Coronavirus latest as the UK records a new daily record of 183,037 infections in 24 hours; New Nightingale “surge hubs” to be set up amid growing Omicron wave; Police appeal for information after dozens of anti-vaxxers protest at testing site.
But before you go, here are this afternoon’s biggest stories:
Italy reported 126,888 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours on Thursday, the country’s highest tally of the pandemic so far.
The latest data compares to 98,030 infections recorded a day earlier.
Italy has registered 137,247 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world.
Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 10,866 on Thursday, up from 10,578 on Wednesday.
There were 134 new admissions to intensive care units, up from 126 on the previous day.
As we reported earlier, work is underway to construct eight new Nightingale “surge hubs” across the UK to deal with an anticipated rise in hospital admissions due to the Omicron variant.
Workers were photographed constructing the temporary field hospital in the grounds of St George’s Hospital, London, on Thursday.
Greece reported a single-day record high of 35,580 COVID-19 infections on Thursday as the Omicron variant becomes dominant.
It was the third successive daily record of cases, with infections more than tripling since the beginning of the week.
“It seems that the raid of Omicron is very intense,” Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga said during a news briefing, adding that more than 60% of new cases relate to the new variant.
Yesterday, Greece adopted a raft of new coronavirus restrictions in a bid to control spread of the highly infectious variant.
This brought forward measures planned for early January, including introducing a midnight curfew for bars, nightclubs and restaurants from tonight.
There were 2,082 COVID-19 hospital admissions in England on 28 December, NHS England said.
This is up 90% week-on-week and is the highest number since 3 February.
The definition used to identify a hospital admission with COVID is that someone either tested positive for the virus in the 14 days before their admission or during their stay in hospital.
It could mean that someone goes into hospital for a non-COVID reason, and subsequently tests positive.
Leading scientists have warned that ongoing shortages of COVID tests across the UK are a “great concern” as Boris Johnson was accused of “mixed messaging” ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
In recent days there have been widespread shortages of lateral flow and PCR tests for delivery on the government’s portal, with no PCRs available across the UK this morning.
Professor Ravi Gupta, clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, told Sky News the lack of available tests was “a great concern”.
“Because, of course, we already have so many cases that therefore the probability of an individual being in a social environment on New Year’s Eve and being positive, even if they have potentially tested negative in the last 24 hours, is fairly high,” he said.
“The transmissions are going to be significant and, of course, the availability of tests… of lateral flow testing… is going to compound that problem.
“So I’m personally very worried about what’s going to happen next year.”
A total of 11,452 people were in hospital in England with COVID-19 as of 8am on 30 December – a rise of almost 1,000 on Wednesday.
This is up 61% from a week earlier and is the highest number since 26 February, according to figures from NHS England.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on 18 January.
In London, 3,477 people were in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, up 66% week-on-week and the highest number since 16 February.
The second-wave peak for London was 7,917 on 18 January.
Wales has come to the aid of Westminster by loaning England four million lateral flow tests, as ministers scramble to secure supplies from around the world.
There has been a surge in demand for COVID-19 tests as people try to comply with advice to limit the spread of the Omicron variant by ensuring they do not have coronavirus before socialising.
But earlier on Thursday, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the gov.uk website. They currently are available to order.
Pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies of lateral flow kits.
The Welsh government has agreed to loan four million more tests to the NHS in England, bringing the total the country has given England to a total of 10 million.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Wales has a significant stock of lateral flow tests, sufficient to meet our needs over the weeks ahead.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, has called on the government to ensure key workers are offered COVID tests first as people in England struggle to get hold of them.
Earlier, the government claimed that the NHS has “additional stock” of rapid COVID tests, while “those who live or work in vulnerable settings” have access to additional tests via dedicated order routes.
Dr Nagpaul said: “The government has pledged that eight million lateral flow kits will be sent to pharmacies before New Year’s Eve – which is only 24 hours away. That’s a step in the right direction but there is no assurance that key workers will be offered them first.
“The BMA is urging the government to do everything possible to ensure that enough tests are available for key workers as a priority.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has no doubt had a massive impact on demand for lateral flow test kits and PCR tests, however it is vital that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority.
“Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.
“For example, if a key worker is isolating and needs to have a negative PCR or lateral flow test on day six and seven, and cannot get access to them, they will not be able to return to work”.