tonight dismissed the prospect of more Covid curbs as he warned people to brace for a stormy few weeks – but insisted the country can ‘ride out’ the wave.
At a press conference, the PM said that he would be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow that the ‘balanced’ Plan B restrictions stay unchanged.
He stressed that despite the going on a ‘war footing’ and daily cases hitting an eye-watering new high of 218,000, there should be no need to ‘shut down our country again’.
‘We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again,’ Mr Johnson said.He was backed by chief medic Chris Whitty, who confirmed that there is no sign of a ‘surge’ in mortality rates and said boosters offer 88 per cent protection against needing hospital treatment.
Although he said he could not ‘rule anything out’ completely and much will depend on how quickly Omicron peaks, the premier made clear he intends to rely on people to ‘implement Plan B carefully and to behave carefully with other people’.
However, Mr Johnson stopped short of making any changes to self-isolation rules that are threatening to bring core services to a standstill.
Today’s new infection number represents a 58 per cent rise compared to last week but includes several days of backlogged cases in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Hospitalisations also continued to rise today with England recording 1,819 on January 1, the latest date with data, marking a 42 per cent rise on the previous week.
But the statistics do not differentiate between patients that were admitted primarily for Covid and those who were admitted for a different illness and tested positive after admission. So-called ‘incidental’ admissions now make up about a third of all Covid inpatients, and fewer patients primarily sick with Covid are needing to be hooked up to ventilators.
Explaining his position, Mr Johnson said that anyone thinking the pandemic is over would be ‘profoundly wrong’ and it was a ‘moment for the utmost caution’.The NHS is doing an ‘amazing job’ under ‘huge pressure’, he said.
But he stressed the situation was different from earlier in the crisis in key respects, and it was possible to rely on booster jabs and the health service – including a ‘territorial army’ of retired medics and nurses – while keeping society running.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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 34million boosters administered, including in England reaching more than 90 per cent of the over 70s and 86 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.’
He said 100,000 essential workers in areas such as nuclear and air traffic control will get daily tests to try to catch cases early before they spread.
In other developments today:
- Mr Johnson said it is ‘absolutely crazy’ that people are not taking up booster appointments, amid claims two million are still available this week;
- The PM has rejected calls to cut the Covid isolation period again to five days, saying doing so could make the staffing crisis even worse;
- Hospital admissions for Covid in London fell for the first time since before Omicron took off, spurring hopes that the worst of the wave may have peaked;
- Britons shouldn’t be offered a fourth Covid jab until there is more evidence, according to the head of the country’s vaccine body, who warned dishing out vaccines every six months was ‘not sustainable’;
- Pre-return Covid international travel tests are expected to be scrapped tomorrow.
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