Boris Johnson announcement LIVE – Watch as PM holds covid press conference at 5pm amid fears Omicron will ruin Christmas

BORIS Johnson will hold a Downing St press conference tonight amid fears Omicron will wreck Christmas for millions and spark a January lockdown.

The PM will appear in No 10 alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty at 5pm to give the nation a grim update on the spread of the variant.

He is set to issue a fresh pledge for even more Brits to come forward for their boosters to help avoid the need for tougher curbs on daily life.

At the same time Michael Gove will lead an emergency Cobra meeting with top ministers from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The PM's address will come after scientists gave a "bleak" update to Cabinet yesterday about the spread of Omicron across the country.

Read our Covid-19 live blog for the latest news and updates…

  • Joseph Gamp

    Omicron increases economic uncertainty in Scotland

    Omicron's emergence has increased uncertainty about optimistic forecasts that Scotland's economy will be able to recover to pre-pandemic levels by spring, the Fraser of Allander Institute has said.

    Economists from the University of Strathclyde business school are now predicting the economy will get back to its pre-pandemic size by May but they warn that the impact of the emergent coronavirus variant and new restrictions could jeopardise the speed of recovery.

    In the Fraser of Allander Institite (FAI)'s latest economic commentary, it reports that "expectations are much better for the outlook in 2022 and beyond" compared to forecasts earlier in the pandemic.

    However, the recent outbreak of Omicron, the speed of its spread and the re-imposition of restrictions may hamper economic recovery, it suggests, citing the hospitality and retail sectors at particular risk.

    The research institute is forecasting growth of 6.4% in 2021 and 4.7% next year although they cite both output and earnings data to suggest Scotland's economic recovery could be lagging behind other parts of the UK.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Greece demands negative PCR tests from UK travellers

    Travellers to Greece from Britain and Denmark will need a negative PCR COVID-19 test to enter the country, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

    The measure will be in effect from Dec. 19 as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry said. The tests will need to be no more than 48 hours old.

    The quickly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant is expected to become the dominant strain in Denmark this week. In Britain, at least one person has died after contracting Omicron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, the first publicly confirmed death globally from the variant.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Sturgeon: Tory revolt on Covid measures was 'dangerous'

    Nicola Sturgeon has said the backbench rebellion by Tory MPs was "dangerous" as it could undermine Boris Johnson's ability to make tough decisions on the pandemic.

    The First Minister questioned whether Mr Johnson had the authority from his own party to pass measures to tackle coronavirus.

    On Tuesday, nearly 100 Conservative MPs voted against the UK Government's introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large events in England.

    The measure was able to pass through the House of Commons with the support of the Labour Party.

    Ms Sturgeon appeared on Lorraine Kelly's ITV programme on Wednesday morning.

    The First Minister said she had a "big worry" about the events in the House of Commons the previous night.

    Setting out what her fear was, she said: "The Prime Minister – at a time when all leaders need to be prepared to take the toughest of decisions if necessary – he appears not to have the authority to do that within his own party.

    "And that's dangerous because this is an emergency we're in right now.

    "It's a crisis, it's not normal politics and we need to make sure people are rising to the occasion."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Labour urges Government to do 'everything humanly possible' to keep schools open

    The Government should be doing "everything humanly possible" to keep schools open in the face of the Omicron variant, Labour has said.

    A spokesman for the party said: "We cannot afford to have any more disruption to children's education and that means ensuring schools are both safe and open for pupils to be able to continue learning together."

    Asked about what should happen if there is a staff shortage, he said: "Well, the priority has to be keeping schools open.

    "Robert Halfon had what I thought was a sensible suggestion around looking at the ways in which the retired workforce could be mobilised, if necessary, so that we can do everything we can to keep the schools open.

    "The main part of that, I think, is ensuring that every 12 to 15-year-old has been offered a vaccination by the end of the Christmas holidays."

  • Joseph Gamp

    Schools offered 'flexibility' over January return

    Secondary schools will be offered a "small amount of flexibility" on when they return after Christmas, the Government has said.

    Education minister Alex Burghart said such an approach would enable schools to put in place measures to test pupils for Covid on their return from their break.

    But he faced a barrage of calls from Conservative MPs to ensure schools remain open in the new year, while a teaching union urged the Government to stagger the return of pupils amid concerns about the Omicron variant.

    Responding to an urgent question, Mr Burghart said: "The Government is committed to ensuring schools open in January as normal.

    "The classroom is the very best place for children and young people's development."

    He added: "Protecting education continues to be our absolute priority."

    He said testing, vaccination, ventilation and hygiene "are the ways in which we will absolutely back schools to make sure that in-classroom teaching can continue".

  • Joseph Gamp

    NHS 'could be overwhelmed by Omicron in January'

    There is a possibility the NHS could be overwhelmed next month, a leading scientist has said, though uncertainties remain over the impact of Omicron.

    Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he is worried "we could see numbers of people being admitted to hospital getting very large" if infections continue to rise and spill into older age groups.

    It came as Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, told MPs the Omicron coronavirus variant is "probably the most significant threat we've had since the start of the pandemic".

    She said the "real potential risk" is whether "cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths", but added that it is "too early" to be clear on that.

    Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Medley said it is "very hard to predict in real time exactly what's happening on any day, but it's certainly true that the numbers of infections primarily with Omicron is increasing, and has been increasing quite dramatically".

    He added: "We're probably now at the level that we have been at the past, sort of back in January, and it does look as though it's going to continue beyond that and go over it."

  • Joseph Gamp

    What's going on with Covid restrictions?

    Schools are already drawing up plans to stay shut after the Christmas holidays due to the spread of Omicron.

    And there are reports ministers are fleshing out draconian Plan C restrictions to come into force in January.

    They could include the reintroduction of social "bubbles" and further indoor mask rules.

    Government officials are said to have been "spooked" into looking at further restrictions as fears over Omicron continues to grip the nation.

    Pubs, shops and restaurants could even be forced to shut in January because so many workers will be off sick with Omicron.

    But No 10 could struggle to get any new measures through Parliament after suffering a crushing rebellion on vaccine passports last night.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Boris Johnson to address nation at 5pm TODAY

    BORIS Johnson will hold a Downing St press conference tonight amid fears Omicron will wreck Christmas for millions and spark a January lockdown.

    The PM will appear in No 10 alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty at 5pm to give the nation a grim update on the spread of the variant.

    He is set to issue a fresh pledge for even more Brits to come forward for their boosters to help avoid the need for tougher curbs on daily life.

    His appearance will come after scientists gave a "bleak" update to Cabinet yesterday about the spread of Omicron across the country.

    There have been over 4,700 confirmed cases of Omicron but experts say the super variant may be infecting as many as 200,000 people a day.

    And that means over a million Brits could have to spend Christmas Day in isolation after catching the virus.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Travellers in quarantine hotels to be told when they are free

    Travellers detained in quarantine hotels will be told later today when they will be released, a senior official said.

    Jonathan Mogford, who is responsible for the managed quarantine service at the UK Health Security Agency, was questioned about reports some people were fleeing the hotels after the red list was scrapped in England at 4am.

    Mr Mogford told the Commons Transport Committee: "The standard practice has been that if you have started hotel quarantine, you need to complete it.

    "For this de-listing, where Omicron has moved unexpectedly fast, we want to release people early.

    "We are sorting out the arrangements for that as quickly as possible, we need to make sure we are not releasing Covid or Omicron-positive guests immediately."

  • Joseph Gamp

    A 'tsunami of cancellations'

    First Dates star Fred Sirieux, general manager of Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows in London's Mayfair, said he has seen a "tsunami of cancellations" which he warned will be "catastrophic" for the sector.

    "Staff will lose their job and income between now and January without any hope of getting a new one," he tweeted.

    "Not only that but I fear this will increase the staff shortage even further."

    Elsewhere, chef Sally Abe said the Blue Boar Pub in Westminster suffered 110 cancellations on Tuesday.

    The Times reported earlier this week that Chancellor Rishi Sunak could hand new state support to businesses if the Prime Minister orders hospitality firms to shut their doors.

    However, currently no additional support has been offered to the sector.

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said on Tuesday that the Treasury should consider reintroducing a targeted furlough system in the UK due to the impact of Omicron.

  • Joseph Gamp

    Tom Kerridge: Restaurants will crumble as cancellations pile-up

    Leading chefs and hospitality bosses have said the pub and restaurant industry needs urgent financial support to avoid collapses and job losses as cancellations soar.

    Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge said one of his restaurants has suffered more than 650 cancellations in the past six days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

    Over the past weeks, trade has decreased and many bookings have been cancelled as potential customers are affected by increasing Covid-19 case rates or choose to remain at home in a bid to protect their Christmas celebrations.

    Mr Kerridge – who runs a number of restaurants including the two Michelin-starred Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire – took to social media to question the Government's response and support for the industry.

    On Instagram, he said: "So, here we are… This is the list of cancellations taken in one of our restaurants in the past six days… 654 guests.

    "I completely understand why and have no problem with them letting us know – public health is THE most important thing.

    "The problem is what will the government do to support the hospitality industry? Many places are going to crumble without help.

    "And before some gammon faced idiot says 'you can afford it fat lad!' … yes I probably can, but this isn't about me or my restaurants. It's about our industry and people's livelihoods."

  • John Hall

    Dozens of schools already SHUT for Christmas

    Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has said schools across the country are seeing "very severe low attendance" as the Omicron variant spreads.

    It comes as Downing Street last night insisted that keeping schools open was a "national priority" and they should be the last to shut.

    But as cases soar across the country several schools have had no option but to close their doors.

    Mr Barton told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "Listening to the speculation and the news, and certainly the emails I've been getting from members, you are getting some pockets of very severe low attendance, partly young people, partly staff.

    "One (school) has emailed me this morning saying 25% of staff have been off for three weeks, you can imagine if you can't then get supply teachers that becomes very difficult to maintain the quality of education.

    He added: “These decisions are not being made by a headteacher.

    “It’s not someone saying ‘we're going to close the school because Christmas can come early’ – this was public health advice.

  • John Hall

    Pubs and restaurants could be CLOSED

    Whitehall officials have drawn up plans to restrict numbers in pubs and restaurants and even close them down in the coming weeks.

    There are growing fears of further restrictions after Christmas as Omicron is expected to peak in January, with New Year parties in grave doubt.

    A government source said: “You will be able to see your family at Christmas, but at this rate, you might not be able to do it in a pub.

    "As for New Year’s Eve, that is a different story.”

    But MPs privately warn they will torpedo any attempts to bring in former restrictions like the Rule of Six or a ban on household mixing.

  • John Hall

    NHS England moves to highest alert level

    The decision to move from level 3 to level 4 was made on Sunday after health chiefs indicated that there was substantial pressure on the NHS.

    The alert was raised to level four meaning that there is a real threat that the rise in infections could force the closure of other vital health services.

    “The emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services," NHS England said.

    "Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.”

    Level 4 is defined by the Government as coronavirus being "in general circulation; transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising".

    In May the alert level was moved down from 4 to 3.

  • John Hall

    80 Tory MPs to vote against Boris Johnson

    Tory MPs will vote against Boris Johnson tonight in a brutal rebellion over vaccine passports.

    But No10 has vowed to push ahead with the measure despite the PM’s majority being wiped out.

    It comes amid dire warnings of an even bigger backlash if there was any attempt to introduce more harsh Plan C restrictions.

    Covid certification rules for nightclubs, mega-bars and stadiums are expected to pass through the Commons with the backing of Labour MPs.

    And the PM sparked further Tory jitters last night by refusing to rule out further restrictions before Christmas.

  • Louis Allwood

    Omicron map shows earliest hotspots as cases spread rapidly

    A map reveals some of the earliest places hit with the Omicron variant, which is now spreading rapidly in the UK.

    Hotspots have emerged, focused mostly in the South East and London.

    The genetic research centre tracks Covid variants and details where they are most prevalent with a lag of around two weeks.

    Its latest map, using data to December 4, reveals South Northamptonshire was reporting 26 Omicron cases a week, with surrounding areas also hotspots.

    But Lewisham is the second most affected area, with 10 cases a week. 

    Other London boroughs with higher cases include Newham and Barking and Dagenham.

  • Louis Allwood

    Furlough could RETURN

    If further restrictions are imposed to tackle Omicron then Furlough could be re-introduced, insiders claim.

    Ministers are being urged to guarantee support for staff and employers in case their businesses have to shut.

    The Sun today reveals secret plans for pubs and restaurants to shut in the coming weeks if the mutant strain brings hospitals to their knees.

    It has sparked jitters that millions could find themselves out of work unless Rishi Sunak once again conjures up financial help.

    Downing Street last month ruled out once again bankrolling people's wages at enormous expense.

    But a Treasury source has now told The Times: "That could mean a return to the furlough scheme but depending on what, if any, further restrictions are necessary there might be other ways of providing that support."

  • Louis Allwood

    New Year’s Eve parties under threat

    NEW Year's Eve parties are in "grave doubt" as killjoy Whitehall officials are drawing up further plans to tackle the Omicron variant.

    There are growing fears of further restrictions being slapped on Brits after Christmas as the infection rate is expected to peak in January.

    The Sun has learnt Whitehall officials have drawn up plans to restrict numbers in pubs and restaurants and even close them down in the coming weeks.

    A government source told The Sun: “You will be able to see your family at Christmas, but at this rate you might not be able to do it in a pub.

    "As for New Year’s Eve, that is a different story.”

    But MPs privately warn they will torpedo any attempts to bring in former restrictions like the Rule of Six or a ban on household mixing.

    It comes as more than one in five Tory MPs will vote against Boris Johnson on Tuesday as a brutal rebellion on vaccine passports hit 80.

    No10 vowed to crack on with the vote despite the PM’s majority being wiped out – amid dire warnings of a bigger backlash at any attempt at "Plan C" restrictions.

  • Louis Allwood

    New unusual Omicron symptom

    AN unusual Omicron symptom to watch out for has been revealed, as common signs emerge in the Covid strain's spread around the world.

    The way the mutant variant appears to be presenting in positive cases is quite different to the original strain.

    Around five symptoms seem to be popping up again and again in infected people, suggesting they are the ones to look out for.

    As with many of the variants, the symptoms have moved outside the trio listed on the NHS website of fever, cough and loss of taste or smell.

    One unusual one to spot is night sweats – which is when you wake up with sheets, pyjamas and your hair soaked with sweat.

    A GP in South Africa told the Department of Health it's starting to become a telltale sign in the country.

    Many patients who test positive for Omicron say they experienced night sweats.

  • Louis Allwood

    Deputy PM Dominic Raab left red-faced after interview

    Dominic Raab today claimed 250 Brits are in hospital with Omicron – before correcting himself and admitting the real number is 10.

    The red-faced deputy PM was forced to backtrack in the space of just a few minutes after his hugely overinflated figure was called out.

    But even then he didn't get it right, and only on a third attempt finally clarified there are actually 10 people hospitalised by the new variant.

    Mr Raab was sent out onto the airwaves to plug the Government's booster programme and defend the new restrictions to battle Omicron.

    Asked on Sky News how many people were in hospital in England with the strain, he replied that it was "250 the last time I looked".

  • Louis Allwood

    Dozens of schools already SHUT for Christmas

    Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has said schools across the country are seeing "very severe low attendance" as the Omicron variant spreads.

    It comes as Downing Street last night insisted that keeping schools open was a "national priority" and they should be the last to shut.

    But as cases soar across the country several schools have had no option but to close their doors.

    Mr Barton told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "Listening to the speculation and the news, and certainly the emails I've been getting from members, you are getting some pockets of very severe low attendance, partly young people, partly staff.

    "One (school) has emailed me this morning saying 25% of staff have been off for three weeks, you can imagine if you can't then get supply teachers that becomes very difficult to maintain the quality of education.

    He added: “These decisions are not being made by a headteacher.

    “It’s not someone saying ‘we're going to close the school because Christmas can come early’ – this was public health advice.

  • Louis Allwood

    Pubs and restaurants could be CLOSED

    Whitehall officials have drawn up plans to restrict numbers in pubs and restaurants and even close them down in the coming weeks.

    There are growing fears of further restrictions after Christmas as Omicron is expected to peak in January, with New Year parties in grave doubt.

    A government source said: “You will be able to see your family at Christmas, but at this rate, you might not be able to do it in a pub.

    "As for New Year’s Eve, that is a different story.”

    But MPs privately warn they will torpedo any attempts to bring in former restrictions like the Rule of Six or a ban on household mixing.

  • Louis Allwood

    Needle-FREE Covid vaccine

    The alternate vaccine, being developed by the University of Southampton, uses jets of air to push the dose through the skin rather than a needle.

    According to the scientists behind the vaccine, it would also fight future coronaviruses.

    Saul Faust, clinical chief investigator and director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility, said: "This isn't simply 'yet another' coronavirus vaccine as it has both Covid-19 variants and future coronaviruses in its sights.

    "This technology could give wide-ranging protection to huge numbers of people worldwide."

    While most existing Covid vaccines use the sequence of the RNA for the spike protein from the first samples of the virus found in January 2020, the DIOSvax technology used for the new jab aims to predict how the virus could mutate, allowing it to target emerging variants.

  • Louis Allwood

    NHS England moves to highest alert level

    The decision to move from level 3 to level 4 was made on Sunday after health chiefs indicated that there was substantial pressure on the NHS.

    The alert was raised to level four meaning that there is a real threat that the rise in infections could force the closure of other vital health services.

    “The emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services," NHS England said.

    "Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.”

    Level 4 is defined by the Government as coronavirus being "in general circulation; transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising".

    In May the alert level was moved down from 4 to 3.

  • Louis Allwood

    80 Tory MPs to vote against Boris Johnson

    Tory MPs will vote against Boris Johnson tonight in a brutal rebellion over vaccine passports.

    But No10 has vowed to push ahead with the measure despite the PM’s majority being wiped out.

    It comes amid dire warnings of an even bigger backlash if there was any attempt to introduce more harsh Plan C restrictions.

    Covid certification rules for nightclubs, mega-bars and stadiums are expected to pass through the Commons with the backing of Labour MPs.

    And the PM sparked further Tory jitters last night by refusing to rule out further restrictions before Christmas.

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