British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the public this week as Omicron in the UK soared to record highs. Hospitals reported having to turn away patients due to over-capacity, and financial markets feared another economic collapse as rumors of another lockdown loomed overhead.
On Wednesday, the UK reported over 106,122 new cases with roughly 11 million confirmed cases since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Numbers were soaring just from last week to reach a new average of around 90,000 new cases per day, but the numbers are currently only going up from there.
According to the BBC, 90% of all new cases reported in the UK are likely due to the Omicron variant, which has spread faster than any previous wave of the virus so far. In the UK, 90% of citizens above the age 12 have had their first vaccine dose, 82% have had their second and 54% have gotten their booster. Much like the United States, rollout for the third dose of the vaccine only recently started.
Expressing the need to impose measures once again to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Boris Johnson revealed that talks were becoming “extremely difficult,” acknowledging frustrations over the holiday season.
“I have to say to the British public, and I say to everybody, we will not exclude the possibility of going further if we have to do things to protect the public,” Johnson stated after a tense cabinet meeting.
Their allies in the Netherlands across the English Channel just announced another shutdown on Saturday, after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ordered the closure of everything but essential stores until Jan. 14.
When asked if the UK would follow suit with a lockdown and travel ban, Boris Johnson told reporters that, “We’re looking at all kinds of things… we will rule nothing out.”
The Prime Minister came under fire this month for throwing parties while everyone in the country was supposed to be under quarantine last year.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) earlier this week revealed that Omicron in the UK is much more mild than the Delta variant, much like those around the world who are only experiencing mild symptoms after testing positive. Those who are vaccinated against the virus, especially those who have received two doses and the booster, are even more likely to experience even milder symptoms.
British scientists confirmed, however, that transmission is still very high, meaning that although the cases are milder, the rate of infection is still worrisome.
Disagreements over another lockdown before Christmas have angered and overjoyed British citizens since the surge of Omicron in the UK, with people highly divided over whether they should or should not spend time with family over the holidays.
In fear of the Omicron variant, France and Germany banned all non-essential travel from the UK this week, though travel to and from the UK is still possible in a majority of countries around the world. Travelers must be fully vaccinated to travel, with President Joe Biden even considering removing the travel ban to South Africa, where the Omicron variant originated.
“We’re past that now,” he told the American people, citing that the travel ban was near useless since Omicron has already invaded the country.
Many citizens in the UK have been confused by the country’s unwillingness to enter lockdown once again, speaking with The Guardian about how “wholly irresponsible” the response to Omicron in the UK has been.
“I understand it’s all our individual responsibility but at this time it’s not appropriate,” Sharon, 60, told reporters. “People are feeling really vulnerable and scared and want support – even if it’s just clear messaging from the government.”