Covid: UK reports more than 106,000 cases in new daily record

Boris Johnson insists that people ‘can go ahead’ with Christmas plans

Wales brings back rule of six and distancing from Boxing Day, first minister says

The UK has reported a record 106,122 daily Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, as pressure grows on ministers to impose tougher restrictions after Christmas.

Driven by the spread of the highly transmissible new Omicron variant, coronavirus infections have jumped dramatically in Britain in recent weeks, surpassing 100,000 for the first time on Wednesday.

Public health experts are urging the government to take decisive action to protect the NHS, including Jeremy Farrar, a former member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who warned this week that “it’s better to act sooner than later”.

The enormous spike in cases has prompted the Welsh government to announce new measures, which will come into force from Boxing Day. These include mandatory social distancing and return of the rule of six in hospitality venues.

Scotland has taken similar action in the face of spiralling infections, bringing in fresh restrictions on sporting events and cancelling Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay street party.

However, Boris Johnson has - for the time being at least - decided not to back harsher restrictions in England, saying “that people can go ahead with their plans” over the festive season.

But the prime minister admitted new policies could be introduced later this month. “We can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas - and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health,” he said on Tuesday evening.

Labour has called on the government to give people “certainty”, with shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth telling Sky News that ministers urgently need to provide a “road map”.

“People are anticipating that some form of restrictions will come in post-Christmas, and I think we just need to give people certainty,” he said.

The latest official data shows that hospitalisations are increasing in the UK, with 8,008 people in hospital with Covid-19 as of Tuesday. This is the highest level seen since 22 November, but is still a long way off the 39,254 hospitalisations recorded on 18 January.

One of the worst-affected areas is London, where hospitalisations have rocketed by 78 per cent over the past week and are now greater than at any point since early February. There were 301 admissions in the capital on Monday, NHS England said.

Rather than curbing the public’s freedom to drive down infection rates, the government continues to place its hopes in the accelerated roll-out of the booster vaccine programme.

A record 968,665 booster and third doses were given on Tuesday, raising the total number administered to 30.8 million, 6.1 million more than a week ago.

So far, the UK has recorded 14 deaths from Omicron and more than 60,000 confirmed cases. Although the new strain is spreading fast, early studies from South Africa and the UK suggest it typically leads to milder symptoms than the Delta variant.

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