Boris Johnson has declined to rule out bringing in tougher Covid restrictions before Christmas as he revealed that at least one patient in the UK has died with the omicron variant.
Answering questions at a vaccination centre on Monday morning, the Prime Minister said omicron could make up the majority of new Covid cases in London by Tuesday.
He urged people to “set aside” the possibility that omicron could be a milder form of Covid than the delta variant, stressing that the “sheer pace” at which it was spreading was critical.
The comments came after Mr Johnson accelerated the speed of the booster jab rollout on Sunday, saying he wanted all adults in England to get the chance to have a top-up dose this month.
However, there was confusion on Monday morning over whether he meant jabs would have to be administered by Jan 1 or simply scheduled by the year’s end.
The NHS booking centre for arranging a third jab crashed on Sunday night, moments after Mr Johnson had made a televised address urging all adults in England to get a booster jab.
There were also problems online on Monday morning with ordering lateral flow tests – the Covid tests the Government provides free for people to check if they are infected. Mr Johnson stressed a “ready supply” of lateral flow tests was available.
The votes in Parliament on Tuesday include widening the face mask mandate and bringing in Covid passports – which show proof of jabs or a negative test – for entry to venues with large crowds.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination clinic near Paddington, west London, Mr Johnson said: “Sadly, yes, omicron is producing hospitalisations, and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with omicron.
“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.”
He said omicron now represents about 40 per cent of new virus cases in London and “tomorrow it’ll be the majority of the cases” in the capital.
Mr Johnson was asked a number of times to rule out tougher new Covid rules in England before Christmas, which is less than a fortnight away.
He stressed he hoped the “Plan B” restrictions and a major increase in the booster campaign would be enough, but did not explicitly rule out such a move.
Asked about the 75 Tory MPs who have publicly indicated they could vote against parts of the restrictions on Tuesday, he said: “I think that what everybody needs to recognise is a couple of things – that omicron is a very serious risk to public health, and that it’s spreading very fast, and I think there’s no room for complacency.
“But we have the vaccines, our position remains incomparably better than it was last year. And I hope that people will also understand – colleagues in Westminster, around the country – will also see that the measures we’re putting in place are balanced and proportionate.”
Mr Johnson also appeared to confirm that Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant who is investigating Christmas parties in Downing Street last year, will look at a virtual quiz in which the Prime Minister took part according to a leaked image published by the Sunday Mirror.
But he rejected the suggestion that the quiz broke the Covid rules at the time, saying: “I certainly broke no rules. The whole thing will be looked into.”