Covid: UK ‘incomparably better placed’ this new year – PM
The UK is in an “incomparably better” position now than this time last year but New Year’s Eve revellers should remain cautious, the PM has said.
In a year-end message, Boris Johnson hailed the “heroic” vaccination effort, adding that all adults in England had now been offered a booster jab.
But he warned of the “challenges” of Omicron and rising hospital admissions.
The PM urged people who go out later to take a Covid test first and “remember the importance of ventilation”.
It comes as UK daily Covid cases reached another record high of 189,213 on Thursday.
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“Cases of Omicron are rising rapidly… Health leaders are worried about the level of illness and demand that their staff across the NHS could have to respond to in January and so, it is vital that everyone who is eligible takes up the offer of a jab or booster shot.”
New Year’s Eve celebrations are set to be scaled back across much of the country.
Mr Johnson resisted calls to impose new regulations in England in the run-up to Christmas in response to the more infectious Omicron variant. But a number of events have been cancelled, including the traditional Trafalgar Square party and fireworks in London.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland tighter rules are now in place for pubs, bars and restaurants and there are restrictions on the number of people who can gather.
Speaking in a message that will be posted on social media later, Mr Johnson said “incredible” numbers of people had responded to the call to get vaccinated.
He added: “It’s precisely because of that huge national effort that we can celebrate tonight at all. Though I must of course urge everyone to be cautious and to take a test if you are going out and to remember the importance of ventilation. Follow the rules if you are in Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it had met the goal set by the prime minister on 12 December to ensure all eligible adults in England had been offered a Covid booster by 31 December. The target was brought forward by a month in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
It is understood the achievement has also been reached in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although in Wales the target has not officially been confirmed because of the way appointments are scheduled.
The Department of Health also announced that over 90% of the UK population aged 12 and over have now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
In his new year message, Mr Johnson will also urge people who are not fully vaccinated to “look at the people going into hospital now, that could be you” and “make it your new year’s resolution” to make an appointment.
The prime minister will add that seven in 10 eligible adults in England have now received their booster jabs, and an extra eight million vaccines have been delivered since the target to offer all eligible over-18s a booster was bought forward.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid thanked the public, NHS staff, volunteers and the armed forces “who have made it possible for us to meet the booster target”.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested the prime minister had “shifted the goalposts on what he actually promised to deliver” in the rollout, but added “this should not detract one bit from the fact that the NHS has pulled off an unprecedented number of vaccinations in recent weeks”.
UK’s latest daily Covid figures
- Cases: 189,213 (weekly total up 45.1%)
- Deaths: 332 (weekly total down 10.6%)
- People in hospital: 11,898
- Boosters and third doses: 435,293
Source: UK government (cases and deaths reported on 30 December, hospital and vaccination figures for 29 December)
More than 33.5 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, including 1.8 million in the past seven days.
The NHS Confederation, which represents health and care leaders, said it was “encouraging” to see so many people coming forward for a booster jab, but it had heard from some vaccination centres that as many of 40% of booked appointments were resulting in no-shows.
This could be because people had gone to walk-in centres instead, or contracted Covid and could not attend.
NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor added: “Cases of Omicron are rising rapidly… Health leaders are worried about the level of illness and demand that their staff across the NHS could have to respond to in January and so, it is vital that everyone who is eligible takes up the offer of a jab or booster shot.”
It comes as the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing unions called for NHS staff to be given priority for accessing lateral flow Covid-19 tests amid concerns supply problems were leading to staffing issues.
A further 332 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were also recorded in the UK on Thursday – the highest figure since 2 March. But the number of deaths includes a backlog of hospital deaths reported overnight by NHS England covering the period from 24 to 29 December.