Health experts have called for the self-isolation period to be cut to five days amid increasing staff shortages in the NHS.
Last week the government reduced the period from ten to seven days, but some are calling for ministers to go further.
They want to copy the US, which has cut the isolation period to five days, for the sake of the health service and the economy.
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said yesterday that chief executives within the health service think that staff isolating will be a bigger pressure on the NHS than people who need treatment for coronavirus.
Their warnings come as the Omicron variant continue to spread at a rapid speed across the globe, leading to a record-breaking surge in Covid-19 cases across Europe and the United States.
Britain recorded at least 129,471 Covid cases on Tuesday, while France reported 179,807 cases, the highest since the onset of the pandemic.
The US reported more than 440,000 news infections on Monday, according to the US Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC).
“The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high,” the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update.
Omicron spreading rampantly in Europe
UK pharmacies warn of low supply of lateral flow tests
Calls for self-isolation period to be cut to five days
Omicron still poses 'very high' risk, says WHO
Lateral flow tests could be less accurate against Omicron, US health chiefs say
09:31 , Holly Bancroft
Rapid lateral flow tests could be more likely to deliver a false negative result when testing for the Omicron variant, the US Food and Drug Administration has said.
In a statement the FDA said that it was working with the National Institutes of Health to study the performance of home tests.
“Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the Omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity”, the FDA said.
This contrasts with research done by UK health body the UKHSA that found that lateral flow tests are as effective at detecting the Omicron strain of the virus as they are the Delta.
Read about the effectiveness of lateral flow tests against Omicron here:
Government PCR tests run low
09:01 , Holly Bancroft
PCR tests are running low across all regions in England and Northern Ireland, according to the government supply website.
On Wednesday morning, dozens of people were taking to social media to complain about the lack of PCR tests available for home delivery.
The website that shows the availability of the tests was showing “not available” next to every region in England.
OK then, that's fun when trying to staff clinics. pic.twitter.com/fzgdRsnD6W
— Craig Nikolic (@CraigNikolic) December 29, 2021
Need a PCR test immediately and they’re all out across the whole of England. LFTs missing from pharmacies, they said “try again next week”. What the hell are we meant to do? We’re back to March 2020 flying completely blind.
— Jared Jeyaretnam 🔸🧡💚 (@jaredjeya) December 28, 2021
UK pharmacies warn of low supplies of lateral flow tests
08:45 , Holly Bancroft
Pharmacies are struggling to supply the demand for lateral flow tests with many customers having to walk away empty-handed.
The chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies told Radio 4’s Today programme that people were turning up to pharmacies for lateral flow test “every five minutes”.
Leyla Hannbeck said: “What our members are telling us is that demand for the lateral flow tests is very high at the moment due to the current guidelines around self-isolation.
“Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy asking for a test.
“But, unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come for the test don’t always get it, which is very stressful not just for the pharmacy team but for the patient.
“The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high, because of the current guidelines.
“We are in the Christmas area of time, and the New Year is just around the corner and people want to be with family and friends.”
There have also been reports that London health workers have been unable to get PCR tests because of a lack of priority.
A senior NHS source messages me: "London Health workers are unable to book a PCR today. When they are tested, it seems that NO priority is being given to getting the test result back when they tick the “care worker box”. Up to 48 hours is the norm for getting the result back."
— Alastair McLellan (@HSJEditor) December 28, 2021
US reports highest daily rise in new Covid cases since pandemic began
08:19 , Holly Bancroft
More than 440,000 new infections were recording in the United States on Monday, according to the US Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC).
However, a CDC spokesperson told Politico website that the figure was probably an “overestimate” due to reporting delays over Christmas.
CDC officials have revised down the prevalence of Omicron in the US, saying it accounts for 59 percent of cases rather than 73 percent as previously reported.
CDC's estimate for the prevalence of Omicron last week dropped significantly from 73.2% w/ a 95% prediction interval of 34-94.9% down to 22.5% w/ a 95% prediction interval of 15.4-31.5%.
12/25 estimate is 58.6% with a 95% prediction interval of 41.5-74%. https://t.co/eaMCVk3TEc pic.twitter.com/ZjEvREb7Gs
— David Lim (@davidalim) December 28, 2021
Calls for self-isolation period to be cut to five days
08:07 , Holly Bancroft
Scientists and MPs have called on the government to cut the self-isolation period to five days.
Up to 800,000 people are estimated to be in isolation and businesses and the health service are struggling to operate as normal while thousands are off sick.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that Covid would become “effectively just another cause of the common cold”. He told the BBC: “We’re going to have to let people who positive go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold.
“I think the whole issue of how long are we going to be able to allow people to self-isolate if they’re positive is going to have to be discussed fairly soon, because I think this is a disease that’s not going away.”
Professor Tim Spector, who runs the Zoe Covid symptom study, has said that cutting the isolation period to five days would “protect the economy”.
Kate Nicholls, from trade body UK Hospitality, said the government should copy America - who announced they would cut isolation time to five days on Monday - to “keep the economy moving”.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said he would back a reduction in isolation period for people who were testing negative.
Theresa Villiers MP said: “The government should look seriously at reducing mandatory isolation periods.”
Covid closes Hugh Jackman Broadway show
07:02 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
A day after actor Hugh Jackman revealed that he had contacted Covid-19, performances of his Broadway show The Music Man were cancelled until the new year.
On Tuesday, the X-Men actor posted a short video of him wearing a mask, explaining that he had tested positive for Covid earlier in the day.
He said his symptoms were mild and that he was feeling fine.
Maanya Sachdeva reports.
People reinfected with Omicron variant had fewer symptoms, study finds
06:51 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
People who had contracted Covid-19 and had later been reinfected with the Omicron variant are likely to experience fewer symptoms, according to a small study from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study published on Tuesday looked at six people from a single household positive with Omicron. Five out of the six people were previously infected with other strains of the novel coronavirus, which causes the Covid disease.
The five reinfected members of the house said their symptoms with Omicron were similar or milder compared to their first infection
Omicron still poses 'very high' risk, says WHO
05:34 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday said the Omicron variant still poses a “very high risk” as cases continue to mount across the globe.
In its weekly epidemiological update, the UN’s health agency said: “The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high”.
“Consistent evidence shows that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days and rapid increases in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries,” it added.
According to the WHO, early data from Britain, South Africa and Denmark suggested there was a “reduced risk of hospitalisation” for Omicron compared to the Delta variant.
China pushes more citizens into lockdown
04:55 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Ahead of the Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in Beijing, the Chinese government has pushed millions more into lockdown as Covid cases flare up.
On Tuesday, the Asian giant imposed stay-at-home orders in many parts of the Yan’an city in the Shaanxi province.
Thousands of Yan’an residents joined the 13 million people of the city of Xi’an, that completed a week of strict lockdown on Wednesday.
According to an AFP report, Xi’an’s residents said that they were starving because of the inability to procure groceries.
“I’m about to be starved to death. There’s no food, my housing compound won’t let me out, and I’m about to run out of instant noodles... please help,” wrote one Xi’an resident on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.
How long is Omicron’s incubation period?
04:36 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
The rapidly spreading Omicron variant has led to a monumental surge in cases across Europe and the US.
While the World Health Organisation estimated that symptoms took anywhere between two days to two weeks to materialise in cases of people infected with the first novel coronavirus strain, the Omicron variant is thought to incubate much faster, closer to three to five days.
“Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than the Delta variant,” UK health secretary Sajid Javid said earlier in December.
Joe Sommerlad has more.
Omicron estimated to be 58.6 per cent of all US cases: CDC
04:07 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its estimates for Covid-19 cases related to the Omicron variant in the United States to 58.6 per cent.
Earlier it said that the Omicron variant is the driving force behind the Covid-19 surge and caused 73 per cent of the new cases.
The Delta variant accounts for 41.11 per cent of all coronavirus infections in the US, the public health agency said on Tuesday.
Omicron grips Europe
03:41 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Several countries in Europe have reported record-high numbers of Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant of the virus continues to spread at a rapid speed.
France reported 179,807 new cases on Tuesday, the highest since the onset of the pandemic.
England recorded 129,471 cases on Tuesday, setting another new single-day record.
Portugal too reported a record-high of 17,172 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday.
Greece recorded a new daily record of 21,657 infections on Tuesday, more than double the level of the day before.
01:45 , Alastair Jamieson
In making the change, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the equivalent of the UK Health Security Agency — appears to be the treading the line between addressing “acute labour shortages” by releasing patients earlier with the risk they could still be infecting others.
Our health correspondent Rebecca Thomas talks to experts on whether the five-day rule is safe, and how it compares to the seven-day minimum in the UK.
Test and Trace system ‘giving wrong isolation advice'
Tuesday 28 December 2021 22:44 , Alastair Jamieson
Some users of the NHS Test and Trace system are reportedly still being told to self-isolate for 10 days even though ministers last week said this can be cut to a week or less for most people, providing they self-test.
The discrepancy was reported by the Daily Telegraph which quoted a Tory MP saying officials were trying “to undermine ministers.”
Most Covid patients who can show negative lateral flow tests on two consecutive days and leave isolation after seven days following the recent change.
Ministers closely monitor Covid data as cases continue to rise
Tuesday 28 December 2021 20:50 , Emily Atkinson
Ministers have said they are closely monitoring the latest Covid data as cases of the virus continued to surge across much of the country.
Government figures showed there were a record 129,471 lab-confirmed cases in the UK as of 9am Tuesday – although the data was incomplete due to the Christmas holidays with no figures for Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Gavin Cordon reports:
South Africa u-turns on new isolation rules
Tuesday 28 December 2021 20:28 , Emily Atkinson
The South African government have u-turned on the rule that no longer required people without symptoms of Covid-19 to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case.
The health ministry last week said that asymptomatic individuals who had been in contact with a case of coronavirus no longer had to isolate but should monitor for symptoms for 5-7 days and avoid attending large gatherings, Reuters have reported.
The reason for the revision was based on a number of scientific factors including the fact that, most people have vaccinated with at least one vaccine dose and developed some level of immunity. This has contributed to the current low hospitalisation and high recovery rates, the department said.
“In line with the principles of transparency and openness, the department has decided to put the implementation of the revised policy changes on hold, while taking all additional comments and inputs received into consideration,” it said in a statement.
“This means the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation remain applicable.”
‘We need people to isolate for as little time as possible,’ CBI president says
Tuesday 28 December 2021 20:10 , Emily Atkinson
Lord Bilimoria welcomed the decision by Health Secretary Sajid Javid to reduce the isolation time in England from 10 days to seven if people test negative on days six and seven.
He pointed out that in South Africa where the Omicron variant was first identified, the requirement to self-isolate has been dropped altogether when people are asymptomatic.
“We have got to do everything we can to stop the disruption to our lives and to our livelihoods and to the economy in as safe a way as possible,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
“We need people to isolate for as little time as possible.”
Welsh urged to follow restrictions amid ‘rapid rise’ in Covid cases
Tuesday 28 December 2021 19:45 , Emily Atkinson
Welsh people are being urged to get their booster jabs and follow social distancing measures amid a “rapid rise” in coronavirus cases.
Wales recorded 12,378 new cases on Tuesday. However, there is a lag in the number of cases being recorded due to the holiday period.
Luke O’Reilly has the details here:
Sturgeon urges public to not ‘underestimate impact of Omicron'
Tuesday 28 December 2021 19:28 , Emily Atkinson
The First Minister of Scotland has renewed her call for people to stick to the latest Covid restrictions as case numbers continue to reach record levels.
A total of 9,360 new positive cases have been confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to the latest Scottish Government data released on Tuesday.
The day before, 10,562 cases were recorded, with 11,030 cases on December 26.
These daily figures are the highest Scotland has seen since the first coronavirus case was recorded in the country in March 2020.
Nicola Sturgeon said she expects case numbers will rise further in the days to come and urged the public to not “underestimate the impact of Omicron.”
“These figures serve to underline the importance of people continuing to get ‘boosted by the bells’ and following the guidance to help slow the spread of Covid while we complete the accelerated booster programme,” she said.
“I know it is hard, but it is really important people continue to comply with the guidance over the new year period.
“Even if the rate of hospitalisation associated with it is lower than past strains of the virus, case numbers this high will still put an inevitable further strain on the NHS, and create significant levels of disruption due to sickness absence across the economy and critical services.”
Mass Covid deaths and full intensive care units are likely ‘now history’ in UK, scientist claims
Tuesday 28 December 2021 19:12 , Emily Atkinson
Covid-19 cases have soared by their highest number since the start of the pandemic as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the UK.
The latest figures released by the government on Tuesday afternoon show 129,471 new cases in the 24 hours to 9am on that day, a new daily record.
The government also said a further 18 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. It warned that the data was incomplete due to holidays, and does not include figures for Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Andy Gregory reports:
Watch: New Covid restrictions come into force in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Tuesday 28 December 2021 19:00 , Emily Atkinson
Voices: I realised last Christmas that the pandemic has changed what it means to be an immigrant
Tuesday 28 December 2021 18:40 , Emily Atkinson
We are three generations of women living in three different countries and separated by two stretches of sea, and I had not given it a lot of thought until 2020, writes Marie Le Conte.
Omicron accounts for over half of all Covid variants in US
Tuesday 28 December 2021 18:15 , Emily Atkinson
The Omicron variant was estimated to account for 58.6 per cent of the coronavirus variants making their way round the US for the week ending 25 December, the country’s health officials say.
According to more data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant now accounts for 41.1 per cent of all US coronavirus cases.
Today’s Covid update from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA):
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:55 , Emily Atkinson
The #COVID19 Dashboard has been updated: https://t.co/XhspoyTG79
On 28 December 129,471 new cases and 18 deaths in 28 days of a positive test were reported in England and Wales.
Our data includes the number of people receiving a first, second and booster dose of the #vaccine pic.twitter.com/1rRyfzsfZt
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) December 28, 2021
UK Covid cases rise by record 129,471 in 24 hours as Omicron spreads
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:41 , Emily Atkinson
Covid-19 cases have soared by their highest number since the start of the pandemic as the omicron variant continues to spread throughout the UK.
The latest figures released by the government on Tuesday afternoon show 129,471 new cases, a new daily record.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone reports:
UK reports record-breaking Covid-19 case numbers
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:32 , Emily Atkinson
The government has reported a further 129,471 Covid-19 cases today - setting a new single-day record amid the spread of the new Omicron variant.
Tuesday’s figures bring the seven-day total to 802,137, representing an increase of 30.3 per cent on the previous week.
Dozens of Brits denied entry to Austria over new Covid rules
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:26 , Emily Atkinson
The new measures, which came into effect on Christmas Day, required people travelling from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway to provide a negative PCR test within 48 hours of their arrival.
Previously, a PCR test had to be taken within 72 hours. The country now also requires people to have had three Covid vaccinations as part of efforts to combat the surge in Omicron cases.
Greece reports record-breaking Covid case numbers
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:15 , Emily Atkinson
Greece reported 21,657 positive Covid-19 cases on Tuesday - their highest number in a single day since the pandemic began.
The country had reported 9,284 cases on Monday, meaning today’s figures weigh in at more than double the level of the day before, Reuters say.
“Omicron prevails, so we should be prepared and this should not cause panic,” Greek health minister Thanos Plevris told state TV ERT.
Postponements mount as Covid disrupts midweek football action
Tuesday 28 December 2021 17:05 , Emily Atkinson
The number of matches postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks continues to mount with 18 of Wednesday’s fixtures in England now called off.
The full story is available here:
England records highest number of Covid hospitalisations since 11 February
Tuesday 28 December 2021 16:55 , Emily Atkinson
NHS England has reported a further 1,374 hospital admissions today, the highest number in the country since 11 February.
This represents an increase of 48 per cent week-on-week.
During the second wave of the pandemic in England, admissions peaked at 4,134 on 12 January.
The number of Covid-19 admissions includes people admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours who were known to have the virus, plus any patients diagnosed in hospital with coronavirus in the previous 24 hours.
Bangladesh begins Covid booster drive amid Omicron fears
Tuesday 28 December 2021 16:45 , Emily Atkinson
Tuesday has seen Bangladesh begin the roll-out of booster vaccinations across the country in a bid to ward off a surge of infection charged by the emergence of the Omicron variant.
According to Reuters, health workers detected two cases of the new variant in cricketers who returned home from Zimbabwe this month.
The booster jabs are being given to frontline workers and people over-60 who have had their second dose within the past 6 months.
The booster drive started in the capital, Dhaka, while the government aims to start administering vaccines outside the capital soon, health officials say.