LONDON – Omicron is “the greatest threat” to public health in the UK, authorities warned on Wednesday, as the World Health Organization warned the highly contagious variant of Covid-19 was spreading to a unprecedented pace.
The number of Covid-19 infections over the next few days will be “quite staggering” compared to previous variants, said Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency.
Hours after his warning, government data showed 78,610 new cases had been recorded in the UK as of 9 a.m. local (5 a.m. ET) Wednesday morning – the highest daily number of laboratory-confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
Despite the advice of national and international experts, there has been growing resistance to the UK government’s new Covid-19 measures, especially from members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.
New regulations intended to help slow the spread of omicron, including masks in public places and the use of Covid-19 passes for certain locations, were passed in Parliament on Tuesday evening. However, dozens of conservative lawmakers have refused to support the new measures.
Some called the new measures too severe and questioned the introduction of a vaccination certificate or proof of a negative Covid test to enter certain sites.
“We are not a ‘papers please’ society. This is not Nazi Germany, ”Conservative lawmaker Marcus Fysh told BBC radio on Monday.
The comment sparked a backlash both in parliament and on social media, where the term Nazi Germany was in buzz, and Fysh later apologized for the comparison in an article he wrote for the London-based Jewish newspaper. Chronicle.
The rapid spread of Omicron
Just over two weeks after the first cases were detected in the UK, omicron is now the dominant variant in London, according to the city’s public health chief Kevin Fenton. said in a tweet Tuesday.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 170,000 people have died in the UK with Covid-19, one of the highest death rates in Europe. However, it was the first country to deploy a clinically approved Covid vaccine, and more than 68% of the population has been fully vaccinated. That’s ahead of the United States, where just over 60% have been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
The rapid spread of Omicron in Britain, with cases doubling in less than two days in most areas, came as the WHO chief warned that measures including masks, social distancing and ventilation, were needed alongside vaccines.
“Omicron is spreading at a rate that we haven’t seen with any previous variant,” CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Tuesday. Twitter. “I must be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis. “
In the United States, the increase in cases and fears that omicron could trigger a new wave of infections have led California to re-impose its indoor mask mandate for at least a month.
Europe, meanwhile, faces a “double challenge”, with a high number of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the delta variant, as well as the spread of omicron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament. By mid-January, omicron is expected to be the dominant variant in Europe, she said.
More than 5,300 cases of omicron have been recorded in the UK, with 10 people hospitalized. One person died after contracting the variant.
Johnson, who warned on Sunday that “there was an omicron tidal wave coming,” stepped up the country’s recall program, saying he wanted to offer all residents 18 and over a third dose by the end of the month.
His request for recalls led to long queues at walk-in vaccination centers, with people posting on social media that vaccines had run out before their turn arrived. The health service, which provides UK residents with free Covid-19 rapid test kits, has faced shortages on its website since Johnson’s televised address on Sunday.
The UK administered more than 513,000 booster shots on Monday, its third highest rate since October.
The push for third doses also came as the first real-world study of the variant in South Africa showed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offered reduced protection against omicron. However, the variant also appears to cause less severe illness in South Africa, where it was first discovered last month.
The analysis, released Tuesday by South Africa’s largest healthcare administrator, found that on average 29% fewer people were admitted to a hospital than before with the delta variant. However, the study also found that two Pfizer jabs offered 70% protection against hospitalization due to the new variant, compared to 90% for the delta wave.