admissions but says lack of ventilator use ‘pleasing'

12:51 , Daniel Keane

The NHS has seen a significant increase in admissions but it is “pleasing” that the number of patients requiring ventilation support has not increased to the same extent, No 10 said.

The PM’s official spokesman said: “We keep a very close eye on NHS capacity, that’s something we track very closely.

“We know that admissions and occupancy are increasing significantly at the moment - we’re not seeing that same jump in beds requiring ventilation, which is pleasing, and almost certainly a function of both the nature of Omicron and our successful booster programme.

“But we keep an extremely close eye on NHS capacity at all times.”

No10 refuses to rule out rationing Covid tests

12:28 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street has refused to rule out rationing Covid tests as it recognised there were periods during recent days when tests had become unavailable online.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked whether the Government was preparing to ration tests, said: “We have one of the highest testing capacities in the world, certainly the highest in Europe.

“We would obviously need to keep under review, as prevalence is incredibly high, what the right approach might be and we continue to take advice on whether that is necessary.

“As it stands, we’re massively increasing capacity for both PCR and LFT (lateral flow) tests - that’s doubled to 900,000 tests available per day and we want to go further and increase that.”

Pressed on whether ministers were ruling out rationing tests, the spokesman replied: “Without seeking to predict the course of the epidemic and this current wave that we’re in, at the moment those who need tests can get them and there may be times during the day when tests are unavailable.

“However, the advice is for people to check back throughout the day so they will be able to secure a slot when one becomes available.”

More evidence emerging that Omicron is mild, say WHO

12:11 , Daniel Keane

More evidence is emerging that the Omicron Covid variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants, a World Health Organization official has said.

“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike the other ones, that could cause severe pneumonia,” WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told reporters at a conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

However, he added that Omicron’s high transmissibility means it will become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat in countries where a high portion of the population remains unvaccinated.

Mr Mahamud said South Africa was an “outlier” due to its younger population and high levels of immunity.

His comments chime with analysis from scientists in the UK and South Africa, who have claimed the variant is up to 70 per cent less likely to result in hospital admission than Delta.

Starmer: Lack of Covid tests ‘simply unacceptable'

11:56 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir says that a lack of “sufficient” Covid tests nearly two years into the pandemic is “simply unacceptable”.

He told reporters: “It is simply unacceptable the best part of two years into a pandemic for the Government to say we don’t have enough tests.

“Lateral flow tests ought to be available in sufficient quantity to deal with the situation we are now in.

“Omicron was a word we hadn’t heard several weeks ago but the idea that there would be a variant that would get around some of the protections in place was a known threat six months ago.”

Country needs ‘better leadership’ on the pandemic, says Starmer

11:47 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer has said the country needs “better leadership from the Government” when it comes to the pandemic.

Answering questions after his speech in Birmingham, the Labour leader said: “If we’re to keep our schools open, and we must, what we need is many more of our school children vaccinated.

“Only about half of those over 12 who are eligible to be vaccinated have been vaccinated.

“We said to the Government use the Christmas period to vaccinate those children. We need much better ventilation. We’ve been saying this for about a year to stop the virus spreading in schools.”

Covid cases soar 400% among London elderly over Christmas

11:34 , Daniel Keane

Covid cases soared by more than 400 per cent among elderly people in London over the Christmas period, an Evening Standard analysis has revealed.

The seven-day infection rate for pensioners aged 85 to 89 jumped 426 per cent in the week to December 29 to 824 confirmed infections per 100,000, compared with a fortnight earlier.

It was up 422 per cent to 949 cases per 100,000 for the 75 to 79 year age group, 406 per cent for 80 to 84-year-olds, and 408 per cent for individuals aged 90 and over.

The rate rose 377 per cent in the 70 to 74 age group, and by just over 300 per cent for Londoners aged 65 to 69.

You can read our full report from our political editor Nic Cecil here.

Government ‘asleep at the wheel’ over staff shortage crisis

11:23 , Daniel Keane

The Government is “asleep at the wheel” over the staff shortage caused by the Omicron variant, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Responding to vaccine minister Maggie Throup’s failure to name how many people were self-isolating in the UK, Lib Dem health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “If ever proof was needed that the government is asleep at the wheel with this staff shortage crisis, the vaccine minister’s non-answers this morning just about sum it up.

“Our hospitals are at breaking point and schools are spread thin, yet hapless ministers haven’t got a clue about the true extent of the problems in these settings.

“It’s high time the government gets a grip on this. Families deserve reassurance that their children’s education won’t be disrupted and that loved ones can get the care they need, when they need it.”

Hospital admissions rose by at least 9% between December 27 and 29, says NHS chief

11:07 , Daniel Keane

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospital admissions for coronavirus increased by 9 per cent to 15 per cent between December 27 and 29.

However, he said that in the last three days the rate had dropped to around 3 per cent.

Mr Hopson said that fears raised before Christmas of a huge rise in the number of seriously-ill older people needing critical care and mechanical ventilation had not occurred yet.

He said: “There are a number of chief executives who are saying, if we were going to see that surge, we probably would have seen the beginnings of it up to now, so there are glimmers of hope.”

Watch: Omicron Covid wave may have peaked in London, says Prof Neil Ferguson

10:51 , Daniel Keane

Not ‘certain’ that future variants will cause milder disease, expert warned

10:39 , Daniel Keane

It is far from “certain” that future Covid variatns will cause milder disease, a health expert has warned.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told Sky News that more time is needed to evaluate whether the virus will become milder.

He added: “If indeed we do have ongoing problems with more severe disease, updated vaccines for the new variants may be one of the ways that we manage living with the virus in the future.”

Sir Andrew said the UK is not yet completely over Omicron but “generally the news is relatively good from an overall perspective in that it does seem to be causing milder disease”.

No end to ‘strict’ lockdown in Chinese city, say officials

10:24 , Daniel Keane

Xian, a Chinese city almost two weeks into a lockdown, is demanding officials “strictly and properly” implement Covid curbs even as infections showed signs of slowing down.

The city, which on December 23 imposed strict curbs on travel, reported 95 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed clinical symptoms for Monday, up slightly from 90 a day earlier, official data showed on Tuesday.

“The various work that needs to be done must only be strengthened,” said Liu Guozhong, provincial head of the Communist Party in Shaanxi, of which Xian is its capital.

“We’d rather widen our identification of groups at risk than to overlook a single person.”

China has responded to domestic transmission with brutal lockdowns and mass testing, with locals in Xian banned from leaving their residential compounds unless for urgent matters approved by their community-based authority.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Declaring critical incident is ‘sensible thing to do’, says NHS boss

10:12 , Daniel Keane

Declaring a critical incident is a “sensible thing” for a hospital to do as Covid cases rise, an NHS boss has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told Sky News that approximately half a dozen hospitals across the country have declared critical incidents in the last five days.

He said that the status enables hospitals to get assistance from nearby hospitals and other NHS trusts.

He added: “It is a sensible, planned thing to do to ensure that trust can carry on providing the services that it needs to provide, particularly the critical and essential services.”

Hospital declares critical incident and braces for Omicron ‘tsunami'

10:03 , Daniel Keane

A health chief said Lancashire is bracing for a “tsunami of Omicron” cases as a critical incident was declared.

Morecambe Bay NHS Trust declared the incident on Monday evening amid rising Covid hospital admissions and staff testing positive for the virus.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director for Lancashire County Council, told BBC Radio 4: “Lancashire is beginning to experience what London did at the beginning of last month and, of course, London is better resourced and the infrastructures are well organised compared to other regions, so we are bracing ourselves for a tsunami of Omicron cases in Lancashire.

“We are clearly seeing a shift from 20s and 30s and 40-year-olds being affected by Omicron to a clear shift to a more 60-plus age group being affected, and that is what is causing us concern as well as the immediate concern being absence, staff absence, both in the NHS and education - schools are just going to re-open this week.”

Ministers ‘will take JCVI advice’ over fourth vaccine doses

09:46 , Daniel Keane

The Government will take advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) over whether to administer a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine, a minister has said.

Minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup told BBC Radio 4: “We take advice from the JCVI. I think what’s important at the moment is for people to get their boosters, and if people haven’t had their first dose or have delayed their second dose to come forward for that.

“I think it’s important that we concentrate on our programme at the moment, which is first dose, second dose and boosters, and the JCVI are constantly looking at the clinical data, and if they give us advice, we’ll look at it seriously and decide whether it’s appropriate for our population.”

Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said on Tuesday that Britain should not seek to give people a fourth dose as “you can’t vaccinate the planet every six months”.

Scientists have warned that while many countries are capable of rolling out fourth jabs, large swathes of the population in Africa and South America remain completely unvaccinated.

Around the world

09:30 , Daniel Keane

- India’s daily cases rose by their most since early-September, at 37,379 infections, with one of the newly infected people being Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who spoke at an election rally on Monday without wearing a mask

- Israel will admit foreigners with presumed Covid immunity from countries deemed medium-risk next week, partially reversing a ban imposed in late-November in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant

- France on Monday reported 67,641 new confirmed Covid cases in a 24-hour period, a figure much lower than a couple of days ago, when daily additional infections were over 200,000

Commuters hit by Covid-related delays on first day of work on 2022

09:10 , Daniel Keane

Rail passengers were hit by disruption in London on the first working day of the year in England and Wales due to Covid-related staff shortages.

No London Overground services were able to run between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays on Tuesday morning due to a fault on a train.

Meanwhile, Southern Rail is not serving London Victoria until January 10, while CrossCountry has removed around 50 daily trains from its timetables until next week as a surge in Covid cases prompted staff shortages.

Demand for rail travel is at around 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, which is partly due to the guidance for people to work from home.

 (PA)
(PA)

‘Very large numbers of cases in the community', vaccine chief warns

08:56 , Daniel Keane

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told Sky News there are “very large numbers of cases in the community but still very good control of severe disease as a result of vaccination”.

He said the central question of the pandemic this year was how to “transition to the situation where society is open, and we maintain protection of the vulnerable”.

He said that has been managed so far with third doses of vaccines, adding that learning how to live with the virus is “going to be the critical next step”.

On whether people will be vaccinated every six months, he said: “Well, it’s just not - from a global perspective - affordable, sustainable or deliverable to give fourth doses to everyone on the planet every six months.

“Remember that, today, less than 10 per cent of people in low-income countries have even had their first dose, so the whole idea of regular fourth doses globally is just not sensible.”

Plan B ‘is working’, says minister

08:44 , Daniel Keane

Minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup said Plan B “is working”.

Asked if the Government was listening to health professionals and prepared to bring in more restrictions, she told Sky News: “As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have got Plan B, which is people working from home, the Covid pass, face coverings and obviously the vaccine programme, which is so, so important.”

She added: “Plan B is working, as you can see from the number of hospitalisations, it’s far, far fewer than this time last year and that’s so important as well, that the vaccines are working, the measures for people to work from home are working.

“The Prime Minister said that Plan B is working and there’ll be a Cabinet meeting today, and I don’t see any reason why we need to change. It’s important we do follow the data.”

NHS boss says he does not want staff ‘passing on virus at work'

08:31 , Daniel Keane

Mr Taylor said the self-isolation period should only be reduced to five days if the science says it is “absolutely safe”.

On the outlook, he told Times Radio: “We should feel some hope and confidence about the medium term, that we hope that we will gradually become more able to live with Covid as the Prime Minister has said, that when Omicron has gone through us that we make it to that stage and the NHS will recover.

“On the other hand, we’ve got to recognise where we are now, we’ve got to recognise that things are very, very difficult and I think that one thing that people in our service find difficult is that it does seem as though there’s a kind of almost politicised attempt to suggest that things aren’t as difficult as they are.”

Hospital admissions ‘plateau’ in London but rising across the rest of Britain, says NHS boss

08:11 , Daniel Keane

Hospital admissions due to Covid have “plateaued” in London but are rising across the rest of the UK, a health boss has warned.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there “may be a second peak after the new year” as figures showed admissions falling from a peak of 500 in the capital on December 29.

He told Times Radio that, often, for many hospitals “the most pressing element of all” was the number of staff who are absent due to Covid.

He said that even without Covid, the NHS is 100,000 staff short, “so we have a long-term failure in terms of workforce planning and resourcing”.

Mr Taylor said many of the services in the health service were “interdependent”, meaning that disruption would be felt across hospitals.

He added: “If you lose paramedics then the ambulance can’t go out, and if ambulances can’t go out then that means there’s more pressure on other services.

“So, those interdependencies and the unpredictability of staff absence means NHS leaders having to work around the clock just thinking about how they can deploy their resources best to deal with the most urgent and pressing needs.”

Britons being admitted to hospital have ‘less severe’ illness, minister claims

07:59 , Daniel Keane

Asked about missed booster appointments and a decline in the daily number of people being boosted, Ms Throup said: “We’ve just been through two weekends of bank holiday and I think that’s quite clear that numbers will change as we move forward.”

She told Sky News: “We are looking at the data all the time with regards to hospitalisations ... people who have actually tested positive and also the number of people in the high dependency units as well.

“I think, at the moment, if you look at people who’ve been hospitalised then they are going in with less severe conditions than before and the numbers that are in hospital beds is about half what it was a year ago, and that just shows the power of the vaccine.”

Vaccines minister ‘not sure’ how many people are isolating

07:40 , Daniel Keane

Minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup said she was “not sure” how many Britons were currently in self-isolation.

She told Sky News: “I’m not sure of that (actual) figure, but I think what’s shown over Christmas is that a lot of people have caught the disease, the Omicron variant is very transmissible, but what is good news, it doesn’t seem to be resulting in severe diseases as some of the other variants did.”

She added: “Well, not everybody declares that they’re self-isolating, I think that’s one important thing, that it’s something that they do because they’ve tested positive or they’ve been in contact with somebody whose tested positive, they don’t have to report that in.

“The vaccine is working and that’s the best way to stop the transmission, and to stop hospitalisations and for our life to get back to normal.”

‘Worst of the pandemic is behind us’, says vaccine scientist

07:26 , Daniel Keane

One of the UK’s leading vaccine scientists and the driving force behind AstraZeneca says that the worst of the Covid pandemic is behind us.

Sir Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Covid vaccine trials and director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the Daily Telegraph that “we just need to get through the winter” but stressed the UK had already experienced the worst months of the pandemic.

As for Boris Johnson’s current handling of the crisis, with his relatively light restrictions across England, Prof Pollard said: “(It) seems to be working so far. The system isn’t falling over. But it’s finely balanced.

“We can’t fully answer whether he’s got it right for some time.”

With so much of the UK and other richer nations now vaccinated, Prof Pollard has added his voice to calls to “open up”, despite the ongoing threat from Omicron - which the latest UK studies have suggested is milder than Delta.

Prof Pollard told The Telegraph: “At some point, society has to open up. When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time. But that’s a decision for the policy makers, not the scientists.”

White blood cells of immune system can fight Omicron, says new study

07:11 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live coverage of the Covid pandemic.

A new study has revealed that the white blood cells of the immune system are capable of producing an immune response against the Omicron variant of Covid.

As Omicron has a higher number of mutations than other Covid variants, it can sometimes slip past the antibodies created by vaccination or infection.

But new research, from the University of Melbourne and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), found that white blood cells will attack once the virus enters the body.

The team’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Viruses, suggest Omicron is unlikely to be able to evade T-cells, which could form an essential component of the immune response to the variant.

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