In a joint statement on Sunday evening the chief medical officers and NHS England said they had recommended to ministers that the alert level go up from Level 3 to Level 4.
“Transmission of COVID-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services,” they said.
Ministers have raised the UK’s Covid alert level amid concern about the spread of the new omicron variant of the disease.
“Early evidence shows that omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced. Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.
“When vaccine protection is reduced in the way that is happening with Omicron it is essential to top up that protection with a booster. Both booster vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) increase the immune response substantially and show good effectiveness although with some reduction compared to Delta.”
In comes after scientists advising the government said the variant had the potential to cause tens of thousands of deaths over the winter if addition restrictions were not imposed.
Boris Johnson is set to address the nation at 8pm in a prerecorded message, without taking questions – meaning he will avoid scrutiny over allegations that he broke the rules.
Level 4 is the second highest level in the alert system. According to the government’s scale it means Covid “is in general circulation” and that “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.
It also means that “pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising”.
The alert level has never dropped as far as Level 2 since the system was created. Level 2 would imply low cases and transmission. The UK was previously at Level 3, which implies Covid is in “general circulation”.
Level 5, the highest level, would mean there was a “material risk” of the NHS being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases. Raising the Covid alert level has no immediate practical effect on policy but is supposed to indicate the general level of threat.