UK Omicron infections rise by 45% in 24 hours as Brits plunged into Plan B restrictions

CONFIRMED Omicron cases have risen by 44 per cent in 24 hours, public health chiefs say.

The super-mutated strain of the virus is accelerating at pace in the UK, forcing the PM to pull the trigger on “Plan B” measures.

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said another 249 cases of the variant had been detected, taking the total to 817.

However, the UKHSA has said the number of infections is likely to be more in the region of 10,000.

Underreporting of confirmed cases is due to factors such as a time lag in genetic sequencing of test swabs, and not everyone infected coming forward for a test.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said with the fast doubling rate of variant cases, UK infections could hit one million by the new year if restrictions had no effect on the rate Omicron is spreading.

It raises concerns of starting the year with a fresh lockdown despite the rollout of booster vaccines.

Yesterday UKHSA revealed the Omicron hotspots for the first time.

It said West Northamptonshire, East Midlands, had the highest detected cases, followed by several London boroughs.

The data does not cover all Omicron cases. But the health agency said that it was clear cases were rising fastest in the capital, East Midlands and South East. 

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UKHSA Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins said "vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against becoming severely ill from this new variant".

Adults are urged to accept their booster vaccine invite as soon as it arrives from the NHS, while there are still millions yet to take up their initial course of jabs.

🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news

Meanwhile, an expert has warned that Omicron is causing breakthrough infections in the vaccinated – but people are less unwell.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and lead scientist on the Zoe study, said early signs "show that Omicron is breaking through in vaccinated people, but it’s causing milder cold-like symptoms".

According to the Zoe Covid Study, some 83,658 people are getting Covid symptoms every day, including 25,411 in those vaccinated. The number of those that are Omicron was not revealed by the study.

But case numbers are low in those over 55, suggesting the booster shots are working to keep protetion high.

There have been no known hospitalisations or deaths caused by Omicron yet,

It's been cautioned that this may be because it takes a week or so for people to get seriously unwell.

UKHSA said in a report last night that at present, there is “insufficient data” to say how severe illness caused by Omicron is, or what protection jabs give.

Amid unclarity over the threat Omicron, Tory MPs have revolted against the new measures, including working from home and vaccine passports for large venues.

The shift to the coronavirus Plan B is an attempt to “buy time”, Mr Javid said in defence.

With a doubling rate of two-and-a-half to three days, Mr Javid told Sky News: “It would mean, at that rate, by the end of this month we could hit about one million infections in the community throughout the UK.

“We’ve always been clear that should the data change and should it move in the wrong direction and it looked like the NHS might come under unsustainable pressure…

"Remember what that would mean, we wouldn’t be able to get the emergency care not just for Covid but for a car accident, or anything like that – we would act and implement Plan B."

He said he hoped the fresh restrictions would "avoid action later".

Omicron has sent the world into a tailspin, with early indications it spreads much easier and can infect people with immunity.

The World Health Organization yesterday urged nations to act before it was too late and hospitals were under pressure.

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