A major incident has been declared in London as the number of UK Omicron cases grew by more than 10,000.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the new Covid variant’s “rapid spread” is “hugely concerning” and he is “incredibly worried” about staff absences in vital public services including the NHS, fire service and police.
Another six Omicron deaths have also been reported, meaning seven people in the UK have now died with the variant, while the addition of 10,059 further infections brings the total confirmed cases to 24,968.
And a further 90,418 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, after a record-high daily tally of 93,045 was added on Friday.
The declaration of a major incident in London will allow authorities to work together and support each other to reduce service disruption and allow more time to give out booster jabs, the mayor’s office said.
Meanwhile, an intensive care specialist in London has told ITV News there is a “catastrophe” facing the NHS that the government is “blind to”.
They said hospitals across the capital are being asked to free up hundreds of critical care beds in preparation for a huge Covid surge in January.
More than 26,000 new coronavirus cases of all variants were reported in the city on Friday, the largest daily increase since the start of the pandemic.
There are 1,534 Covid patients in hospital, with 208 of them in ventilation beds.
Mayor Khan said he was forced to declare the major incident to help mitigate a rise in hospital admissions and a “massive” increase in staff absences.
London mayor Sadiq Khan announces a ‘major incident’ in the capital
Asked what the major incident means, Mr Khan said: “This is a statement of how serious things are but also it means that rather than different public authorities working separately, we’ll be working together through both the London Resilience Forum but also through the Strategic Coordination group.
“It’s really important Londoners understand how serious things are.”
He encouraged people to get their booster jabs, saying: “The really bad news is those in hospital, the vast vast majority are unvaccinated.”
There will be more places across the city offering vaccines over the next few days, Mr Khan said.
He added: “What we can’t afford to see is even more of our crucial key workers going off sick because they have this virus. That’s why it’s so important to help us help you by getting the jabs that you need, the vaccines and the booster.”
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Mr Khan’s announcement comes after a record number of new Covid cases in the UK – 93,000 tested positive for Covid over a 24-hour period, the government reported on Friday.
It was the third day in a row the UK had broken its record number of Covid cases since the start of the pandemic.
111 deaths – within 28 days of a positive Covid test – were recorded across the country on Friday.
The new, highly-infectious Omicron Covid variant has led to an increase in infections over the past month.
Sadiq Khan said London authorities are ‘incredibly concerned’ as cases, hospital admissions and staff absences rise. Credit: Zac Goodwin/PA
New research suggests two vaccine doses or previously being infected with Covid doesn’t necessarily protect you from Omicron, with the variant capable of evading immunity compared to previous variants.
Tougher Covid-19 measures are also being debated by government ministers, reports suggest.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was presented on Friday with a number of options for a so-called Plan C, ranging from “mild guidance to nudge people, right through to lockdown”, according to the Financial Times.
The Times reported the government was preparing draft regulations for a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ – this would include a ban on non-work-related indoor gatherings, and pubs and restaurants having to serve customers outdoors.
And according to the BBC, leaked minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said scientists had told ministers tougher measures need to be brought in “very soon”.
Advisers had recommended moving to restrictions seen in step one and two of the roadmap out of lockdown in spring, which includes a ban on indoor mixing and indoor hospitality, the BBC reported.
The UK’s devolved nations are calling for more funding to tackle Omicron. A Cobra meeting will be held over the weekend with the leaders of the nations.
Meanwhile, about half of this weekend’s top-flight football games have been postponed due to outbreaks at clubs. Six of 10 scheduled Premier League matches and 19 English Football League fixtures have been called off.
Aston Villa’s match against Burnley was the latest to be postponed after more positive Covid cases in the Villa squad meant there were not enough players to field a team, the Premier League has announced.