Cut back on Christmas plans, warns England’s chief medical officer

  • Omicron surge urges audience not to mix
  • Sharp increase in hospitalizations expected
  • PM rules out further restrictions for now

LONDON, Dec 15 (Reuters) – England’s chief medical officer has warned people not to mingle with others unless they have to in the run up to Christmas after Britain’s Brittany has recorded its most daily cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

With a new, highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus sweeping across Britain, a further 78,610 COVID-19 infections were reported on Wednesday, around 10,000 more than the previous record high reported in January.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Britain was being hit by ‘two outbreaks on top of each other’ as he urged the public to scale back their Christmas plans.

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“People should prioritize those things, and only those things that really matter to them,” he told a news conference. “Don’t mingle with people you don’t have to.”

Whitty warned that the number of daily cases will continue to break records over the coming weeks and that a sharp rise in hospitalizations is “a nailed down prospect”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with a “general instinct to be more cautious” but ruled out further government restrictions for now.

“We’re not canceling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not canceling people’s parties or their ability to mingle,” he said.

More than 11 million people have now tested positive for the disease in the UK, which has a total population of around 67 million.

While the number of daily cases is at an all-time high, deaths are at a much lower level than at the start of the pandemic. The government hopes that a rapid rollout of recalls will help keep levels of serious illness low even as cases rise.

People line up at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in London, Britain December 15, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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THREAT TO THE HEALTH SERVICE

Jenny Harries, chief executive of Britain’s Health Security Agency, has previously called the Omicron variant “probably the biggest threat” since the start of the pandemic.

“The numbers we’ll see on the data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the growth rate we’ve seen in the cases of the previous variants,” she told a parliamentary committee.

Harries said Omicron had the potential to put the National Health Service in “serious jeopardy” due to the rate at which infections were increasing.

Amanda Pritchard, head of the National Health Service in England, told lawmakers the health service was now preparing for a wave of hospitalizations “as large or even larger than the previous wave at this time last year”.

She said the record tally “should all be of concern”.

The new variant of the virus has a doubling time of less than two days in most parts of Britain, with its growth rate being notable in London and Manchester in particular.

More than 10,000 cases of Omicron have been recorded, with at least 10 people hospitalized. One person has died after contracting the variant, which is expected to become the dominant strain in London.

More than 146,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the UK.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; edited by Michael Holden and Giles Elgood

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.