Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that Britain is facing a “tidal wave” of infections from the omicron coronavirus variant, and he announced a massive increase in booster vaccinations to fortify defences.
In a televised statement, Boris Johnson stated that everyone over the age of 18 will be offered a third dose of vaccine by the end of this month in response to the “emergency” of omicron. The previous deadline was at the end of January.
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In Britain, he said, cases of the highly transmissible variant are doubling every two to three days, and “a tidal wave of omicron is coming.”
”And I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need. But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up,” Johnson said.
He announced a “national mission” to deliver booster vaccines, with pop-up vaccination centers open seven days a week and extra help from military planners and thousands of volunteer vaccinators.
Johnson’s deadline of December 31 applies to England. Other parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, are expected to speed up their vaccination campaigns as well.
According to the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency, existing vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing symptomatic infections in people exposed to omicron, though preliminary data show that effectiveness appears to increase to between 70% and 75% after a third vaccine dose.
In the United Kingdom, more than 80% of people aged 12 and up have received two doses of vaccine, and 40% of adults have received three doses. Giving the rest a boost in the next three weeks will be a huge undertaking, requiring nearly 1 million doses to be delivered per day.
Boris Johnson admitted that many routine medical procedures would have to be postponed in order to meet the target.
Johnson’s announcement came just hours after the government raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level, warning that the omicron variant’s rapid spread had pushed the United Kingdom into dangerous territory.
The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland said the new strain of the highly transmissible COVID-19 “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services” at a time when COVID-19 is already widespread.
On a 5-point scale, they recommended increasing the alert level from 3 to 4. The highest level, 5, indicates that authorities believe the health-care system is about to collapse.
Early evidence suggests that omicron is spreading much faster than the currently dominant delta variant, and that vaccines provide less protection against it. According to British officials, omicron will likely replace delta as the dominant strain in the United Kingdom within days.
They said, “Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalizations from omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly,”
Concerns about the new variant prompted Johnson’s Conservative government to reinstate restrictions that had been lifted nearly six months before. COVID-compliant masks must be worn in most indoor settings. To enter nightclubs, 19 certificates must be presented, and people are encouraged to work from home if possible.
Many scientists, however, believe that is unlikely to be enough and are calling for tougher measures, which the government has so far resisted. Scientists in South Africa, where omicron was discovered, believe it may cause less severe disease than delta, but caution that it is too early to tell.