Boris Johnson said he is ‘pretty to absolutely confident’ that this Christmas is ‘going to be better’ than last year’s during a special Covid press conference on Saturday.
The prime minister’s comment came as he refused to rule out another lockdown over the festive period while fielding questions from journalists following the discovery of the new super-mutant Omicron variant in Britain.
The strain – designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation on Friday – has been detected in Nottingham and Brentwood in Essex, in two people who had recently returned from southern Africa.
There are fears the ‘monster’ variant could plunge the country into another lockdown over concerns it could dodge the vaccine and be more effective at re-infecting people.
Appearing inside Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘We continue to be in a strong position largely thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout, another booster rollout and I think I’m going to stick with the formula I’ve used before, which is I’m pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas.’
He later backed up his comment, saying: ‘I think it will be considerably better than last year.’
Boris Johnson said he is ‘pretty to absolutely confident’ that this Christmas will be ‘considerably better than last Christmas’ during a special Covid briefing at Downing Street on Saturday
The prime minister’s comment came as he refused to rule out another lockdown over the festive period as he fielded questions from journalists following the discovery of the new super-mutant Omicron variant in Britain (Pictured: Boris during Covid briefing on Saturday)
Cases of Omicron have already been picked up in the UK, South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. It is not yet known whether the variant arrived in the Netherlands yesterday but Dutch authorities are sequencing passengers’ tests. There are also suspected individual cases being sequenced in Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia
Britain has sequenced two cases of the Omicron variant in Nottingham and Chelmsford, Sajid Javid said today
The emergence of the Delta variant last December saw severe restrictions put in place across the UK just days before Christmas.
The country then entered lockdown in early January following a record surge in cases.
The Conservative leader appeared on Saturday alongside Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
On the threat of another lockdown, Sir Patrick said the UK does not have enough information to create modelling yet.
The expert said that so far we know that ‘there are pockets of rapidly growing outbreaks’.
He added: ‘We will get more information on transmissibility. We will get more information on the vaccines’ ability to protect against the virus. But that is going to take some time.
‘We can’t really get much further than that.
‘But if it’s very transmissible and does cause big [vaccine] escape then, then clearly that is a major issue to face up to but that isn’t what we know at the moment.
‘We need to get that information.’
Mr Johnson urged people to get their booster jabs to ensure immunity remains as high as possible among the public.
He added: ‘No matter what the effects of this new variant, if you’re vaccinated and in particular if you have a booster, your immunity is likely to be stronger.
‘So the best thing you can do is to get your booster.’
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed the cases, which are both believed to be connected and linked to travel to southern Africa, after genomic sequencing overnight.
The individuals and their households were ordered into self-isolation and targeted testing was being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been infectious
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will face travel restrictions from Sunday, when they will join South Africa and five other neighbouring nations on England’s red list.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We need to take targeted and proportionate measures now as a precaution while we find out more.
Another 39,567 Covid cases and 131 deaths were recorded in the UK today. Department of Health officials posted nearly 40,000 daily infections – down 3.36 per cent from 40,941 last Saturday – after Sajid Javid announced that two cases of the ‘monstrous’ new Covid variant were detected. The number of people who have died 28 days after testing positive for Covid has also fallen by 12.7 per cent from 150 last week
‘First we need to slow down the seeding of the variant in this country, we need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we’re dealing with, and for us to get more people vaccinated, and above all to get more people boosted.’
But the Prime Minister said border measures can ‘only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together’, so all contacts with a suspected case of the new variant will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
‘We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport,’ Mr Johnson said.
While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, Mr Johnson said there are ‘good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection’.
Christmas shoppers browse stalls at the traditional Christmas market in Bath back on November 30, 2017. The 400,000-strong event has been cancelled this year.
The Grassington Dickensian Festival in North Yorkshire (pictured in 2019) has been ditched in favour of two ‘safer and more prudent’ markets for locals
He said ‘we’re going to boost the booster campaign’ by asking the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to consider giving boosters to ‘as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap’ between second doses and the booster.
It comes as at least 30 areas across the country have already cancelled Christmas events this year, despite no rules in place requiring them to do so.
Bath has pulled its 400,000-strong Christmas market while the The Grassington Dickensian Festival in North Yorkshire has been ditched in favour of two ‘safer and more prudent’ markets for locals.
Nottingham city council said it had turned Christmas lights on without publicising it to stop crowds gathering, while lights ceremonies were scrapped in Southend, Cambridge, Ely and York.
Other areas with cancelled or scaled back events include Slough, Faversham in Kent and Ambleside in the Lake District.