Johnson has resisted imposing stringent lockdown measures in
England, betting that a vaccine booster drive and caution among the population
would be enough to constrain the latest wave.
The United Kingdom reported 218,724 new COVID cases on
Tuesday, a new record for the number of cases reported on a single day –
although a figure that also was skewed by reporting lags over the holidays.
Johnson said he was sticking to the “Plan B”
measures introduced in England last month, which included the wearing of face
coverings on public transport and in shops but did not restrict gatherings or
“Together with the Plan B measures that we introduced
before Christmas, we have a chance to ride out this omicron wave without
shutting down our country once again. We can keep our schools and our
businesses open, and we can find a way to live with this virus,” Johnson
“But the weeks ahead are going to be challenging, both
here in the UK and across the world. There is no escaping the fact that some
services will be disrupted by staff absences,”
Johnson has warned that hospitals would face considerable
pressure in coming weeks and on Tuesday announced daily COVID-19 testing for
100,000 critical workers.
While admissions have risen since mid-December, they have
not tracked the trajectory of daily cases, possibly reflecting the impact of
vaccines and booster shots, the likely lower severity of omicron and the time
lag in people going into hospital.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the mortality
rate had not risen with the increase in cases, while Johnson said that over 60%
of people in intensive care with COVID had not received a vaccine.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London,
said that the pattern in hospitalisations may change as the omicron wave seeps
into older age groups.
“Hospitalisations are still generally going up across
the country, and we may see high levels for some weeks,” he told BBC
“Vaccination is holding up in terms of protection
against severe disease, assisted by the fact that omicron almost certainly is
substantially less severe, but it still puts pressures on the health