Britain is being hit by “two epidemics on top of each other” and big rise in hospitalisations is “a nailed-on prospect”, Chris Whitty has warned as the UK recorded its largest number of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Amid surging Omicron cases, the chief medical officer advised the public to ensure they could spend Christmas with friends and family by “de-prioritising” other social contact – suggesting this may include work parties.
It came as 78,610 new Covid infections were reported on Wednesday – the highest since 8 January this year. Whitty admitted that “records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up”.
Explaining how two variants were combining to cause the rapid rise in cases, Whitty said the number of new Delta cases remained high and flat, while “rapidly growing Omicron” numbers were causing the overall number to grow.
Booster vaccines are being rolled out at a faster pace, with 656,000 people receiving their third jab on Wednesday, up by 143,000 from the previous day, and Boris Johnson said people should get fully inoculated as soon as possible, to give Omicron “both barrels”.
From Monday, children aged 12 to 15 will be able to book their second vaccine, and Johnson urged them to do so before schools return after the Christmas break.
Johnson said the NHS was “in a race against time to get those jabs in arms” and urged people to get tested if going to meet an elderly or vulnerable relative. He added that while hospitalisations were rising, the numbers were falling among vulnerable age groups who were more likely to have had their booster.
The return of shielding was cautioned against by Whitty, who said it came with some “very serious downsides” – such as loneliness and mental health issues. Johnson dismissed suggestions further restrictions were needed, insisting: “This is the right approach to take.”
But Whitty said it seemed “very sensible” for people to prioritise “social interactions that really matter to them” in the run-up to Christmas. He also “strongly encouraged” people to take extra precautions and meet vulnerable people outdoors, if possible.