Wales extends school day by one hour
Omicron may pose higher reinfection risk but could be milder than Delta: WHO chief
Reading their phone halfway down a wintry Whitehall early on Wednesday morning, a breathless cabinet minister was agog at the leaked news that the prime minister was about to introduce plan B measures. “It’s just one fucking thing after another, isn’t it?”
By the time plans got to a virtual cabinet signoff on Wednesday afternoon, the response was muted and routine. During the Covid-O meeting that preceded it, Boris Johnson agreed to temper the measures slightly, including adding the option of a rapid negative test to Covid passports – the measure that had been the main focus of opposition.
But though a tense agreement was finally reached, the private mood in SW1 among MPs and cabinet ministers in the run-up to the prime minister’s hastily arranged press conference was nothing short of mutinous.
Many told the Guardian that Johnson’s personal character and authority were now on the line – with no excuses made for bad advice.
Sajid Javid, once seen as the bright hope of anti-lockdown MPs, rose to give his evening statement in the Commons to a shout of “resign” by MP William Wragg. “What a load of old tripe,” another yelled as Javid said the decision was not taken lightly.
UK Omicron cases could exceed 1 million by month-end – Sajid Javid
Omicron cases could exceed 1 million by the end of this month on the current trajectory, Sajid Javid has told MPs, describing the new variant as “an even more formidable foe”.
In a statement delivered to the House of Commons, the UK health secretary said that there were 568 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant but that the estimated current number is “probably closer to 10,000”.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, he said: “The UK health security agency (UKHSA) estimates that the number of infections is approximately 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, and so the current number of infections is probably closer to 10,000.
“UKHSA also estimate that at the current observed doubling rate of between two and a half and three days, by the end of this month, infections could exceed 1 million.”
Javid said there was now confidence that Omicron is “far more transmissible” than Delta, but he said there was still a lot to learn about the new variant. He said Delta cases had doubled in around seven days, and that Omicron was spreading at an even faster rate.
“Based on the latest data from here and around the world, our latest analysis is that it’s been around, it’s between 2.5 and three days.”
The statement followed scientific advice to ministers on Tuesday that provided a stark outline of the potential consequences of failing to take action to suppress the spread of the virus.
Summary of the latest news
Below is a snapshot of the latest Coronavirus stories from around the world:
- In the UK, Boris Johnson has announced a move to further restrictions saying Omicron is spreading faster than Delta and that the known cases are almost certainly an underestimate. Johnson said: “It’s now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to plan B.” From Monday, people are advised to work from home if they can.
- Denmark will again impose restrictions aimed at curbing the rapid spread of Covid including the new Omicron variant, the country’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
- France has reported 93,071 Coronavirus deaths in hospital, up by 129. It reported that 2,426 people were in intensive care units for Covid, up by 75 on the previous day’s figures.
- Governments should urgently reassess their national responses to Covid-19 and accelerate their vaccination programmes to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
- The World Health Organsation’s chief scientist said it was too soon to say whether a reduction in neutralising antibodies found in Pfizer’s vaccine against the Omicron variant meant the jab was less effective.
- Slovakia will on Friday reopen non-essential shops and some services for those vaccinated against Covid-19 while at the same time extending a lockdown for others and closing some schools, health minister Vladimir Lengvarsky said.
- South Africa has approved Pfizer’s coronavirus booster shots for over-18s, as the Omicron variant dominates rising new infections.The South African Health Products Authority said in a statement that it was authorising a third vaccine dose “in individuals aged 18 years and older, to be administered at least six months after the second dose”.
- Italy has reported 17,959 Coronavirus cases, up from 15,756 on Tuesday.Elsewhere, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia continue to see an increase in cases, while Ecuador, Chile and Argentina saw a drop.
- UK figures show 51,342 new people had a confirmed positive test result reported on 8 December 2021.Between 2 and 8 December, 339,861 people had a confirmed positive test result, an increase of 11.3% compared to the previous week.
- BioNTech and Pfizer said on Wednesday a three-shot course of their Covid-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test and they could deliver an Omicron-based vaccine in March 2022 if needed.
• This post was amended on 9 December 2021 to clarify the guidance on working from home.
Further restrictions announced for UK