More countries have also been added to the travel “red list” in the interest of stopping the global spread of the new variant, the precise characteristics of which are not clear at this early stage in its development, although it is feared it could have the potential to usurp the delta variant as the dominant strain of Covid-19 in a matter of weeks given its high transmissibility.
Boris Johnson has once more been forced to introduce social restrictions to combat the coronavirus, with the recent emergence of the omicron variant in southern Africa providing fresh cause for concern.
As we head into the festive season, the prime minister has brought back mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, cinemas, theatres and places of worship, asked citizens to work from home where possible and made an NHS Covid pass or negative lateral flow test a necessary requirement for entry to crowded venues and events involving mass gatherings.
In his latest televised address on the pandemic, Mr Johnson warned of a “tidal wave” of infections breaking on these shores unless the public adhere to the new measures and get their vaccine booster jab as a matter of urgency.
The rollout of third shots is being greatly expanded to address the omicron threat, with the aim of offering one to all over-18s by the end of December, bringing forward that deadline by a month and placing further pressure on medical professionals across the country in the process.
That decision came in response to findings by the UK Health Security Agency indicating that two jabs do not offer strong protection against symptomatic infection from omicron, with the current suite of vaccines less effective against it than they were against delta.
However, that same analysis also concluded that those who had received a booster remained up to 70 per cent protected, underlining the importance of getting a third shot as soon as possible.
As of Monday morning, the UK had recorded 3,137 cases of the omicron variant and its first 10 patients in hospital plus at least one death, according to the PM.
In all, a total of 48,854 new Covid cases were recorded on Sunday evening, with the number of infections over the past seven days up 11.9 per cent to 360,480.
Fifty-two more deaths were also recorded, making 834 in total over the course of the last seven days.
Meanwhile, just 40.2 per cent of British adults have had their booster injection so far, although demand is high so that figure should continue to climb rapidly as more people make an appointment and roll up their sleeves.
Speaking during a visit to a west London vaccination clinic on Monday, Mr Johnson sought to strike a reassuring note, saying: “Throughout the pandemic I’ve been at great pains to stress to the public that we have to watch where the pandemic is going and we take whatever steps are necessary to protect public health.
“We think the steps that we are taking – so Plan B, combined with a hugely ambitious acceleration of the booster campaign, bringing it forward by a month so we offer a booster to every adult by the end of the year – we think that’s the right approach.”
He is not currently planning to make a formal address on 13 December but the usual statistical update will take place this evening and we can expect a further announcements from the prime minister in the coming days as the omicron situation develops.