Coronavirus latest as Boris Johnson says all adults in England will be offered booster vaccines this month; NHS website suffers glitches as people try to book; UK confirms another 1,239 cases of Omicron variant; Northern Ireland’s COVID passport scheme comes into force.
Sajid Javid has refused to rule out school closures again due to the pandemic.
Asked on LBC whether this could still be a possibility, the health secretary said: “Well, I don’t want to see that or any of these kinds of measures. I’m just going to focus on everything else we need to be doing, especially the booster programme.”
He added: “I’d say this… if you are asking me for guarantees, I will just say – as the health secretary, of course, I’m not the education secretary – as the health secretary, that there are, when it comes to our fight against this pandemic, there are no guarantees.
“But what we do know that works is, in this case, a booster shot of the vaccine.”
The government has repeatedly said one of its priorities is keeping schools open, sometimes choosing to enforce stricter measures in other areas to keep children in classrooms.
Wales currently has 15 confirmed Omicron infections but is expecting the situation to change rapidly.
Health minister Baroness Eluned Morgan said told Sky News is a “huge tidal wave coming towards us”, with cases expected to peak in mid to late January.
She said one person is in hospital currently, but this is expected to increase “very quickly”.
Last week, Boris Johnson said people in England should work from home where possible to stop the spread of Omicron.
As the guidance started this morning, we’ve seen very quiet stations and train carriages.
Sarah-Jane Marsh – someone who has experience with rolling out national programmes – has questioned whether the pace of the vaccine rollout can beat the spread of Omicron.
She said she feels “genuine fear” about the weeks ahead of us.
There were widespread reports of the NHS booking site for England being down after Boris Johnson’s TV address urging people to get a booster at 8pm last night.
Things don’t seem to have improved this morning.
People are reporting waiting in an online queue for five minutes before filling in their details only to be returned, multiple times, to this initial page…
If you start again, this is where you end up…
Some people are also getting this message after waiting in a queue.
The health secretary has hinted that South Africa could be taken off the red list soon.
Asked by Sky’s Kay Burley whether the red list could be updated, Sajid Javid said he would “keep that under review”.
He said that as Omicron spreads across the UK, there is “less and less reason” to keep other countries on the red list.
The health secretary has confirmed 10 people are in hospital, although he could not give any details on the severity of their illness or whether anyone has died with the variant so far.
However, he said there’s “always a lag” between infections and deaths.
When the virus first arrived in the UK in January 2020, the first death was not until March, he pointed out.
Mr Javid said “no-one knows for sure at the moment” whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants, but he warned that even if it is then we could still see a large number of hospital admissions due to how transmissible it is.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged people to get a booster jab as soon as possible, saying “two doses are not enough but three doses provide excellent protection against symptomatic infection”.
The UK is now expanding the booster programme “to a level we’ve never seen before”, he said.
This means there will be more vaccination centres, and they will be open seven days a week for at least 12 hours a day.
Some centres may even be open for 24 hours, Mr Javid said.
However, he said it is unlikely they will be open on Christmas Day.
The health secretary has warned the Omicron variant is “spreading at a phenomenal rate” and infections are continuing to double every two to three days.
The rate of its spread is “something we’ve never seen before”, he told Sky’s Kay Burley.
Repeating Boris Johnson’s words from yesterday, he said the UK is facing a “tidal wave of infection” and we are “once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus”.