LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that Britain faces a “tidal wave” of infections from the omicron coronavirus variant, and announced a huge increase in booster vaccinations to strengthen defenses against it.
In a televised statement, Johnson said everyone age 18 and older will be offered a third shot of vaccine by the end of this month in response to the omicron “emergency.” The previous target was the end of January.
He said cases of the highly transmissible variant are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and “there is a tidal wave of omicron coming.”
”And I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.”
He announced a “national mission” to deliver booster vaccines, with pop-up vaccination centers and seven-day-a-week getting extra support from teams of military planners and thousands of volunteer vaccinators.
Johnson’s Dec. 31 target applies to England. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are also expected to speed up their vaccination campaigns.
Although existing vaccines seem less effective in the prevention of symptomatic infection in those exposed to omicron in the United Kingdom, preliminary data suggest that they are more effective after three doses.
In Britain, more than 80 percent of children 12 and over have received at least two vaccine doses. 40% of adults in the country have received three. It will take almost one million doses per day to give the rest of the vaccine a boost over the next three week. Johnson admitted that routine medical procedures may have to be delayed in order to reach the goal.
Johnson’s announcement came hours after the government raised the country’s official coronavirusThreat level warning that the U.K. was at risk due to the rapid spread the omicron variant.
The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the 1of the highly transmissible new strain “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services” at a time when COVID-19 is already widespread. The alert level was raised from 3 to 4. Five is the most severe level of alert. This indicates that authorities believe the healthcare system may be in crisis.
Doctors stated that early evidence suggests that omicron spreads faster than delta and vaccines are less effective in protecting it. British officials believe that omicron will soon replace the dominant strain of delta in the U.K. within a matter of days.
“Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalizations from omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly,” they said.
Concerns about the new variant led Johnson’s Conservative government to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. To enter nightclubs, you must wear a mask.
Many scientists say that’s unlikely to be enough, however, and are calling for tougher measures, which the government so far has resisted.
South Africa’s scientists, who first discovered omicron, claim they can see it. signs it may cause less severe disease than deltaHowever, it’s too early to know for certain.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic