Boris Johnson announcement: PM tells Brits 'carry on' but Chris Whitty says 'prioritise' socialising amid Omicron surge

TOWNS and cities across the UK fell silent this morning as the threat of Omicron saw thousands of Brits work from home after the PM issued a stark warning.

This morning, roads London were at their quietest during rush hour since the summer today – with cities deserted and pubs & lunch spots empty.

According to data from TomTom, congestion between 8am and 9am in Londontoday was 49 per cent – the lowest figure for that period since the end of the summer holidays on September 3, excluding October half-term.

It comes after Professor Chris Whitty called for limits on meeting friends last night despite the prime minister insisting festive plans should not be cancelled over Omicron. 

He advised the public to 'prioritise' Christmas socialising during Wednesday's Downing Street press conference.

Read our Covid-19 live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Milica Cosic

    PM ‘won’t hesitate’ to impose MORE Covid restrictions

    BORIS Johnson "won't hesitate to act" if more Covid restrictions are needed before Christmas, a minister said today.

    Health minister Gillian Keegan insisted the Government is "not intending" to bring in new curbs before December 25.

    But she admitted the severity of measures is "always kept under review" and they could be cranked up if required.

    And she added we could be "through the other side" of the Omicron crisis "quite quickly" when protection from third shot kicks in.

    She said: "We're not intending to make any more restrictions. But of course the PM said if we need to act, he won't hesitate to act

    "And if that means recalling Parliament then that's what we have to do."

    "Obviously things are always kept under review but there isn't a plan to have a Plan C or bring in further restrictions."

    Read the article in full here.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Covid Q&A

    WHAT’S happening to daily cases and what is the true number?

    Case numbers are rising fast but may still only show part of the picture.

    Yesterday saw a record 88,376 infections but the true number could be much higher as only half of those who catch the virus get tested. 

    IS Omicron milder? If so, why are hospitals at risk?

    Scientists still do not know. South Africa’s data suggests the risk of hospital admission is up to 29 per cent lower but the country has a younger population and most of them have had Covid before.

    Even if infections are less deadly, hospitals are still at risk as the variant spreads so fast.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Cities fell silent as Brits went into hiding

    Yesterday there were signs Brits had declared a self-lockdown as towns and cities fell silent. 

    Millions worked from home, roads were empty and public transport passenger numbers massively down.

    But some are determined to party on while they can. Brits could sink ten million pints for tonight’s “Black Eye Friday” — the last big night out before Christmas.

    Oil rig worker Greg Wilson, 50, of Norfolk, said: “All I’d say to Mr Whitty is, he should try having Christmas with my family.

    “I’d feel a lot happier and safer in the pub with my mates.”

  • Joseph Gamp

    Covid Q&A (continued…)

    WHAT is actually happening with hospital admissions?

    Only 20 admissions are confirmed or suspected to be Omicron — but the true number is higher. Many patients are still waiting for variant checks and hospital admissions lag about two weeks behind cases, meaning numbers will soon climb fast.

    In Omicron hot spot London, daily admissions have doubled in a fortnight to 200.

    Across England, hospital numbers are only creeping up but NHS bosses fear they will start to follow London within days.

    There are no known Omicron cases in intensive care yet.

    WHY won’t the NHS be able to cope? Isn’t it prepared?

    Hospitals have the flexibility to cope with Covid surges but they have to stop other work if numbers get too high — and a big outbreak will see staff getting sick

  • Joseph Gamp

    Brits grim choice of parties in pub or spending Christmas day with family

    Last night’s Premier League game between Leicester and Spurs was postponed along with five more over the weekend.

    A new high of 88,376 daily infections was recorded yesterday — but the Government said it will hit its target of a million booster jabs a day by the weekend.

    The PM insisted there are no plans for further restrictions before the holiday — despite the Omicron wave.

    Yet on Wednesday gloomy Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty called for limits on meeting friends. 

    The mixed message appears to put the PM at odds with his leading experts. And it means millions have to weigh up a pint with pals — or Christmas at home with the in-laws in eight days’ time. 

  • Joseph Gamp

    Rishi Sunak cuts short California trip

    Rishi Sunak is cutting short a trip to the United States for crisis talks with business chiefs as the spread of Omicron and health warnings wreaked havoc on hard-hit pubs and restaurants.

    The Chancellor has been criticised for going on the trip as the coronavirus variant's spread led to a wave of cancelled bookings and falling takings across the hospitality sector.

    UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls and pub chiefs have made a plea for business rates relief and VAT discounts to be extended, warning that the sector has been knocked harder than expected by the new restrictions.

    Ms Nicholls said hospitality sales have already plunged by more than a third over the past 10 days with £2 billion of trade already lost in December.

    It comes as the CBI also urged the Government to provide support "in lockstep with future restrictions".

    Mr Sunak and the Treasury team spoke to both organisations – as well as hospitality firms including Prezzo, Nando's, Whitbread, Greene King, Black Sheep Brewery and Adnams – on Thursday.

    Speaking to broadcasters from the United States, Mr Sunak insisted the Government was "not telling people to cancel things" and was "not closing down businesses".

    But he said: "I appreciate that it is a difficult time for the hospitality industry, that's why I was on the phone earlier today with various industry leaders from the hospitality space."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Three quarters of London cases due to Omicron

    UK Health Security Agency analysis suggests three-quarters of cases in London are now due to Omicron.

    And the doubling-time for cases of the variant in the capital is just a day-and-a-half.

    Overall, the super-infectious bug is now responsible for around four in ten people testing positive in the UK.

  • Joseph Gamp

    PM faces backlash over warning to reduce socialising over Christmas

    Boris Johnson faced anger from Tory MPs and business chiefs about his chief medical adviser's warning to reduce socialising as more than 88,000 Covid-19 cases were recorded – the highest seen in the pandemic.

    The Prime Minister rejected claims he was imposing a "lockdown by stealth" but he urged people to be "cautious" about their activities over Christmas.

    Chancellor Rishi Sunak is cutting short a trip to the United States to hold talks with business chiefs in response to fears the Omicron wave could have a devastating impact on pubs and restaurants over the festive period.

    The moves came as the governments in Scotland and Wales considered putting in place tougher restrictions than are currently in place in order to limit the spread of Omicron.

    Mr Johnson said England's "balanced and proportionate" Plan B had "sensible restrictions", coupled with the escalation of the booster jab campaign.

    "We're not closing things, but what we are saying is people should be cautious, and they should think about their activities in the run-up to Christmas," he said.

    "Nobody wants to get Omicron and be unwell and be forced to isolate. But the fastest route back to normality is for everybody to get boosted now."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Shepherd Neame pubs thrown into ‘zombie world’

    Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame which runs hundreds of pubs and hotels, said they had been thrown into a “zombie world”.

    He told Times Radio: “Christmas is key every year. Of course, we missed it last year. It is the golden period.

    “The acute problem is that if you miss Christmas, and we’re in the zombie world where we’ve been desperately trying to hang on to stuff and want to hang on to stuff, then what could be very profitable could quickly run into a significant loss.”

  • Joseph Gamp

    Explained: Can I travel to France?

    Brits who have had both jabs can now visit the country without having to quarantine or having a “compelling reason” to visit.

    All arrivals will have to provide a negative Covid test less than 24 hours old and isolate for at least two days.

    Confirmed Omicron cases are currently much higher in the UK than in France.

    French citizens, their partners and children, legal residents, and EU citizens travelling home through France, won’t need an essential reason to travel – but must still abide by all other rules.

    UK travellers who have only had one jab, or no jabs, are still banned from entering France unless for an essential reason.

    France lifted most of their lockdown measures on July 1, with very few restrictions on travelling around the country.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Doom & gloom

    In the most downbeat assessment since lockdown was lifted earlier this year:

    • PROF Whitty said there would be a dramatic hike in hospital admissions shortly after Christmas and the worst is still to come;
    • THE PM insisted he was sticking with Plan B for now, saying it is the right thing to do, and;
    • MINISTERS refused to say that schools would reopen in January despite previously promising to battle to keep them open.

    Belfast's Titanic centre to be transformed into mass vaccination hub

    The Titanic Exhibition Centre in east Belfast is set to be transformed into Northern Ireland's latest mass Covid-19 vaccination centre by next week.

    Health chiefs are hoping that 4,000 vaccines a day will be delivered at the site.

    It will offer the booster jab as well as first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

    Tanya Daly, clinical lead of the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said the facility would be open to residents from across Northern Ireland.

    "It is a mammoth task, we're sitting with an empty building at the minute and we're hoping to open as soon as possible," she said.

    "There are a lot of logistics around it, we need to get the equipment in, we need to get our pharmacy stations sorted and we have our rosters already open for our staff. We will open as soon as we can early next week."

    Ms Daly explained that they would be able to get a larger number of people through the centre than they could at a hospital site.

    "We also have excellent car parking here, we've got good public transport links, so that's the benefits of being on a larger site – more people in a better location," she said.

    Treasury minister insists he will take team out for lunch

    A Treasury minister insisted he will take his team out for lunch on Monday.

    Conservative frontbencher John Glen told MPs: "I think the advice is clear. One should get boosted as quickly as possible, as I did on Saturday.

    "Take the lateral flow tests and act responsibly, and I should be taking my team out in Salisbury on Monday for lunch."

    The news came as business leaders expressed concerns over calls for people to consider limiting their social contacts around Christmas.

    Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting urged the Government to "hammer out a deal to help hospitality", while health minister Gillian Keegan insisted there are still measures in place to help businesses through the pandemic.

    Zahawi: Heads should encourage ex-teachers to help with Covid-19 staff shortages

    Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called on school leaders to encourage ex-teachers "to sign up" to help with Covid-19 staff shortages.

    The minister said the Government was looking at what measures to put in place "to boost supply capacity", adding that Department for Education (DfE) senior officials have begun discussing plans with key stakeholders.

    It comes amid reports that some schools are experiencing "very severe low attendance" among teachers and pupils ahead of the Christmas break.

    Headteachers' unions have warned of possible disruption to in-person lessons in the new year if the Omicron variant leads to even higher staff absences.

    In an email to school and college leaders ahead of the Christmas holidays, Mr Zahawi said: "We know that in areas with high absence a particular issue can be the availability of supply staff. We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges."

    Covid cases hit new record HIGH as 88k infected in 24 hours

    CASES of Covid-19 have reached their highest daily total for a second day in a row today.

    A total of 88,376 new infections were reported today a 12.4 per cent increase from yesterdays rate of 78,610.

    Omicron cases have also increased by 16 per cent today with a further 1,691 cases being reported.

    The rise in infections today comes as England's top doctor revealed that Omicron's R rate could be as high as 5 in some parts of the UK.

    In order to curb infections and save Christmas, Brits have been urged to come forward and get their booster jabs either by booking on the NHS portal or by going to a walk-in centres.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Downing Street: 'Likely' PM's audience with Queen to go virtual

      Downing Street said it was likely the Prime Minister's audiences with the Queen would move to being virtual.

      Asked whether Boris Johnson would continue to meet the Queen in person, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "That will be a matter for the royal family.

      "I'm not aware of them not being… I think they will probably be moved virtually but that'll be a matter for the palace."

    • Joseph Gamp

      What are current travel restrictions to go from UK to France?

      The traffic light system of countries with differing requirements to enter the UK depending on their coronavirus severity was scrapped in October in favour of a simpler categorisation of just red list and non-red list.

      But there are currently no red list countries as of December 2021.

      To enter the UK from France, you must show evidence of being double vaccinated and fill a passenger locator form, take a Covid test before you travel and book a PCR for your arrival.

      If you are unvaccinated, you must do the same but your pre-travel Covid test must be two days before, and you must book a Covid PCR for days 2 and 8 after you arrive.

      If you test positive after you arrive you must isolate for 10 days.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Explained: Can I travel to France?

      Brits who have had both jabs can now visit the country without having to quarantine or having a "compelling reason" to visit.

      All arrivals will have to provide a negative Covid test less than 24 hours old and isolate for at least two days.

      Confirmed Omicron cases are currently much higher in the UK than in France.

      French citizens, their partners and children, legal residents, and EU citizens travelling home through France, won't need an essential reason to travel – but must still abide by all other rules.

      UK travellers who have only had one jab, or no jabs, are still banned from entering France unless for an essential reason.

      France lifted most of their lockdown measures on July 1, with very few restrictions on travelling around the country.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Whitty: 'Don't mix with people you don't have to'

      However, Prof Whitty has told people to consider cutting back socialising around Christmas due to the threat from the Omicron variant.

      Prof Whitty told the public “don’t mix with people you don’t have to” at events that are not among the most important to them.

      “I really think people should be prioritising those things – and only those things – that really matter to them,” he told a Downing Street press conference.

      “Because otherwise the risk of someone getting infected at something that doesn’t really matter to them and then not being able to do the things that matter to them obviously goes up.”

    • Joseph Gamp

      Scientists piling pressure on PM to impose 10-day circuit breaker

      Earlier, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief executive Dr Jenny Harries warned the strain is “probably the most significant threat” since the start of the pandemic.

      With Christmas just over a week away, some scientists are trying teo bounce Boris Johnson into imposing a 10-day circuit breaker lockdown to halt the spread of Omicron.

      Independent Sage, a panel of experts outside the government's official advisory body, is demanding pubs and restaurants close for inside service.

      The group also wants to ban indoor mixing and let parents take kids out of schools without fear of being fined.

      Mr Johnson has refrained from telling people to stop enjoying their festivities, saying “we're not closing hospitality, we're not cancelling people's parties or their ability to mix”.

      He said people should instead “be careful before they go” – meaning to take a lateral flow test at home.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Tory MP calls for support from Treasury for hospitality sector

      Tory MP Steve Baker said that while Mr Johnson wasn't closing pubs "formally" the grim warnings had left hospitality fighting to stay open amid a deluge of cancellations.

      Bosses fear the harsh instruction to cut back on mixing will take a sledge-hammer to profits in the crucial festive period as people shun pubs and restaurants.

      Rishi Sunak – currently away in California – is under enormous pressure to offer urgent financial support to stop firms being forced to shut.

      Tory MP Anne Marie Morris said: "If we're effectively telling people not to visit hospitality venues this Christmas, then this needs to be accompanied by immediate sector specific financial support from the Treasury."

    • Joseph Gamp

      What are the symptoms of Omicron?

      The ZOE app was, for the first time, able to reveal what the most common symptoms of Omicron were in those who reported having the strain.

      These were: 

      1. runny nose
      2. headache
      3. fatigue (either mild or severe)
      4. sneezing
      5. sore throat

      Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, said: “Omicron is set to be the dominant strain in the UK by Christmas, and in the New Year cases could hit a peak higher than anything we’ve ever seen before. 

      “In London cases have been rising rapidly, but this will likely slow down soon, as people change their behaviour, such as wearing face masks again, cancelling parties and working from home more. 

      “Hopefully people now recognise the cold-like symptoms which appear to be the predominant feature of Omicron.”

    • Joseph Gamp

      Boris Johnson denies imposing lockdown by stealth

      Boris Johnson has denied imposing a "lockdown by stealth" amid allegations that medical advisers are "running the show" on Covid policy.

      The Prime Minister urged people to be "cautious" about their activities during the festive period, but said the Government does not "want to make your choices for you about your social life".

      He made the comments during a visit to the Saga vaccination centre in Ramsgate, Kent, as England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty faced questions from the Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

      Meanwhile, it emerged that the Queen has cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family party next week.

      It is understood the decision was a precaution, with a Buckingham Palace source suggesting it could put too many people's Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Map reveals Omicron hotspots as Covid cases surge in 226 areas

      THESE maps reveal how prevalent Omicron is where you live, and the 226 areas where Covid case rates are increasing.

      The Omicron variant now makes up 34 per cent of cases across England and is driving a tidal wave of infections, with the highest ever Covid cases reported yesterday.

      Of the 377 local areas in the UK, 226 (60 per cent) have seen a week-on-week rise in rates, 149 (40 per cent) have seen a fall and two are unchanged.

      South Northamptonshire has the highest rate in the UK, with 917 new cases per 100,000 people per week.

      Reigate and Banstead in Surrey is second, with 891 case per 100,000, while Orkney Islands, Scotland, is at the bottom, with 103.

      But the five areas with the largest week-on-week rises are all in London, with Southwark top, seeing an increase from 463 to 818 per 100,000.

      The other areas are Lambeth, Hackney, Islington and Lewisham.

    • Joseph Gamp

      Queen ‘regretfully’ CANCELS Christmas party over Omicron fears

      THE Queen has cancelled her family Christmas party over Covid fears.

      Her Majesty said it was "with regret" the annual royal get-together would not be going ahead as planned – but that it was "the right thing to do" as the Omicron variant rages across the UK.

      The decision was described as "a precautionary one" as it was felt the festive lunch would "put too many people's Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead".

      Buckingham Palace declined to comment further as it is a "private family event".

      The monarch had been due to host The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, among 50 or so other members of the Royal Family, at Windsor Castle on Tuesday.

      There was due to be wine, crackers and a feast inside the castle – before the Queen set off for Sandringham, Norfolk, for the big day itself.

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