UK and France hit record Covid-19 highs as Europe races to vaccinate

Vaccine campaigns are seen as the best way to tackle the current threat

The UK and France confirmed record numbers of new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday as the Omicron variant raced through Europe.

Britain recorded 183,037 new cases, a second day of record highs after the Christmas break, while France reported Covid-19 infections in the country had breached a daily record of 208,000 cases on Wednesday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier said booster shots were the reason England could go ahead with social events this week, as its vaccination campaign was preventing serious illness from Omicron cases of Covid-19.

The French Health Ministry on Wednesday reported a national and European record high for Covid-19 cases, with Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Malta also hitting records.

In the Netherlands, where a strict lockdown has been ordered, Omicron has become the dominant strain. Germany fears it is not far behind the Dutch in Omicron becoming dominant.

Social distancing measures and face mask rules are being looked at but vaccination campaigns are considered the best way to tackle the latest wave.

The circulation of the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus is creating a “tsunami of cases”, World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Early data from Britain, South Africa and Denmark suggests there is a reduced risk of hospital admission with Omicron, compared with Delta, but that it is more contagious, a WHO report said.

“The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high,” the WHO said.

“Consistent evidence shows that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days and rapid increases in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries.”

France is pushing ahead with attempts to increase pressure on the unvaccinated to get jabs.

Health ministers want to tighten the current health pass so that only fully vaccinated people can go to restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums, and sports arenas.

The plan would mean that unvaccinated people will no longer be able to use negative test results to visit places where the pass is required.

France has vaccinated more than 75 per cent of its population and is rushing out booster shots, but more than 4 million adults in the country remain unvaccinated.

New capacity levels have been introduced for German entertainment and hospitality venues but again there are tighter rules for the unvaccinated.

Private events are limited to groups of 10 people to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Those who are unvaccinated are limited to meeting two people from another household and effectively banned from venues such as restaurants and theatres.

About 71 per cent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated, with 37 per cent receiving booster shots so far.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday ruled out new restrictions, relying on the country’s high vaccination rate of more than 80 per vent.

“It’s clear that we are in a situation radically different. We are better and more prepared to confront the Omicron variant,” he said.

The UK new cases figure includes 22,972 cases covering a five-day period from Northern Ireland, but even without that extra data, UK cases were in record territory. There were 57 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

There are also 10,462 people Covid patients are in hospital in England, the highest number since March.

About 62 per cent of adults in the UK have received a booster or third dose.

Mr Johnson said his government “looked at the balance of risks", as it expects the impact of booster shots in preventing serious illness from Omicron to help avoid more lockdown measures.

“The overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted,” he said.

“I've talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 per cent of people in intensive care.”

The government has also lowered quarantine from 10 days to seven days, but has resisted calls to follow the US and cut quarantine to five days.

The Confederation of British Industry wants isolation periods to be as short as possible, but Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said any move to do so would need “clear evidence” that it would not cause a rise in infections.

Updated: December 29th 2021, 7:15 PM