Ministers hope as many as 500,000 people a day will get a third jab.
Ministers hope as many as 500,000 people a day will get a third jab, since the 13 million-shot rollout makes all adults eligible. Boris Johnson said steps such as the return of masks today will “buy time” to work out Omicron’s threat.
Britain had recorded 11 cases of the new strain by last night – five in England plus six in Scotland.
Sajid Javid yesterday confirmed everyone aged over 18 is eligible for a vaccine booster.
The Health Secretary also said that the gap between people receiving their second and third doses is to be halved from six months to three, to turbo-charge immunity.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said that health service staff will “moveheaven and Earth to vaccinate as many people as possible” to ensure families can enjoy Christmas with their loved ones. But volunteers were needed to help with the expansion of the vaccine programme. She added the new variant served as a ‘wake-up call’.
NHS chiefs are to announce details of how the accelerated rollout of Pfizer and Moderna jabs will be delivered to meet the threat from Omicron.
Mr Javid told MPs yesterday: “This is not a time to waver – it’s a time to be vigilant. It’s best to act decisively and swiftly.” His announcement came soon after jabs watchdog the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) backed the move.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid
Members said protection against Covid-19 should be intensified while scientists assess the danger posed by its Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa last week.
Mr Johnson faced down demands for stricter travel curbs from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford yesterday. The Prime Minister stuck with already-announced measures, including the return of face coverings in shops and on public transport plus stricter isolation rules, which were due to come into force at 4am today.
Mr Johnson said: “The measures taking effect…are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new variant.
“Our vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.
“Not only will [the] steps help us slow down the variant’s spread, but they will help us protect each other.
“The measures are temporary and precautionary, and will be reviewed in three weeks. The regulations will be kept under review to ensure they only remain necessary and proportionate.”
MPs were due to rubber stamp the curbs in a Commons vote today.
The return of masks today will “buy time” to work out Omicron’s threat according to the PM.
Mr Javid promised backbenchers yesterday that the restrictions will not stay in force “for a day longer than is necessary”.
He said more scientific investigation into Omicron’s level of threat was needed:
“In this race between the vaccines and the virus, the new variant may have given the virus extra legs. So, our strategy is to buy ourselves time and to strengthen our defences while our world-leading scientists learn more about this potential threat.”
Mr Javid promised “a huge step-up for our vaccination programme, almost doubling the number of people who will be able to get a booster dose. We’ve always known that a worrying new variant could be a threat to the progress that we’ve made.
“We’re entering the winter in a strong position, thanks to the decisions we made in the summer and the defences that we have built.
“Our vaccination programme has been moving at a blistering pace and this weekend we reached the milestone of 17 million boosters. Even though cases have been rising, hospital admissions have fallen a further 11 per cent in the past week and deaths have fallen by 17 per cent.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Mr Javid said the quickened vaccine rollout would “strengthen” protection against the virus: “Our vaccines remain our best line of defence against this virus, in whatever form it attacks us. But although it’s possible that they may be less effective, it’s highly unlikely they will have no effectiveness at all against serious disease.
“So it’s really important that we get as many jabs in arms as possible.” NHS chiefs were planning to deliver six million booster jabs over the next few weeks but yesterday’s decision could at least double that output.
Mr Javid explained: “We want to go further and faster.” As with previous doses, boosters will be rolled out by age group, with the eldest and people with severe health conditions prioritised in order to protect those most vulnerable to coronavirus.
Severely immuno-suppressed people aged 16 or above who have received three primary doses will be offered a booster dose. Mr Javid accepted advice from the JCVI for vaccinated children aged between 12 and 15 to be given a second dose, 12 weeks after their first. Members claimed any risks were outweighed by the benefits.
Regulators said a decision about the safety of Covid jabs for children aged five to 11 is likely to be taken before Christmas. Mr Javid said: “With this new variant on the offensive, these measures will protect more people more quickly and make us better protected as a nation. It represents a huge step up for our vaccination programme, almost doubling the number of people who will be able to get a booster to protect themselves and loved ones.
“Fighting this virus has shown us that it’s best to act decisively and swiftly when we see a potential threat, which is why we’re building our defences and putting these measures in place without delay. Scientists are working at speed, at home and abroad, to determine whether this variant is more dangerous.
“If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures place for a day longer than is necessary.
“Covid-19 is not going away, and so we’ll have to keep seeing new variants emerge.
“So if we want to live with the virus for the long term we must follow the evidence and act in a proportionate and responsible way if a variant has the potential to thwart our progress.”
A further 42,583 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK yesterday, plus 35 more deaths within 28 days of patients testing positive for Covid-19.
That took the total UK total of fatalities to 144,810.
Some 10.2 million people have tested positive.
The NHS booking website was yesterday deluged with people trying to book a booster, as thousands queued online only to find they were not yet eligible.
Gardeners’ World star Monty Don, 66, said he had yet to be called up, despite being eligible for more than a month, and claimed there did not appear to be a booster programme in Herefordshire. The NHS said sites were available there, online.