On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the first death in the country of a person with the variant. He told reporters at a vaccination clinic: “I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think it is something that we must put aside and recognize the great rate at which it is accelerating in the population. “.
The UK raised its Covid-19 alert level on Sunday and is once again accelerating its launch of booster jabs in an effort to respond to the new wave of cases.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned Monday that data on Omicron infections are different from previous variants.
“It’s spreading at a phenomenal rate, something we’ve never seen before, it doubles every two to three days in infections,” Javid told Sky News on Monday. He added that it was too early to know if the cases of the new variant are milder.
“That means we are facing a wave of infection, once again we are in a race between the vaccine and the virus,” he added, echoing the language used by Johnson in a televised speech Sunday night.
On Sunday, the prime minister set a new goal of offering all adults a third injection by the end of December, a month earlier than originally planned. He had previously reduced the interval between the second and third doses from six months to three. The British government has focused its Covid response around the vaccine program since last summer and had resisted re-imposing restrictions until the Omicron variant came to light.
“No one should have any doubts: an Omicron tsunami is coming,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose, a booster dose, we can all regain our level of protection.”
The UK has so far reported 3,137 cases of the Omicron variant, although the actual number is likely to be higher. Javid said that “about 10 people” are in the hospital with the new variant. Overall, the country’s seven-day moving average of Covid-19 cases has exceeded 50,000 per day.
Omicron was likely behind about 40% of the infections in London, Javid said Monday. But Johnson said that “tomorrow will be the majority of cases”, underscoring how fast the spread of the new strain has been in its first weeks in Britain.
New guidelines came into effect Monday requiring people to work from home. The UK has also regained its mandate for masks for shops and public transport, and now requires a proof of vaccination or a negative test for attendees of large events.
The recent wave of new restrictions marks a sharp turn from recent months, during which Johnson resisted Europe’s turn toward long-term mitigation measures like vaccine passports and mask mandates.
But the embattled prime minister has faced a significant rebellion from his own conservative supporters over his decision to reintroduce the Covid rules, relying on the support of the opposition Labor Party to make them law.
CNN’s Robert Iddiols contributed to this report.