Londoners are leaving the capital early for Christmas in their droves because of rocketing Omicron cases and fears there could be another lockdown or more restrictions over the festive period, MailOnline can reveal today.
Commuters have described trains leaving the capital being packed with passengers laden with suitcases, bags and presents so they are assured of seeing their families on December 25.
And after Boris Johnson urged employers to allow staff to work from home to slow the spread of Omicron, many people are taking the chance to work from family homes, second houses or rented properties elsewhere in the country.
But while Mr Johnson has denied that there will be any further lockdowns or an escalation of his Plan B, those leaving admitted they have a ‘horrible feeling’ he might change his mind before Christmas Day with 1million cases per day of Omicron predicted by Sunday.
One railway passenger, Chris Sedden, said his train was ‘very busy with lots of people carrying suitcases /bags …leaving London early incase of another Christmas lockdown’. Another tweeted: ‘Daughter leaving London early to avoid getting stuck there over Christmas has a real “Escape from New York” feel to it’ – a nod to the 1981 science fiction film starring Kurt Russell.
One person wrote the situation felt ‘like last year, the mass exodus from London spreading Omicron far and wide’. Another said: ‘Sadly this is true. Many London folk are still leaving for the West Country where it is inherently safer. Things can only get worse’.
On the Mumsnet website, dozens of members described their anxiety at facing another December 25 without their families.
One Londoner wrote: ‘I’m dreading having to spend another Christmas without my family and am considering leaving early to avoid another lockdown’. Another replied: ‘I left yesterday so as not to risk it and know of others doing the same’.
Many of the capital’s offices, streets, shops and pubs are deserted today with experts predicting the City of London will shut down on Friday. ‘London is already a ghost town’, one West End worker said today.
The growing exodus out of London is a repeat of last Christmas, where people able to work from home with family or with access to a second home left before Boris Johnson imposed the tier system that split up families. In 2020 many went to the West Country, where angry Cornish residents even put up signs above A roads saying: ‘Turn around a f*** off’. Another irate local in south Devon dressed as the Grim Reaper and stood on a roundabout with the placard: ‘Hello holidaymakers’.
There was anger when stars such as Gordon Ramsay moved to their second home during the lockdown, because the county only has one major hospital. And today the same appears to be happening again.
People have started voluntarily self-isolating in a bid to avoid having to isolate on December 25 if they test positive for Covid. Millions of Britons have axed their festive plans so they can see family on Christmas Day after Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty triggered a ‘tsunamis of cancellations’ for pubs and restaurants by urging the country only to socialise if necessary – and not in large groups or with strangers.
Malcolm Bell, CEO of Visit Cornwall, said: ‘We will be welcoming people from all over the UK to enjoy Christmas and the New year in Cornwall, including many who grew up here and who flew the nest.
‘All we ask is that you test regularly and abide by the Government and public health guidance, be patient, polite and respectful to all, as businesses are and will be coping with staff being off sick or isolating.’
Londoners and their families are leaving the capital fearing the rising number of cases in the city and fears there could be restrictions there that could see them stuck there
A deserted Oxford Street outside the landmark John Lewis store as Londoners left the capital as Omicron takes hold
People have described an exodus from London – often by train – as people dare not risk another Christmas away from family
Pictured: A sign reading ‘Turn around and f*** off’ was strung across a Cornish bridge as people left London
Holidaymakers were greeted by a person dressed as the grim reaper in Dawlish in July 2020
Britain’s workforce stays at home: London’s roads fall to their quietest since SUMMER, train stations are almost empty and drinkers abandon cities
England’s Omicron ground-zero of London was significantly quieter than normal this morning as mounting numbers of Britons work from home – and hours after Chris Whitty advised people to avoid social gatherings that are not important to them.
The Chief Medical Officer issued a further warning about the expected surge in infections, saying it was ‘entirely possible’ the number of daily hospital Covid-19 admissions in the latest wave could beat the 4,583 peak in January. A big wave would also see the NHS face huge staff shortages as doctors and nurses become ill or go into isolation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing criticism from Conservative MPs and accusations that he is imposing a lockdown by stealth through his recent dire warnings – but he denied this today, saying: ‘We’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.’
Roads in London were the quietest they have been during the morning rush-hour on any term-time weekday since the summer today as city centres were left deserted and pubs empty by Britons shunning going into the office.
The congestion level reported by TomTom in the capital between 8am and 9am today was 49 per cent – the lowest figure for that period since the end of the summer holidays on September 3, excluding October half-term.
As for other UK cities, the congestion level during the same period today was 51 per cent in Birmingham, 50 per cent in Manchester and Liverpool, 47 per cent in Sheffield, 46 per cent in Leeds and 38 per cent in Newcastle.
All of these figures were significantly below the same time period on Thursday last week – with the biggest drop being in Manchester which was down 27 percentage points, followed by Newcastle falling 12 percentage points.
Professor Whitty – who last night warned ‘all the things that we do know, are bad’ about Omnicron – told MPs today of hospitalisations: ‘I don’t want this to be seen as I’m saying this will happen. I’m just saying there’s a range of possibilities, but certainly the peak of just over 4,500 – 4,583 to be exact – people admitted at the absolute peak…
‘It is possible because this is going to be very concentrated that even if it is milder, because it’s concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day. That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I’m just saying that it’s certainly possible.’
Prof Whitty said that a rise in Omicron hospitalisations is ‘nailed on’ after cases hit a record high yesterday, telling a televised No 10 press briefing: ‘I think that what most people are doing is – and I would think this seems very sensible – is prioritising the social interactions that really matter to them and, to project those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them.’
And after weeks of refusing to admit Christmas plans could be under threat, Mr Johnson told the country to cut back on Christmas partying and ‘think carefully’ before going out during the festive season
The Independent SAGE group of scientists and medics has called for an immediate 10-day ‘circuit-breaker’ shutdown, with bans on households mixing and the closure of hospitality firms. They accused the Prime Minister of ‘delaying’ from imposing tighter controls and said the time for ’emergency action’ had now come.
And doubling down on the Prime Minister’s inference that people must be cut back on socialising to avoid catching Covid over Christmas week, Health Minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘Everybody is urging caution. Most of us will know somebody now who’s positive with Covid, and that means if you’ve tested positive, then you’ll be in isolation over Christmas. So that’s bound to make people a bit more cautious.’
She added: ‘Make a sensible choice for yourself, make a sensible choice. You know, if you’re going to go to a party, take a test. If there’s lots of people there you don’t know, if that’s your priority, fine. If your priority is to make it through to Christmas Day with your family then take a different approach’. But then adding to the confusion she later told LBC that Christmas parties can go ahead but people should test beforehand and sit ‘spaced apart’
There are now deafening calls from the hospitality industry for a taxpayer-funded bailout to avoid tens of thousands businesses going bust in early 2022, accusing the Government of bringing in a ‘lcokdown by stealth’.
Almost every one of the 90 restaurants in London’s West End have suffered cancellations in the past week, while one pub manager in Covent Garden added that every single booking for a Christmas party in their private room disappeared last week.
A string of shows in the West End have been cancelled as Omicron becomes the dominant strain in the capital, including Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Hex at the National Theatre, and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time at the Troubadour Theatre Wembley.
One restaurateur told the Standard: ‘Sales are dropping, while staff are dropping from Covid; two weeks ago we were packed out until Christmas. Now it’s a tsunamis of cancellations. They need to cut business rates and extend VAT.’
At last night’s Downing Street press conference, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Prime Minister Boris Johnson stoked fears further by encouraging people to scale back their Christmas plans. Prof Whitty even rubbished a major real-world study from South Africa which suggested that the variant was milder, and insisted Omicron ‘is going to be a problem’.
But business chiefs warned that the advice to curb social mixing could be catastrophic for pubs and restaurants already struggling following nearly two years of restrictions.
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned: ‘The need for the chief medical officer to advise the public to ”de-prioritise social contacts” will almost certainly have an enormous impact for businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.’
LONDON — Westminster Bridge looks very quiet during the morning rush hour in London today as Britons stay at home
LIVERPOOL – Liverpool city centre is very quiet this lunchtime with the Town Hall seen in the background
NEWCASTLE — Shoppers in the near-empty Christmas market in Newcastle city centre this morning as people stay home
MANCHESTER — People walk past quiet shops and bars in Manchester city centre today amid an increase in cases of Covid-19
The Confederation of British Industry claimed that suggestions to limit socialising would have a ‘chilling effect’ on the industry.
And theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner said venues were in ‘crisis mode’, with shows closing as actors and other staff contracted coronavirus while bookings have ‘fallen off a cliff’.
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.’
Government scientists have been calling for ‘Plan C’ curbs as they warn there could be 1million daily cases by next month and 4,000 hospital admissions – levels similar to those seen during the January shutdown. However, the projections are heavily disputed.
More than 78,000 people tested positive for Covid yesterday – a 50 per cent jump on last week, and eclipsing the previous record of 68,053 in January.
In the latest twist and turn of the Covid crisis:
- Prof Chris Whitty called for ‘serious caution’ over a raft of promising data which suggests Omicron may cause milder disease;
- Boris Johnson angrily defended staff accused of hosting law-breaking parties in Downing Street during lockdown last year;
- The Prime Minister announced that children aged 12 to 15 will be offered their second jab from Monday to tackle a ‘tidal wave of Omicron’;
- But Ministers refused to guarantee that schools will reopen after Christmas, amid fears of a return to mass remote learning in January;
- More than a quarter of Covid ‘patients’ currently occupying hospital beds are actually being treated for another condition, according to official data;
- Britain’s booster jab campaign is off to a storming start with a record 611,000 Covid jabs being given out in a single day yesterday;
- Public health chiefs and Royal Mail bosses announced plans to double the amount of lateral flow and PCR test deliveries in a bid to tackle the Covid test supply crisis.
Empty tables outside a bar in Leicester Square, London, where curbs have come into force to slow the spread of Omicron
Some people still enjoyed a night out in the West End last night but businesses say footfall is down hugely
Students pose for a photograph with their Covid passports in Nottingham city centre
A group of young women pose up after a Wednesday night of drinking in Soho
Revellers out on a Wednesday night in Newcastle – the day after it became law to show a covid pass to get into nightclubs and other large venues
Sporting fans were seen gathering outside Selhurst Park Stadium to watch Crystal Palace face Southampton
Fans in festive fancy dress during day one of the William Hill World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace, London
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London
The above graph shows the proportion of cases suspected to be Omicron because they do not have an S-gene (purple). PCR tests look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them
The above graph shows the proportion of cases suspected to be Omicron because they do not have an S-gene (purple). PCR tests look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty attending a Downing Street press conference
Tom Kerridge reveals avalanche of 650 cancellations at one of his restaurants as new Covid rules are slammed as the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for hospitality with one restauranteur losing £50,000 of bookings in a WEEK
Star chef Tom Kerridge has warned ‘restaurants will crumble’ under new Covid-19 rules unless the Government steps in – as he revealed 654 cancellations at one of his eateries in six days.
The Michelin-starred chef, 48, who runs six restaurants in London, Manchester and Buckinghamshire, including the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, asked ‘what will the government do to support the hospitality industry’.
He called for ‘help’ amid growing fears of a potential New Year lockdown following Boris Johnson’s public addresses regarding the Omicron variant.
Tom Kerridge (pictured), 48, asked ‘what will the government do to support the hospitality industry’ as he called for ‘help’ amid growing fears of a potential New Year lockdown
Alongside the post Mr Kerridge shared a video showing printed out pages filled with 176 table cancellations – as Britons put themselves into a lockdown in the run up to Christmas Day
Andy Taylor, owner of the Mr Fox pub in Croydon and the Adam and Eve in Northumberland, told MailOnline his restaurants have lost £50,0000-worth of bookings in just one week as customers shield themselves from the virus.
Steve Drake, Chef Patron of one-Michelin star holding Sorrel Restaurant in Dorking, told MailOnline another lockdown would be a ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the beleaguered food industry.
And Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton told MailOnline: ‘We have dropped 40-50 percent in bookings in the most important part of the a year for hospitality and yet again the Government have given no support to business already buried in debt.’
Alongside his post Mr Kerridge shared a video showing printed out pages filled with 176 table cancellations – as Britons appear to head into a makeshift lockdown to spare themselves from catching Covid-19 in the run up to Christmas Day.
The Government has already come under pressure to increase the support it is providing to hospitality businesses after some saw festive bookings ‘disappear overnight’ after the introduction of ‘Plan B’ restrictions to tackle Omicron.
Farr Brew pubs have posted on Facebook that if Christmas parties keep cancelling then they ‘might not be here next year’.
Owner of businesses, Nick Farr, said: ‘We have six pubs and the number of cancelled bookings is hitting close to 450 in the last seven to ten says alone, which is totally devastating for our trade and our industry.
‘We had a table of 15 booked, at 12, and they cancelled at 9. That’s a lot of turkey going to waste. That’s a lot of prep done by the chefs the night before and all of that money goes to waste.
‘Chris Whitty and Boris Johnson are now explicitly saying we should think carefully before socialising but with no financial support for hospitality. Unless they are ok with dozens of thousands of pubs going under then they have to put an extensive package of financial aid back in.
‘The grants need to come back but it must be more extensive than that’, adding that VAT and business rate pay-back deals also need to be paused and more emergency low-interest loans.
It comes as UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries warned the strain is ‘probably the most significant threat’ since the start of the pandemic as she said cases would be ‘staggering’ compared to what has gone before.
And NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard doubled down on claims that Omicron could cause even more hospitalisations than previous waves.
Daily coronavirus hospital admissions and deaths — both of which are lagging indicators — were up only slightly compared to last week, with 115 deaths (up 2.5 per cent) and 774 admissions (6 per cent).
The UK Health Security Agency today announced another 4,671 lab-confirmed Omicron cases, bringing the official count to 10,017. This number is much lower than the real toll because only a small number of positive tests are analysed for variants.
Asked about whether No10’s Plan B goes far enough, Professor Whitty said: ‘I think that what most people are doing is, and I would think this seems very sensible, is prioritising the social interactions that really matter to them and, to protect those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them.
He said people needed to ‘prioritise what matters’ in the run-up to Christmas and therefore ‘deprioritise other things’, adding: ‘You don’t need a medical degree to realise that is a sensible thing to do with an incredibly infectious virus.’
Professor Whitty said he would ‘strongly encourage’ people to take tests before visiting vulnerable people and to meet in areas of good ventilation or outdoors if possible.
The CMO — a practicing NHS physician — admitted his own Christmas plans with family will be interrupted.
He said: ‘Realistically, I think there’s a high chance that my original Christmas plans with family are going to be interrupted. I hope it’s not completely but we shall see.’
The country will also likely to lead to lots of people, including healthcare workers, being ill at the same time and forced off work, he warned. He said: ‘We may end up with quite substantial gaps in rotas at short notice.’
‘Given how much difficulty my health and social care colleagues have had over the last two years, saying that is pretty depressing, because they have really, really had to stand up and go back again and again.
‘The reality is this speed of onset is going to lead to lots of people getting ill simultaneously and we have to be realistic about that.’
Professor Whitty also warned against overinterpreting data from South Africa, where daily hospital admissions are running at just 370 per day and data suggests two-thirds fewer patients have severe illness.
He said: ‘The first caution on this is simply a numerical one – if the rate of hospitalisation were to halve but you’re doubling every two days, in two days you’re back to where you were before you actually had the hospitalisation.
‘If the peak of this is twice as great, then halving of the size of the hospitalisation rate, you still end up in the same place. And this peak is going very fast.’
He added: ‘The second point I wanted to make, which I’m not sure it’s fully been absorbed by everybody, is that the amount of immunity in South Africa for this wave – because of a prior Delta wave and vaccination – is far higher than it was for their last wave. And therefore the fact that there is a lower hospitalisation rate is unsurprising.’
Prof Whitty said: ‘That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible. But I just think there’s a danger people have over-interpreted this to say, this is not a problem and what are we worrying about?
‘I want to be clear, I’m afraid this is going to be a problem. Exact proportions of it, of course, South African scientists and UK scientists and scientists globally are trying to determine at the moment.’
Earlier, Dr Harries, chief exec at the UKHSA, warned that Omicron posed ‘probably the most significant threat we have had since the start of the pandemic’.
Despite modelling by her agency being widely disputed among scientists, she told MPs: ‘I am sure for example that the numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we have seen in cases for previous variants.
Geordies still manage to have some fun in Newcastle despite the gloomy figures surrounding Omicron cases
Covid passes are now required but Boris Johnson has now suggested that socialising should be limited
‘The real potential risk here and I would underline that because we are still learning a lot about the variant is in relation to its severity, clinical severity, and therefore whether those cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths.
‘We are still at too early a stage for that, in fact the world probably is still at too early a stage to be clear.
‘The difficulty is that the growth of this virus has a doubling time, doubling days, at the moment which is shortening, i.e. it is doubling faster, growing faster and in most regions in the UK it is now under two days.
‘When it started we were estimating about four or five. So if you think of that growth rate right across the UK and we are starting to see it and to feel it now in London particularly but yesterday particularly around Manchester and we are very sure there are levels growing across most communities in the UK now, although there is quite a lot of regional variation still.’
Britain’s exclusive restaurants have tables free over the peak festive period as industry experts fear ‘irreversible impact’ after 83% of hospitality businesses face a wave of Christmas cancellations
Diners looking for a taste of fine dining look to be in luck as thousands of punters across the country drop their dinner reservations at Britain’s most exclusive restaurants amid mounting fears over Covid.
Last-minute reservations are being accepted at vaunted Michelin-star venues across the UK, as celebrity chefs grapple with the reality of empty tables over the normally-busy festive break.
Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, is offering tables for parties of four at peak times in January, while Le Gavroche in London can squeeze diners in as early as Saturday, December 18.
Meanwhile, two Michelin star pub The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire is offering tables for two at 9pm in just two days time.
Industry experts fear the Government’s increasingly alarmist messages surrounding the Omicron mutant strain are affecting customer confidence over what should be a peak period for pubs, bars and restaurants.
Festive takings are expected to fall by up to 40 per cent in December – crippling venues that survived by a thread during previous lockdowns and expect to receive no financial support this time around.
She made the shocking claim that Omicron was doubling every 1.9 days — much faster than Delta at its peak, which was doubling every seven days.
Dr Harries said: ‘I think we now have so many cases across the community that that is less relevant and as I say in most areas it is now settling to somewhere around 1.9 days.
‘It is difficult to predict where it will go, it is a very unusual variant.’
It came after Professor Medley, who chairs the SPI-M modelling group that feeds into SAGE and has been heavily criticised in the past for over-egging Covid waves, said it was possible the NHS could be overwhelmed next month with the current curbs that are in place.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Professor Medley told BBC Radio 4 it is ‘very hard to predict in real time exactly what’s happening on any day, but it’s certainly true that the numbers of infections primarily with Omicron is increasing, and has been increasing quite dramatically’.
He added: ‘We’re probably now at the level that we have been at the past, sort of back in January, and it does look as though it’s going to continue beyond that and go over it.’
Professor Medley said there is not currently any good information on the severity of Omicron but added: ‘We are a population in a very different position to this time last year, in the sense that the majority of people have been vaccinated and there has been much infection since then, so there is much more immunity…
‘The fact that we are much more immune than we were generally means that the virus will appear to be much less severe.
‘So, individually, we have a much lower risk but the numbers of infections means that even though individually we’re at less risk, at a population level (the) number of people ending up in hospital could get very large.’
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast the wave of Omicron is just taking off across the country.
He said: ‘The wave is coming very fast and in fact alarmingly fast – if anything faster than ever. So it really is a race at the moment.
‘The more immunity that we’ve all got the less of a problem this is going to be, but I’m afraid it is going to be a serious problem either way.’
Professor Finn said it is not up to him to say what regulations should be put on the population, but added: ‘I think I can certainly encourage people to do everything they can to minimise spread of the virus during this critical period and, of course, a lot of that can be done voluntarily without anyone imposing rules on people.
‘We all know now what the things are that we can do. We can avoid social contact, we can minimise contact at work, we can wear masks and really importantly, do lateral flow tests and check that you aren’t showing signs of infection on a test before you go into a crowded place where you might infect other people.’
Professor Finn said he is ‘very concerned’ about the current number of daily infections, adding that we are ‘going to see the numbers of people becoming ill and needing hospital care beginning to rise steadily now over the next week and maybe over Christmas as well’.
Crystal Palace fans wear face masks ahead of the Premier League match at Selhurst Park in London
Stewards carry out checks as football fans begin to arrive for the Arsenal v West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, London
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UKHSA, warned that Omicron posed ‘probably the most significant threat we have had since the start of the pandemic’
Is London taking ITSELF into lockdown?
Parts of London’s West End were effectively in lockdown today as theatre shows were suspended and pubs and restaurant suffered a wave of cancellations triggered by mounting fears over the new Covid variant sweeping the capital.
Big-budget productions from The Lion King at the Lyceum to Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre halted performances due to virus outbreaks among their cast and crew – a decision which is costing producers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Comedy Of Errors at the Barbican and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in Wembley were also cancelled, while the National Theatre postponed a preview of Hex after a lead actor caught the virus.
Others which have been suspended include The Rhythmics at Southwark Playhouse, Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse and Fair Play at the Bush Theatre. Moulin Rouge at Piccadilly Theatre also suspended shows but has now restarted.
Restaurants and pubs in the West End have been left ‘devastated’ by people cancelling bookings due to fears over the spread of the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant, which has become the dominant Covid strain in London.
But he said boosters take effect in the body quickly, adding: ‘It does come through very fast because you’ve got immunological memory, you’ve seen the antigen before from your previous doses, so the level of protection goes up pretty quick.’
Despite pressure from within his own scientific ranks, Mr Johnson is not expected to announce new Covid curbs tonight after he defended the current Plan B restrictions as ‘proportionate’ in the Commons this afternoon at Prime Minister’s Questions.
There are questions about whether the PM would even be able to push through more stringent curbs, given that nearly 100 Tories rebelled against Plan B in a stinging blow to his authority.
‘I respect and understand the legitimate anxieties that colleagues have about restrictions on …liberties,’ Johnson told parliament during its weekly prime minister’s questions session.
‘But I believe that the approach that we are taking is balanced and proportionate and right for this country,’ he said, adding that he would continue to ‘get on with the job’ when asked if he would resign.
Ms Sturgeon has said the backbench rebellion by Tory MPs was ‘dangerous’ as it could undermine Boris Johnson’s ability to make tough decisions on the pandemic.
The First Minister questioned whether Mr Johnson had the authority from his own party to pass measures to tackle coronavirus.
Scotland has had mandatory masks in most indoor settings for months and on Tuesday Ms Sturgeon advised people to limit socialising to just three households.
The Welsh Government has also warned it could announce some further Covid restrictions for the Christmas period due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
There is also growing pressure on Mr Johnson to enforce local lockdown curbs in London, which has quickly become England’s Omicron capital.
A spokesman for the London mayor suggested yesterday that they would support more restrictions for the capital, saying it is better to ‘act now’. But Tories called on ministers to rely on the ‘vaccine shield’.
Hospitalisations in London have also started to tick upwards, rising 50 per cent in a fortnight. But the raw numbers still stand at around 150 a day, compared to nearly 1,000 during the darkest days of the capital’s second wave in January. Deaths remain flat at around 10 a day.
Professor Tim Spector said infections in London were now rising at their fastest rate since the first wave. The above graph shows the app’s estimates for cases in the city, and reveals they are ticking up at about the same rate as when Delta emerged
This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England’s regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions
The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase
Covid cases in London are surging upwards amid the spread of the Omicron variant which now makes up more than 50 per cent of daily infections in the city. Case numbers are the highest they have been since January
Patient hospital admissions with Covid in London are also beginning to rise, but this is a lagging indicator because of the time taken for someone who has caught the virus to fall seriously ill
Covid deaths in the capital are still flat. But these are also lagging indicators
Transport Secretary warns it is ‘inevitable’ that people will need three jabs to go on holiday
Britons wanting to holiday abroad next year will ‘inevitably’ require a third Covid jab to be allowed into destination countries, Grant Shapps revealed today.
The Transport Secretary said nations including G7 members like the US, France and Italy, all popular with millions of UK tourists, were likely to make it an entry requirement in 2022.
The booster jab is also likely to become a domestic requirement to be classed as fully vaccinated within Britain, with ministers saying rules will be updated as soon as people have had a reasonable chance to get it.
Mr Shapps told Sky News this morning: ‘I speak to my opposite numbers in other countries – transport secretaries from around the world – particularly from the G7 this year, which we are hosting.
‘They are saying ”look we are going to switch to requiring people to have that third jab” before they are able to come into their countries so eventually it becomes inevitable because other countries will require it for us.
‘I don’t know what that time will be – not this year.’
Meanwhile travellers currently detained in quarantine hotels in the UK will be told later today when they will be released.
Jonathan Mogford, the senior responsible officer for the managed quarantine service at the UK Health Security Agency, was questioned about reports some people were fleeing the hotels after the red list was scrapped in England at 4am.
Mr Mogford told the Commons Transport Committee: ‘The standard practice has been that if you have started hotel quarantine you need to complete it.
‘For this de-listing, where Omicron has moved unexpectedly fast, we want to release people early.
‘We are sorting out the arrangements for that as quickly as possible, we need to make sure we are not releasing Covid or Omicron-positive guests immediately.’
These are lagging indicators, however, because of the time taken for someone who catches the virus to fall seriously ill and be admitted to hospital, meaning the worst of the rapid spread — which has yet to show any signs of slowing down — won’t be felt until the New Year.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who runs the country’s largest Covid symptom study, claimed that hospitalisations in London are now surging at their fastest rate since the end of the first wave of the pandemic.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we look at our regional charts, we see London really accelerating more than we have really seen it anytime since the first wave.’
But figures from his own Covid Symptom Study, which has more than a million daily contributors, suggest Covid cases in the capital are not rising faster than last winter when the Alpha variant took hold.
During the first month of the Omicron wave cases in the capital have risen by almost a third, the study says, from 7,626 to 9,856 estimated daily infections.
But during the first month of the Alpha wave last winter Covid infections surged by 71 per cent from 7,694 to 13,228 daily infections. When Delta emerged the app estimates cases also rose by a third from 6,483 to 8,380.
Separate data from the Department of Health’s Covid dashboard also shows cases in the capital are not rising faster than when Delta or Alpha took hold.
It suggests cases in the capital have doubled since the Omicron wave began, with the seven-day average for cases rising from 3,024 to 6,119.6 daily infections.
But when Alpha took hold it shows infections quadrupled over the same period from 1,985 to 10,725. And when the Delta wave began they rose three-fold from 243 to 954.
The beginning of the waves was set as the low-point in infections before they spiralled.
For the ZOE Symptom Study app, this was November 11 for the Omicron wave, June 13 for Delta and December 2 last year for Alpha. And for the Department of Health figures this was November 4 for Omicron, May 14 for Delta and November 23 last year for Alpha.
Covid infections are rising from a higher base now than when Alpha took hold, which may explain why the new variant is not causing cases to spiral as quickly.
More Britons also have immunity against the virus now than when Delta and Alpha emerged through either vaccination or past infection, which may also be helping to slow the spread of the virus.
Doctors on the frontlines in South Africa had suggested Omicron was triggering more mild disease among patients.
Official figures from the country showed that although hospitalisations rose at a similar level to when Delta took hold, there were fewer people on ventilators and in the emergency units.
But it is yet to be clear whether the variant is more mild because more people now have immunity against the virus than when Delta took hold.
Britain out of lateral flow tests: Grant Shapps blames ‘distribution issues’ as website says there are ‘no delivery slots’ left and pharmacies are told they can’t have extra swabs despite entire cities running out
Grant Shapps today blamed ‘distribution issues’ on the lack of lateral flow tests as the Government website revealed delivery slots had run out and pharmacies were told they couldn’t have extra swabs despite entire cities running out.
In an uncomfortable interview with Sky News, the Transport Secretary today claimed there are enough lateral flow tests to go around – despite the Government’s own website yesterday saying there were ‘no tests available to order for home delivery’.
Instead he said the issue had been getting the tests out to people. Mr Shapps said health chiefs were working with Royal Mail, Amazon and other delivery firms to get tests out to homes and pharmacies.
Squirming as he answered a question from Sky New’s Kay Burley, he said: ‘Just on lateral flow tests, which actually, uniquely, in that as far as I can see there aren’t other countries that have been supplying these free of charge to their citizens, major economies haven’t generally been doing this, and we have in this country, you are right, particularly since the new measures, the booster programme, asking people to be testing, came in, it can be difficult at different times of day to get those.
South Africa has a lower vaccination rate than the UK with 25 per cent of people double-jabbed, but most have already caught the virus there. Experts warn it is difficult to make comparisons between the two countries because in South Africa most people are young, whereas the UK has a much older population.
Professor Spector said: ‘Omicron is the predominant variant already [in the capital] and will be at 100 per cent very soon, that’s happened in just a matter of days really and that’s why so many people are going down with infections.’
He added: ‘We’re also tracking non-Covid viruses and currently across the country it is about one in four.
‘[But] in London where Covid is increasing rapidly it is far more likely to be Covid than it is to be a cold.’
On Omicron’s symptoms, Professor Spector said: ‘The majority of symptoms are just like a common cold, so we’re talking about headaches, sore throat , runy nose, fatigue, and things like sneezing.
‘Things like fever and cough and loss of smell are actually now in the minority of symptoms that we’re seeing.’
He said there were ‘no real differences’ between Covid symptoms currently being reported in London now and those from a month ago before Omicron took hold.
Asked whether the virus was triggering more severe disease, he said: ‘We are not seeing any severe disease, we are not seeing any unusual symptoms that people have reported in South Africa.
‘It’s looking very similar, it’s looking very respiratory. It’s looking mild at the moment and it’ll be a while before we know exactly how mild because most of the cases are still in the young.
‘But we are getting breakthrough infections in people who are having two or three vaccinations, and that’s more than we saw before.
‘When we look at regions with high and low Omicron we are seeing more breakthrough infections in London where there is high Omicron.’
London could soon face more restrictions, reports suggest, as ministers mull over ‘Plan C’ measures introducing more curbs on people’s daily lives.
A spokesman for the mayor Sadiq Khan said yesterday: ‘Cases of Omicron are rising sharply in London and with so much at stake, it is better that we act now to safeguard the public and help reduce pressures on NHS services.
‘Londoners will see vaccine centres working around the clock, more local pop-up sites coming online near them, and [the Mayor] will use all of our resources at City Hall to ensure that all of London’s communities are encouraged to take up this lifesaving vaccine.
Covid Pass fail! Sports fans say stadium staff are BARELY checking new compulsory vaccine status codes or negative test results – as they are waved through to their seats despite supposed crackdown
Sports fans have claimed there were ‘no real checks’ being made on their vaccination status or negative lateral flow tests as the Government’s mandatory Covid passes rule for large events and nightclubs came into force today.
Thousands of spectators have been descending upon the nations’ sporting venues in their droves tonight to watch Arsenal play West Ham at London’s Emirates Stadium and Crystal Palace face Southampton at Selhurst Park Stadium, in Croydon.
Long queues were also seen snaking around The American Express Community Stadium in Brighton as fans arrived for the Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers football game.
But have some sporting fans have now claimed their Covid passes were ‘barely’ checked despite the supposed crackdown.
Sporting fans were seen gathering outside Selhurst Park Stadium to watch Crystal Palace face Southampton
Supporters show their Covid passes to a steward as they arrive to watch Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers at The American Express Community Stadium
The large gatherings tonight come after MPs approved approved mandatory Covid passes at sporting events with more than 10,000 fans under new ‘Plan B’ guidelines to tackle the rise in the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
Under the new rules, adults in England will have to prove they are fully jabbed or have had a recent negative Covid test before they can go to venues where large crowds gather.
Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme.
A negative PCR or rapid lateral flow test, or exemption from vaccination, will also be sufficient under the requirement.
Venues could be fined up to £10,000 for failing to check passes, while the faking of a pass could also attract the same penalty.
‘I’ve never been more concerned about the pandemic than I am tonight’: WHO Covid-19 envoy warns of ‘unprecedented’ spread of Omicron after Britain records highest ever daily cases tally since the pandemic began
A senior official in the World Health Organisation has warned he has ‘never been more concerned about Covid-19 than I am tonight’.
Special envoy on Covid-19 to the WHO Dr David Nabarro said the spread of the Omicron variant was ‘unprecedented’ and presents ‘ serious’ issue for not only the UK but ‘Europe and the World’.
He called on ‘every single human being’ to do ‘everything they can’ to minimise social contacts, wear facemasks and practice good hygiene to prevent transmission of the super-mutant strain.
It comes after Britain today announced its highest ever daily Covid cases since the pandemic began with 78,610 people testing positive in the past 24 hours.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Professor Chris Whitty this evening delivered a stark warning over the need to think twice before attending Christmas parties, warning Omicron already makes up a third of cases and that Government modelling predicts up to 400,000 people are getting the mutant virus every day.
Speaking to Sky News, Dr Nabarro echoed Professor Whitty’s warning about Christmas parties and urged ‘every single human being’ to ‘minimise [social] contact to what is absolutely essential… only do what is vital.’
Dr Nabarro said the Omicron variant is spreading ‘superfast’ and that the strain has ‘a doubling time of numbers of cases every two to three days’.
‘That means that [Omicron] will be eight times more serious in one week. Forty times more serious in two weeks. Three hundred or four hundred times more serious in three weeks. Over a thousand times more serious in four weeks.’
He warned the escalating caseload, including many people who have had both vaccinations, will add stress to already overworked health systems worldwide.
‘If we are lucky then we won’t have high death rates but we will still get a very heavy load on health services and therefore on hospitals,’ he said.
Dr Nabarro said he could not predict the potential case or death toll from the latest variant and added it would not be ‘helpful’ to speculate.
He described any prediction as ‘just me expressing my hopes to you’ and warned ‘nobody has’ the information to predict how many people will get Omicron in the coming weeks.
Wuhan lab leak ‘is now the most likely origin of Covid because Beijing tried to cover it up’ and it is ‘reasonable to believe virus was engineered in China’, Harvard scientist tells MPs
The Wuhan lab leak is now the most likely origin of the coronavirus pandemic because Beijing tried to cover it up, MPs were told today.
Harvard scientist Dr Alina Chan told the Science and Technology Select Committee that it is ‘reasonable’ to believe that Covid was genetically engineered in China.
She also said that the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up of the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago and attempts to sabotage the World Health Organisation’s inquiry into the origins of the pandemic made the lab-leak theory likely.
Tory peer Lord Ridley, who has co-authored a book on the origin of the virus with Dr Chan, said the fact that experts have still not found the animal host that would support a natural origin despite two years of research supports claim that Covid came from a lab.
Recent revelations of China’s attempted cover-up have forced British and US intelligence officials to take seriously the lab-leak hypothesis, once dismissed as a crank conspiracy theory.
However, the bombshell allegations are likely to heap pressure on the UK Government to challenge Beijing’s assurances that the virus came from the natural world. They are also likely to raise further questions about the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the WHO, which last year was accused of publishing a whitewash report into the outbreak.
Virologist Shi Zheng-li works with her colleague in the P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei province
A May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three scientists from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the outbreak
Dr Chan told MPs: ‘I think the lab origin is more likely than not. Right now, it’s not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward.
‘But we live in an era where there is so much information being stored that it will eventually come out. We have heard from many top virologists that a genetically-engineered origin is reasonable, and that includes virologists who made modifications to the first SARS virus.’
During the same session, the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton was forced to explain why he allowed the publication of a letter denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy, despite its lead author having financial affiliations to the WIV.
Mr Horton said he found out about Dr Peter Daszak’s link ‘very quickly’ after the Lancet published the letter in February last year.
Dr Daszak persuaded 26 other scientists to sign off on the letter he had written claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise creates ‘fear, rumours, and prejudice’.
But the EcoHealth Alliance boss was revealed to have been funneling US tax-payer funds into the Wuhan lab, which investigated and modified coronaviruses before the pandemic.
The Lancet published an addendum to the letter in June this year – 16 months after it was initially published – acknowledging Dr Dazak’s competing interests.
NHS is urged to STOP counting thousands of Covid ‘patients’ who are actually being treated for other illnesses: Data shows a QUARTER of infected Brits in hospital were admitted for different conditions such as road accidents
More than a quarter of Covid ‘patients’ currently occupying hospital beds are actually being treated for another condition, according to official data that has prompted calls for the NHS to change how it counts admissions in the face of Omicron.
Health service statistics show there were 5,697 beds taken up by people who had tested positive for the virus on December 7, the latest date available.
But 4,214 of them (74 per cent) were primarily being treated for the virus, with the remaining suffering from other illnesses or injuries. These could include a fall, broken leg, or even new mothers who tested positive after giving birth.
And older people, who are more at risk from the virus, made up a smaller proportion of the patients in hospitals because of the success of the country’s vaccination drive, figures also showed.
The above graph shows the number of Covid patients being treated in hospital (yellow line) and the proportion of these patients for whom their primary reason for admission was Covid (red line). It reveals a quarter of Covid patients are actually receiving treatment for something else, such as a fall
Campaigners today called on the NHS to stop inflating Covid admissions by including patients who were initially brought in for something else such as an accident, saying they should ‘obviously’ be removed from the figures so that they can’t be skewed upwards.
Hospital numbers are a key metric weighed up by ministers to determine if tougher Covid curbs are needed, now that vaccines have taken most of the emphasis away from crude infection numbers.
Grim SAGE modelling presented to the Government has already warned hospitalisations could hit levels not seen since the darkest depths of the second wave last January. NHS England’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard today told MPs that early signs show the incoming Omicron wave could be ‘bigger’.
No10 has already caved in to demands for Plan B restrictions, which saw work from home guidance reintroduced, face masks reimposed and the tightening up of self-isolation rules for close contacts of Covid cases.
Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a record high after 78,610 people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours, the most ever in a single day. Hospitalisations rose seven per cent after 774 more admissions were reported.