British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced new restrictions to tackle the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, even as he faces a political storm linked to a Christmas party held last year in Downing Street in violation of anti- Covid.
This new turn of the screw, which includes the return to teleworking and the introduction of the health passport in certain places, comes a year after the start of the mass vaccination against the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, one of the hardest hit with nearly 146,000 deaths and more than 45,000 daily contaminations.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that Omicron is spreading much faster than the previous Delta variant”, with 568 cases identified so far in the UK, and a real figure “certainly much higher”Boris Johnson said at a press conference.
Noting that the number of cases due to Omicron seemed to double every two to three days in the country, and without prejudging the severity of the symptoms caused by the variant, the leader stressed that “this exponential growth could lead to a sharp increase in hospitalizations and therefore, unfortunately, deaths”.
Go to “plan B”
“That’s why go to plan B” restrictions in England is “the proportionate and reasonable thing to do”, time to speed up the vaccine booster campaign, he added.. “It’s the best way to ensure that we all have the most normal Christmas possible”.
As of Monday, employees will have to work from home again “If it’s possible”.
The vaccination passport, contested by some members of the Conservative majority, is introduced for the first time in England. It was already in force in the other nations of the country, which each define their own response to the health crisis.
As of next Wednesday, it will therefore be necessary to show a negative test or to have received two doses of vaccine to go to a discotheque or to a large gathering place (all places with more than 10,000 people, and of lesser capacity when people are standing).
Vaccines “in a few weeks”
These measures were freshly received by companies, the professional organization CBI seeing in them a “important setback” in this busy holiday season. For British Chambers of Commerce, they may affect “the fragile recovery, orders and turnover”.
To curb Omicron, the United Kingdom had already reintroduced measures such as travel restrictions, to the chagrin of the sector, and the wearing of masks in shops and public transport. The latter will now also be compulsory in cinemas, theaters and places of worship – but not bars and restaurants.
At the same time, the vaccine booster campaign was accelerated, with the objective of administering a third dose to everyone over 18 years of age by the end of January. More than 81% of the population over the age of 12 has already received two doses of an anti-Covid vaccine, and 37% a third.
Health Minister Sajid Javid, speaking in parliament, vaccine makers could test “in a few weeks” vaccines targeting Omicron. Quoting a health agency, he said the actual number of cases was estimated at 10,000.
In order not to paralyze the economy, as was the case during the summer in the midst of the Delta variant outbreak, contact cases of a patient infected with Omicron will be able to do a daily antigen test rather than having to isolate themselves.
These measures, which will be reassessed in early January, come in the midst of a political storm.