One in 10 people in London had coronavirus last week, data shows

Johnson acknowledges surge in cases nationwide posing problems for NHS

One in 10 people in London had coronavirus last week as the Omicron variant sweeps through Britain, according to official estimates published on Wednesday. But Boris Johnson said Britain's rollout of booster vaccines made new restrictions unnecessary as he eased rules on testing for travellers arriving into the country.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that almost 3.75 million people in Britain were infected with coronavirus last week, accounting for one in 15 people in England, one in 20 in Scotland and Wales and one in 25 in Northern Ireland. The data is based on swabs collected from randomly selected households across the country.

Almost 200,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday and Mr Johnson acknowledged that the surge in cases was putting a strain on the National Health Service (NHS).

“I am sorry to report that hospital admissions are rising rapidly, doubling around every nine days, with already more than 15,000 Covid patients in hospital in England alone. We are experiencing the fastest growth in Covid cases that we have ever known,” he told MPs.

"And potentially of greatest concern, case rates are now rapidly rising among the older and more vulnerable, including doubling every week among those over 60, with the obvious risk that this will continue to increase the pressures on our NHS. "

Mr Johnson said the modest measures he imposed last month, including mandatory face coverings in most public indoor spaces and guidance to work from home, were helping to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and that booster vaccination shots were protecting people from serious illness. He said it would be wrong to introduce further restrictions on businesses and individuals.

“Lockdowns are not cost free. They impose a devastating toll on our physical and mental wellbeing, on our businesses, jobs and livelihoods, and, worst of all, on the life chances of our children. So this government does not believe we need to shut down our country again,” he said.

Staff shortages

The rise in infections has created staff shortages in the NHS and other essential services and Mr Johnson announced an easing of the testing rules so that people who test positive with a lateral flow test do not need to confirm that result with a PCR test but should begin their seven-day self-isolation period immediately.

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving into Britain from most countries will no longer have to take a test before they fly and they can take a lateral flow test rather than a PCR test within two days of arrival. Because of the Common Travel Area, there have never been any coronavirus restrictions on people arriving into Britain from Ireland.

Transport secretary Grant Schapps said the government had never intended to keep travel restrictions in place for longer than they were needed to protect public health.

“That’s why we’re removing the temporary, extra testing measures we introduced for Omicron in November, making travel easier and cheaper for fully vaccinated passengers and providing a big boost for the travel industry as we enter the peak new year booking period,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

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