In a pre-recorded address to the nation on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister started out by stating how “countless lives and livelihoods” have been saved as a result of the UK’s vaccinations rollout and booster campaign, made possible by the extraordinary efforts of the NHS staff and volunteer vaccinators.
However, the PM went further to state that “we are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omnicron, and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection.”
This comes after the UK’s four chief medical officers and the NHS England’s national medical director raised the COVID alert level to 4 from 3. It is now at the second-highest level. Their recommendation was based on the evidence that Omnicron is doubling every two to three days.
He continued by saying, “there is a tidal wave of Omnicron coming” and that “two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection that we all need.”
To those wondering whether a booter was necessary, the PM said, “We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa, and we have patients with Omicron, here in the UK right now. At this point, our scientists cannot say that that Omnicron is less severe.
“And even if that proved to be true, we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead, sadly, to very many deaths.
He continued by saying, “So we must act now. Today we are launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission, unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme, to get boosted now. A fortnight ago, I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January.
“Today, in light of this Omicron emergency, I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month. Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the new year.”
The UK government will provide additional support to the devolved administrations to accelerate vaccinations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
To achieve this new booster vaccination target, the NHS will have to administer a record number of jabs daily between now and 31 December.
He added that the decision to speed up the jab rate would mean some NHS appointments would need to be postponed until the new year, arguing that if we don’t do this now, the level of cancellations and disruptions would be “even greater” in the New Year if the Omicron wave was allowed to rise.
In a plea to NHS front line staff – GPs, doctors, nurses, porters and others – all of whom he said “had worked incredibly hard” throughout the pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you, and your colleagues, and above all, protect your patients from even greater pressures next year.”
From today, every adult over 18 in England who has had a second dose of a vaccine at least three months ago will be able to have their booster jab.
Announcing the booster vaccination target, the NHS booking system is expected to open for those under the age of 30 from Wednesday, but the Prime Minister said, “in some cases you can walk in from tomorrow”.
This health emergency mission will also see the government deploy 42 military planning teams deployed across every health region, extra vaccine sites and mobile units, extended clinic opening hours, and the training of thousands more volunteer vaccinators.
My Johnson had announced a move to Plan B on Wednesday with face-coverings required in most public settings, working-from-home if you can, and from Wednesday, subject to a parliamentary vote, a requirement to show a COVID Pass or negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) to enter into nightclubs and larger events.
Why has the alert level gone up?
A joint statement from the UK’s four chief medical officers, and NHS England director Professor Stephen Powis, said the change was “in light of the rapid increase in Omicron cases”.
The statement says: “Transmission of COVID-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services.”
It added that early evidence shows Omicron was “spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced”.
“Hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.”
The government unveiled the COVID-19 alert level system in May 2020, but it is separate and independent from any government decisions on easing or tightening restrictions.