New Covid cases breach 100,000 for first time: Daily infections hit 106,122 after rising 35% in a week but hospital admissions are up just 5% as several studies show new variant is ‘milder’

  • Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced a wave of new Covid curbs coming into force on Boxing Day 
  • Measures will ban large indoor/outdoor gatherings while rule of six and table service will be imposed on pubs 
  • Social distancing will return and people are being advised to limit household mixing as much as possible
  • Moves will pile pressure on Boris Johnson as he considers whether or not to impose more curbs in England 

More than 100,000 Covid cases were recorded across the UK today for the first time, according to official figures — but there are signs the outbreak is slowing.

Government dashboard data shows there were 106,122 positive tests across the country in the past 24 hours, up by a third on the figure last week.  

While today’s cases are the most ever recorded in a single day, there are signs the week-on-week growth rate is slowing, down from 52 per cent yesterday and around 70 per cent on some days at the weekend.

New reported infections had been hovering at around 90,000 for the last six days, defying predictions that Omicron cases would be doubling every day.

It comes as Wales today announced new Covid restrictions would return on Boxing Day, with large New Year’s Eve parties banned and the rule of six reimposed on pubs and restaurants.

The country’s First Minister Mark Drakeford said two-metre social distancing will return in most public settings, while hospitality venues will be limited to table service-only and customers will have to wear face masks at all times apart from when seated.

Meanwhile, hospital admissions across the UK increased by just five per cent in a week to 813, as a real-world study from South Africa suggests people who catch the super mutant strain are 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalised than those who catch Delta.

Deaths dropped 15 per cent week-on-week to 140. Both hospitalisations and fatalities lag two to three weeks behind the trends seen in cases due to the time it takes for someone to become seriously ill after testing positive.

Another 968,665 third doses were dished out across the UK, which is still more than 30,000 shy of Boris Johnson’s 1million boosters per day target, despite being the most dished out within 24 hours. 

In London, which has become the UK’s Omicron hotspot, the outbreak also started to pick up there again with 27,799 cases in the last 24 hours – the most ever and 44 per cent more than a week ago.

There were another 302 hospital admissions in the capital on December 20, the latest day with data, which was up 79 per cent in a week.

Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.

Government sources say officials are considering a national two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown after Christmas if London’s daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the NHS. 

Despite measures in Wales going even further than those announced by Nicola Sturgeon yesterday — who banned large scale Hogmanay celebrations and imposed table service-only rules on hospitality — Boris Johnson yesterday hit the brakes on a Christmas lockdown in England as scientists concluded the Omicron strain is likely to be milder than Delta, with ministers saying cases are also lower than feared.  

The PM declared last night that Christmas can definitely go ahead ‘cautiously’, but warned that the Government is tracking the spread of the mutant strain hour by hour and is ‘ready’ to act after December 25 if necessary.

However, in a glimmer of light there are claims today that the UK Health Security Agency has tentatively backed suggestions that Omicron infections tend to be less severe.

The scientists also endorsed previous findings that booster jabs offer significant protection from developing symptoms and ending up in hospital, according to Politico.  

The evidence – due to be published formally in the coming days – does not mean that the threat from the variant can be ignored, as it is so transmissible that large numbers are set to end up needing urgent care.

Government sources are adamant that it did not play a part in the decision on Christmas last night. 

However, the apparent findings will be a significant boost to the PM as he weighs up whether to bring in even tougher restrictions as early as next week. 

It came as The Guardian reported that the NHS could set up ‘field hospitals’ in hospital car parks to provide ‘super surge’ capacity if Omicron causes a massive spike in hospitalisations above previous peak levels.   

First Minister Mark Drakeford today set out post-Christmas coronavirus rules for Wales, with tighter restrictions for hospitality venues

The First Minister is also advising people in Wales to limit household mixing. Cardiff city centre is pictured last night

There have been 562,333 cumulative cases of coronavirus in Wales since the pandemic started, according to Public Health Wales data

Public Health Wales data showed there has been 6,522 suspected Covid-19 deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic 

Covid isolation period is cut to SEVEN days 

More than 280,000 people infected with coronavirus and facing Christmas alone can now safely enjoy festivities with their families after a change in isolation rules.

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said infected patients can take the tests 24 hours apart on day six and seven of their isolation period, which if negative means they can stop quarantining.

This means the 102,875 people who tested positive on December 15, the 95,058 positive cases the following day, and a further 82,945 people who contracted the virus on December 17, will be free to enjoy Christmas together with loved ones under the new rules.

It has also been hailed as a major boost to the NHS, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly among those concerned at the number of staff who’ve been off work with the virus under the 10-day rule.

However, unvaccinated adults who have come into contact with someone infected with Covid must still self-isolate until 10 days after their estimated date of exposure to the virus.

The latest coronavirus developments in Wales came as: 

  • Thousands more people are set to be released from isolation in time for Christmas as ministers cut the period from 10 days to seven days; 
  • A South African study suggests reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease in people infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant versus the Delta one, though the authors say some of that is likely due to high population immunity; 
  • Health Minister Gillian Keegan warned people must be ready to cancel New Year plans at short notice due to the ‘uncertainty’ over Omicron;  
  • Mr Johnson’s allies have kicked back at Liz Truss over ‘pathetic’ leadership jockeying over the response to Omicron – as the Tories’ poll ratings slumped to the lowest in more than two years.

Mr Drakeford said the new crackdown in Wales is needed because there is a ‘wave of infections… headed our way’. 

He said: ‘We are facing a very serious situation in Wales. A wave of infections caused by the new, fast-moving and very-infectious omicron variant is headed our way.

‘This new form of coronavirus could infect large numbers of people in Wales, disrupting daily lives and businesses and could cause an increase in the number of people who need hospital care in the coming weeks.

‘We will do everything we can to protect people’s health and livelihoods in Wales – this means taking early action to try and control its spread.

‘We are changing the rules for businesses and some public spaces, where lots of different people mix daily and issuing strong and clear advice to help people stay safe in their own private homes and when meeting others.’  

Mr Drakeford said the new restrictions amount to a revised version of the old Alert Level Two curbs which were previously in place in the country.

The new curbs will see a general requirement for two metre social distancing in all premises open to the public, including workplaces.  

The NHS’ winter crisis could be about to get much worse with up to 130,000 frontline staff still not fully vaccinated despite the threat of Omicron and losing their jobs if they are not double-jabbed by April 1, new figures revealed today. 

Doctors are braced for a ‘difficult’ Christmas and New Year as they treat a surging number of new Covid patients in hospital at the same time as more staff are absent because of the virus. 

It came as health chiefs today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period and are fully-jabbed.

Hospitals in parts of England with the highest infection rates are predicting that one-third of NHS staff could be off sick by January and there are some tensions between vaccinated staff and unvaccinated colleagues, who are more likely to get the virus and face strict quarantine rules keeping them off work, even if they don’t test positive.

Piling more pressure on their vaccinated colleagues, the NHS’ own figures on staff vaccinations from December 16 show that up to 130,000 of the NHS 1.4m workers have had just one or even zero jabs. 30,000 of those are in London, which is the current epicentre of the UK’s Omicron outbreak.  

As Tony Blair branded the unjabbed ‘idiots’, unvaccinated NHS workers are not only more likely to get the illness, they must also isolate for ten days regardless of negative PCR test results if they come into close contact with a case. 

There are also still 23 per cent of NHS frontline staff have also not had their boosters, despite millions of Britons rushing to their vaccination centres to get one over the past month after being told it will give better protection against the new variant spreading through the UK. 

The Government imposed a ‘no jab, no job’ policy in care homes from November 11. But the same diktat will not apply to the NHS frontline until April 2022. 

The rule of six will apply to gatherings in hospitality venues, including in cinemas and theatres. 

All venues serving alcohol will be required to use table service-only and to collect the contact details of customers.

Face coverings will also be required in all hospitality settings at all times apart from when people are sat down. 

Mr Drakeford torpedoed large-scale New Year’s Eve celebrations as he said large events will be banned, both indoors and outdoors. 

The maximum number of people people who will be allowed to gather at an indoor event will be 30 while for outdoor events it will be 50.   

There will also be a separate offence for large gatherings in private homes and gardens, with the same numbers applying. 

Mr Drakeford has recommended that no more than three households mix indoors and said the new offence for large gatherings in private homes would stop house parties. 

He told a press conference at lunchtime: ‘If police do receive reports of house parties rather than family gatherings, police will have a basis for intervening and checking people are following the rules that would be expected of people at a time of a public health crisis.’

The latest measures are in addition to those which were set out last week which applied to workplaces and retail which will now also come into force on Boxing Day. 

Night clubs will also close on Boxing Day and sporting events, whether indoors or outdoors, will be played behind closed doors. 

However, the Welsh Government is not imposing hard and fast rules on mixing in private homes, instead opting to roll out new guidance consisting of five recommendations. 

The guidance suggests that people should limit the number of people visiting their home, take lateral flow tests before a visit, meet outdoors if possible, space out any visits and to remember to social distance and wash hands.  

The Welsh government has already amended legislation to enforce its previously announced work from home rules.

It has made attending a workplace unnecessarily a criminal offence, with people facing fines for breaking the law. 

The amended legislation states that ‘no person may leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services’ when it is ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so from home.

It adds that anyone who contravenes this rule ‘commits an offence’ punishable by a fine of £60.  

Mr Drakeford’s press conference came after Ms Sturgeon yesterday announced new post-Christmas curbs for Scotland.  

From December 26 for three weeks there will be attendance limits placed on live public events which will torpedo Hogmanay festivities.

The number of Omicron cases reported in the UK is increasing slower than scientists predicted. However some experts fear that the country has hit the limit of its testing capacity and that this is throttling the data

Prepare to drive home for Christmas: Now rail bosses warn crucial services could be CANCELLED as thousands try to scramble home in time for December 25

Christmas train travel is already being badly disrupted by Omicron – and is only going to get worse – with almost one in ten railway staff now off sick or isolating as the Government slashed the isolation period for the fully vaccinated from ten days to seven days. 

Britons now being told to travel as soon as possible over the festive period because of growing cancellations, it was revealed today.

The UK Rail Delivery Group has said that around one in 20 services were cancelled in the past week – up from an average of one in 40 – with passengers urged to check their train is running before they leave home.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus. 

Almost ten per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolation, up one per cent in a month, while Transport for London says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus.

Omicron is causing staff shortages in all areas of the UK, with hospitals in parts of England with the highest infection rates predicting that one-third of NHS staff could be off sick by January. 

Bin collections have been disrupted while at Heathrow staffing shortages caused pre-Christmas travel ‘chaos’ with delays at check-in, passport control and baggage reclaim. 

Royal Mail chiefs are warning of delays to postal services this Christmas, with Amazon stepping in to help deliver lateral flow tests. 

Train companies have blamed the wave of cancellations on staff sickness and isolation requirements, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent over the last week.  On Monday, 13 per cent of UK trains were either cancelled or delayed. More than one in 20 trains were cancelled in the seven days before Monday, up from the annual average of 2.9 per cent.

Operators yesterday pleaded with travellers to book on to earlier services, while warning of last-minute cancellations in the days ahead. 

The limits will not apply to private life events like weddings, but Ms Sturgeon said for indoor standing events the limit will be 100 people, for indoor seated events it will be 200 and for outdoor events 500 seated or standing. 

This will mean that from Boxing Day football and other sporting matches in Scotland will effectively be spectator-free.  

Ms Sturgeon also said that from December 27 the Scottish Government is advising people to return to limiting their social contacts ‘as much as you possibly can’ while a table service-only requirement will be reimposed on hospitality venues serving alcohol, lasting for an initial period of three weeks. 

There will also be a requirement for one metre social distancing between adults in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings. 

In England, Mr Johnson yesterday said there will be no new restrictions imposed before Christmas but he warned measures could be imposed after December 25. 

Claims today that the UK Health Security Agency has tentatively backed suggestions that Omicron infections tend to be less severe have boosted hopes that the coming weeks may not be as bad in terms of case numbers and hospitalisations as experts have previously forecast.  

An UKHSA spokesman said: ‘We are reviewing all analyses continuously to help inform the pandemic response, which includes assessing the severity of Omicron. We will publish these latest findings in the variant technical briefing on December 23.’ 

In a round of interviews this morning, Health Minister Gillian Keegan said ‘we haven’t received that officially yet’ when asked about the UKHSA conclusions. 

She also pointed out that Covid cases, while dramatically up, are still way off the grim predictions of some scientific models. 

However, Ms Keegan did caution that people must be ready to cancel New Year parties at short notice. 

A mooted ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown would be devastating for already-stricken businesses, as well as ruining the New Year plans of millions. 

There are claims that the Government is watching hospitalisations in London, and could act if the number rises above 400 a day.

Another 90,629 Covid cases were recorded in 24 hours across the UK yesterday, along with 172 deaths. 

A further 15,363 infections with the Omicron variant have been confirmed, bringing the total to 60,508 – although the pace of spread looks slower than initially feared.    

Tory MPs who were yesterday briefed on the latest information by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said there was still no clarity on the data that would justify new curbs. One said members of the backbench Covid Recovery Group were ‘unimpressed’ with the briefing.

Another – a former minister – said the briefing was ‘very data-light’. He added that he and his colleagues felt there was ‘absolutely no basis on which to rush into further curbs after Christmas – and most of all hospitality and families need some clarity beyond this weekend’.

The top advisers are said to have warned of the prospect of ‘huge staff shortages’ in the NHS over the coming days as a result of the spread of the virus. 

However, another Tory MP told the Times: ‘I didn’t get the impression they [Whitty and Vallance] were convinced we were making a mistake [in not imposing restrictions], even if they probably thought on balance we probably are.’ 

Amid rising anger that millions of people are being left in limbo, the PM last night completely ruled out any further curbs being introduced before December 25 but warned that the situation is ‘finely balanced’. 

In a further boost, officials cut the quarantine time for confirmed virus cases from ten to seven days for those who test negative two days in a row. 

The rule change, which takes effect from Wednesday, will free thousands of people from isolation in time for Christmas. 

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