The government is calling in the army in an effort to double the number of covid booster jabs delivered to more than 1million per day between now and the New Year in a desperate effort to limit the spread and impact of what the Prime Minister has called “a tidal wave of Omicron”.
In Croydon, infection rates from the virus have doubled in the space of one week.
Boris Johnson made a (pre-recorded) televised address to the nation last night to announce the ramping up of vaccinations, and avoid imposing further restrictions.
The diversion of medical professionals and volunteers towards the massive increase in vaccination roll-out will see other procedures at NHS hospitals, including GP appointments, non-urgent operations and cancer treatments, postponed.
The Prime Minister announced that the booster is to be provided to everyone in England over the age of 18 (until now eligibility has been limited to over-40s), and that the wait between second jabs and boosters would be reduced from six to three months.
This all appeared to gain immediate traction with the public this morning, with long queues reported to be forming outside walk-in vaccination centres across the country, while the government’s vax booking website crashed under the weight of demand.
According to a message on the government website, there are no more home testing kits available.
“Sorry, there are no more home test kits available right now,” the official message said.
“Try again later. Or you can go back and try to book a test site appointment instead.”
Under “Plan B” restrictions announced last week, it is now a legal requirement for people to:
- Work from home where possible
- Wear a face covering in pubs, restaurants, libraries, museums, theatres and cinemas as well as transport and shops
- Vaccine passports available to the double-vaccinated on the NHS app will be necessary for those attending large venues such as nightclubs and concerts from this week
- Advice to take daily lateral flow tests if you are a contact of someone positive – to minimise disruption instead of isolating
In his televised address, the prime minister said he was “afraid we are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omicron, and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe”.
Johnson called the target “a national mission unlike anything we have done before in the vaccination programme”.
On Saturday, 530,000 people were vaccinated. Johnson’s plan requires 1million vaccinations per day for the next 18 days to the end of the year, with vaccination centres to be open on Christmas day. The previous record for the number of vaccinations delivered was 844,000 in March.
In Croydon, the number of vaccinations booked at one centre, in the Centrale shopping centre, has already started to increase, with 1,100 jabs administered on one day last week.
Yesterday, the covid alert level was raised from 3 to 4, indicating substantial pressure on the NHS after a further 1,239 cases of Omicron were confirmed, nearly double the number reported the previous day. Omicron is expected to become Britain’s dominant variant within days, and Johnson warned it could “overwhelm the NHS and lead to very many deaths”.
“We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop. No one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming,” Johnson said. He said two doses of vaccine were not enough, but scientists were confident that three would make a huge difference.
The latest data suggests that three jabs provide 70 per cent to 75 per cent protection against infection with Omicron, while two doses given three or more months ago give 30 per cent to 40 per cent, or less.
Forty-two military planning teams are being deployed across every region of the country, and there will be additional vaccine sites and mobile units. There will be extended opening hours with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends, and thousands more volunteer vaccinators will be trained.
In a statement issued by the council, Rachel Flowers, Croydon’s director of public health, said, “As you would have seen in recent media reports, the numbers of cases is increasing nationally and in Croydon.
“Christmas is around the corner and we all want to see friends and family, so let’s do all we can now, to stay safe and well.
“Croydon residents have been magnificent in their efforts to help control the spread of covid-19, and I would like to thank each and every one of you for your resilience and determination to help not only yourself, but your community.
“The most important way we can tackle the virus is to get vaccinated as soon as we are eligible – so I would ask everyone to please take up your first, second and booster doses as soon as you are offered.
“Follow the public health advice on hands, face, space and fresh air to reduce the risk of infection spreading
“Rapid testing is a really important part of our defence. Even if you have no symptoms, 1-in-3 of you could still have coronavirus and risk passing it to people you care about. You can get take a free, rapid lateral flow test in the post or by ordering your test kits by post or visiting our pop up sites.
“Working together, with each and every one of us doing our bit through vaccinations and following public health guidance for hands, face, space, we can and will combat the spread of this deadly virus.”
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