UK stadiums to be vaccine sites as modelling shows Omicron infections at 200k a day

The government announced an accelerated booster program to get the UK through the latest pandemic crisis. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain promised to open hundreds of more vaccination sites in the coming days, including at football stadiums and racecourses, as it tries to massively ramp up delivery of booster shots amid a surge in Omicron cases.

The move comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament the new coronavirus strain now accounts for 20 per cent of confirmed Covid-19 cases in England, while the estimated number of daily infections is about 200,000, according to modelling from the UK Health Security Agency.

On Tuesday, Javid said the doubling time of Omicron cases was now around every two days.

“The growth in Omicron cases here in the UK is now mirroring the rapid increase that we are seeing in South Africa and the current observed doubling time is around every two days,” he told parliament ahead of a vote on new restrictions.

With two vaccine doses deemed to provide insufficient protection against Omicron, the government announced an accelerated booster programme to get Britain through the latest pandemic crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the National Health Service must beat its daily record for vaccinations - 844,000 in March - "day after day" to achieve the government's target of offering all adults a booster shot by the New Year.

"To achieve something on this scale, we need your help," the Prime Minister said in a statement late on Monday (Dec 13). "So today, I'm issuing a call for volunteers to join our national mission to get jabs in arms."

Yet there are growing warnings from scientists that new pandemic restrictions announced last week, including mandatory face coverings in indoor public spaces and proof of negative tests to enter some venues, will be unable to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed - even with the booster roll-out.

On Monday, Mr Johnson refused repeatedly to rule out imposing further rules before Christmas to try to contain Omicron. "We take whatever steps are necessary to protect public health," he told broadcasters, while confirming the first British death linked to the variant.

Tory anger

Tougher curbs would put him on a collision course with members of his ruling Conservative Party, many of whom are already threatening to rebel when the measures announced last week are put to a vote in Parliament on Tuesday.

According to Spectator magazine, 78 Tory MPs have said they will vote against the government on the use of so-called vaccine passports as at Monday evening - just shy of Mr Johnson's working majority of about 80 in the Commons.

Still, the new measures are almost certain to pass, as the opposition Labour Party has said it will vote for them. The question is whether more will be needed, especially if the booster programme falls short of the target.

More than 90,000 volunteers are already working in almost 3,000 vaccine sites across England. This will be widened to hundreds of more sites, mobile units and pop-ups within the next week, Mr Johnson's office said, including sports stadiums and shopping centres.

"I am convinced that if we don't prioritise the booster now, the health consequences will be far more grave in the months that lie ahead," Mr Javid said.

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