Boris Johnson said hospitals will be offered increased support to deal with the “very difficult circumstances” they face, as he encouraged more people to take up the offer of a booster jab.
The Prime Minister said that “perhaps 30-40%” of the 17,000 patients in hospital with Covid “haven’t actually been vaccinated at all” as he urged the public to “behave sensibly” in the face of high daily Omicron cases.
Both Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak made visits to vaccination centres on Thursday as ministers made a fresh push for people to come forward for their third coronavirus vaccination dose.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Northamptonshire, the Prime Minister said: “What we’ve got to do is make sure that people understand the pressures that Omicron is causing.
“And the way to deal with it is for everybody to stick to Plan B, which we are, make sure that they behave sensibly, but also recognise the vital importance of vaccination.
“When you look at what’s happening to patients coming into hospital, a large number of them, perhaps 30-40% of them, haven’t actually been vaccinated at all.
“And that’s increasingly true of people who go into ICU, into intensive care – the large majority of them have not been vaccinated at all, and the overwhelming majority of them have not been boosted.”
The Conservative Party leader said that, as well as “increasing support massively” to struggling hospitals – including by helping trusts to source extra staff while dealing with high proportions of the workforce being in self-isolation – a key target was to “make sure that the people who are likely to get ill get vaccinated first”.
Hitting out at anti-vaxxers for posting “mumbo jumbo” on social media, Mr Johnson added: “The saddest words in the English language are too late – when you’re in ICU, and you haven’t been vaccinated, sadly it’s too late to get vaccinated. So get boosted now.”
A total of 247,478 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported across the UK on Wednesday, new figures show, with around 65% of all adults in the UK having now received a booster or third dose.
However, fewer than half of all adults in some of the biggest cities in England are among those to receive a top-up jab.
Figures published by NHS England, accounting for vaccinations delivered up to January 2, estimate that in Liverpool, 49.1% of all people aged 18 and over have had a third jab, along with 46.9% in Birmingham, 45.7% in Manchester and 42.8% in Nottingham.
Meanwhile, Environment Secretary George Eustice predicted that the “difficult situation” the NHS is in will be “quite short lived because we will get past this peak of infections relatively soon”.
Mr Eustice told Sky News: “It won’t be too long where you’ll have more people returning to work than those who are isolating.”
PA understands that 17 hospital trusts in England currently have critical incidents – an alert to signal that there are fears priority services cannot be safely delivered – as hospitals are confronted by a wave of Omicron admissions.
That figure was down from 24 – a number given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during interviews on Thursday morning.
It comes as Cabinet ministers this week reportedly discussed denying entry to large venues and the right to quarantine-free travel to those who refuse to get a booster jab.
The Times said ministers on the Government’s Covid-O committee discussed plans to make third jabs a mandatory requirement for Covid passes as it looks to incentivise the remaining eligible adults to take up the offer of another vaccination dose.
The move, which could put Mr Johnson on another collision course with rebel Tory backbenchers, is likely to be delayed until at least next month to give people whose boosters were delayed because they contracted the virus time to get jabbed.
Downing Street said no date had been set for a possible change to the Covid pass criteria but that it was “something we want to look at”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “We’ve always said that, given what we know about waning immunity, it’s right to look at what constitutes being fully vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government announced on Wednesday that pre-departure tests for travellers entering Scotland will be scrapped, in line with the rest of the UK.
The change will be introduced from 4am on Friday.
A further 179,756 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, while 231 more deaths were recorded.
An estimated 3.7 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 31, up from 2.3 million in the week to December 23 and the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics said.