Workforce stays at home as London’s roads are quietest since summer

Advertisement

Pubs and restaurants today started closing early for Christmas after being hit by a ‘two-punch combination’ of staff absence and plummeting consumer confidence as the return to working from home emptied city centres.

Some restaurants said they had ‘no option’ but to shut because there were so many staff had caught Covid and are isolating – but there are warnings this is only the beginning of the Omicron wave that is projected to cause a huge rise in cases that has been compared to a ‘tidal wave’. 

Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak held one-on-one crisis talks with business and hospitality chiefs from chains including Prezzo, Black Sheep Brewery, Nando’s, Greene King, Whitbread and Adnams amid concerns over the impact of Covid messaging.

Advertisement

Unions have called for immediate support for workers in the hospitality and entertainment industries amid warnings of a jobs ‘crisis’. 

Britain could reach hundreds of thousands of daily Covid cases by Christmas Eve — forcing millions of people into isolation — if infections continue to increase as quickly as some scientists expect.

Such huge numbers could partially paralyse the country, causing huge disruption from people being off work and threatening key services including the NHS, police and national grid.

While government contingency plans call for the military to be called into cover gaps in these services if they are hit by huge shortages, they are untested in the real world.

Advertisement

The head of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital trust in London — which looks after two of the largest hospitals in the country — this morning revealed 10 per cent of staff are currently off due to Covid.

Chris Whitty today issued a further warning about the expected surge in infections, saying it was ‘entirely possible’ the number of daily hospital Covid-19 admissions in the latest wave could beat the 4,583 peak in January. A big wave would also see the NHS face huge staff shortages as doctors and nurses become ill or go into isolation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing criticism from Conservative MPs and accusations that he is imposing a lockdown by stealth through his recent dire warnings – but he denied this today, saying: ‘We’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.’

Some small pubs and restaurants are choosing it is better to shut than stay open, either because lots of their staff have contracted Covid and are not available, or because nearly all their bookings have been cancelled. 

Advertisement

However, most venues remain open and very few big chains have shut. 

Today, society favourite Evelyn’s Table in London’s Soho putting its closure down to ‘members of our core team having to isolate’.

Barrafina Drury Lane in Covent Garden said ‘staff members isolating makes the services non-viable’, while Kol in London’s Marylebone said that it had ‘no option’ but to temporarily close while ‘key team members isolate’.

Darjeeling Express near Leicester Square reported a ‘double whammy of staff sickness combined with huge cancellations of groups’, while Blend Kitchen in Sheffield said it had seen a 50 per cent fall in bookings. 

Advertisement

After daily virus cases surged to a record 78,610 with 165 deaths yesterday, British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith warned: ‘With the UK recording its highest ever number of Covid cases in a single day, and this being set to rise further in the coming days and weeks, businesses now face the two-punch combination of serious issues with staff absence and plummeting consumer confidence.’

Britain could reach up to 460,000 daily Covid cases by Christmas Eve – forcing two million people into isolation – if infections continue to increase as quickly as some scientists expect, analysis of official figures suggests. Such huge numbers would cause huge disruption from people being off work and threatening key services.

While government contingency plans call for the military to be called into cover gaps in these services such as the NHS, police, Border Force and energy workers if they are hit by huge shortages, they are untested in the real world. Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital Trust in London said 10 per cent of its staff are currently off due to Covid. 

It comes as roads in London were the quietest they have been during the morning rush-hour on any term-time weekday since the summer today as city centres were left deserted by Britons shunning going into the office.

Advertisement

The congestion level reported by TomTom in the capital between 8am and 9am today was 49 per cent – the lowest figure for that period since the end of the summer holidays on September 3, excluding October half-term.

As for other UK cities, the congestion level during the same period today was 51 per cent in Birmingham, 50 per cent in Manchester and Liverpool, 47 per cent in Sheffield, 46 per cent in Leeds and 38 per cent in Newcastle.

All of these figures were significantly below the same time period on Thursday last week – with the biggest drop being in Manchester which was down 27 percentage points, followed by Newcastle falling 12 percentage points. 

Professor Whitty – who last night warned ‘all the things that we do know, are bad’ about Omnicron – told MPs today of hospitalisations: ‘I don’t want this to be seen as I’m saying this will happen. I’m just saying there’s a range of possibilities, but certainly the peak of just over 4,500 – 4,583 to be exact – people admitted at the absolute peak…

Advertisement

‘It is possible because this is going to be very concentrated that even if it is milder, because it’s concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day. That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I’m just saying that it’s certainly possible.’

He added that there were two caveats – one being that people could be staying in hospital for a shorter period because of their protection from prior vaccination, and fewer people may go into intensive care. It comes as:

  • The number of commuters travelling on the London Underground this morning fell 31 per cent week-on-week;
  • The Queen cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family party at Windsor Castle next week as a precaution; 
  • Furious Britons slammed France for banning UK tourists from the country from Saturday over Omicron fears;
  • Premier League football fixtures were called off as the Brentford manager said the season should be paused; 
  • Chris Whitty expects another 18 months of Covid misery until a ‘wider’ vaccine is developed and rolled out.

Advertisement
If the number of people testing positive doubles every three days, then there would be 463,704 daily cases on Christmas Eve. That would force the 1.9million people testing positive between now and then into isolation for 10 days, the equivalent of 3 per cent of the population

If the number of people testing positive doubles every three days, then there would be 463,704 daily cases on Christmas Eve. That would force the 1.9million people testing positive between now and then into isolation for 10 days, the equivalent of 3 per cent of the population 

Such huge numbers could partially paralyse the country, causing 'huge disruption from people being off work' and threatening key services including the NHS and police, experts claimed. Graph shows: The number of NHS staff off work with Covid every day over the last two weeks. Dips on December 5 and 12 occurred on Sundays, when fewer staff are working and therefore less absences are expected. Figures are expected to increase in the coming weeks

Such huge numbers could partially paralyse the country, causing ‘huge disruption from people being off work’ and threatening key services including the NHS and police, experts claimed. Graph shows: The number of NHS staff off work with Covid every day over the last two weeks. Dips on December 5 and 12 occurred on Sundays, when fewer staff are working and therefore less absences are expected. Figures are expected to increase in the coming weeks

LONDON -- Westminster Bridge looks very quiet during the morning rush hour in London today as Britons stay at home

LONDON — Westminster Bridge looks very quiet during the morning rush hour in London today as Britons stay at home

LIVERPOOL - Liverpool city centre is very quiet this lunchtime with the Town Hall seen in the background

LIVERPOOL – Liverpool city centre is very quiet this lunchtime with the Town Hall seen in the background

Advertisement
MANCHESTER -- People walk past quiet shops and bars in Manchester city centre today amid an increase in cases of Covid-19

MANCHESTER — People walk past quiet shops and bars in Manchester city centre today amid an increase in cases of Covid-19

NEWCASTLE  -- Shoppers in the near-empty Christmas market in Newcastle city centre this morning as people stay home

NEWCASTLE  — Shoppers in the near-empty Christmas market in Newcastle city centre this morning as people stay home

Boris Johnson speaks with a member of medical staff during a visit to a vaccination centre in Ramsgate, Kent, today

Boris Johnson speaks with a member of medical staff during a visit to a vaccination centre in Ramsgate, Kent, today

Advertisement
A very quiet Oxford Street in London's West End today despite this time of year normally being the peak shopping season

A very quiet Oxford Street in London’s West End today despite this time of year normally being the peak shopping season

A quiet Christmas market at Covent Garden in London this morning amid the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases

A quiet Christmas market at Covent Garden in London this morning amid the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases

Few commuters use London Waterloo station this morning as rail passenger numbers drop following the Omicron emergence

Few commuters use London Waterloo station this morning as rail passenger numbers drop following the Omicron emergence

London Bridge looks very quiet at 7.35am this morning as Britons continue to work from home after new guidance came in

London Bridge looks very quiet at 7.35am this morning as Britons continue to work from home after new guidance came in

Advertisement
London Bridge looks far less busy than normal today just before 7am as a handful of people walk through the concourse

London Bridge looks far less busy than normal today just before 7am as a handful of people walk through the concourse

An almost-empty escalator leading to the Underground platforms at London Waterloo train station this morning

An almost-empty escalator leading to the Underground platforms at London Waterloo train station this morning

Advertisement
A quiet Farringdon station during rush hour in Central London this morning as people get off an Underground train

A quiet Farringdon station during rush hour in Central London this morning as people get off an Underground train

London Bridge looks far less busy than normal today just before 7am as workers decide against going into the office

London Bridge looks far less busy than normal today just before 7am as workers decide against going into the office

Commuters wait for a Circle line Underground train at Liverpool Street station in the City of London this morning

Commuters wait for a Circle line Underground train at Liverpool Street station in the City of London this morning

An empty bar in London's Covent Garden called Mr Fogg's Tavern stores chairs inside while it is closed this morning

An empty bar in London’s Covent Garden called Mr Fogg’s Tavern stores chairs inside while it is closed this morning

Advertisement
The Rail Delivery Group said train journeys across all of Britain have now fallen to July levels, with industry revenue down 23 per cent week-on-week this Monday, meaning it is now at just 43 per cent of pre-pandemic levels

The Rail Delivery Group said train journeys across all of Britain have now fallen to July levels, with industry revenue down 23 per cent week-on-week this Monday, meaning it is now at just 43 per cent of pre-pandemic levels

TRANSPORT FOR LONDON DATA REVEALS UNDERGROUND AND BUS USAGE HAS DROPPED OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS 
TUBE   BUS   
DATEEntries + Exits (Up until 10am)% of normal% change on the week beforeBoarding Taps (Up until 10am)% of normal% change on the week before
Monday 29 November1.24m53%-1%1.21m72%-2%
Monday 6 December1.22m52%-1%1.21m72%unchanged
Tuesday 7 December1.35m56%-2%1.26m73%-1%
Wednesday 8 December1.35m56%-3%1.25m73%-2%
Thursday 9 December1.31m56%-5%1.24m74%-2%
Friday 10 December1.076m52%-3%1.18m73%-1%
Monday 13 December1.00m46%-18%1.15m71%-6%
Tuesday 14 December1.00m45%-26%1.16m70%-8%
Wednesday 15 December0.96m44%-29%1.14m71%-9%
Thursday 16 December0.91m44%-31%1.09m71%-13%

Today also brought the lowest term-time rush hour congestion level in London on a Thursday morning since July 22, which was three days after ‘Freedom Day’ when the UK’s third national Covid-19 lockdown officially ended.

The percentage represents the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flowing conditions. A 49 per cent level therefore means a 30-minute trip will take 15 minutes more than with no traffic. 

‘Omicron is ALREADY in France!’: Furious travel industry slams Macron for banning British holidaymakers – even though variant makes up HIGHER proportion of country’s own cases 

Furious Britons have slammed France for banning British tourists from the country starting on Saturday over fears of the Omicron variant.

Advertisement

Emmanuel Macron’s government singled out the UK for the ban on non-essential travel, claiming it is designed to slow the arrival of the super-mutant variant into France.

However the travel industry and experts point out that Omicron is already well established in France – and even makes up a higher proportion of French cases according to the latest available data.

 

France’s daily Covid cases are already soaring after the arrival of Omicron and are approaching the same level per million as in the UK.

Advertisement

Omicron is also widespread across many European countries including Denmark, which has not been included in the French travel ban.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘Blanket country measures are a damaging backwards step and never work. ‘Omicron is already in France and other EU countries. Why should the millions boosted be treated the same way as those unvaccinated, and prevented from entry?’

 

Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke told MailOnline the French action was causing ‘unnecessary’ misery for travellers.

Advertisement

‘We have seen again France acting in a different way to other European countries. That is going to cause unnecessary disruption this Christmas time,’ she said. ‘We saw France do this last Christmas. It is obviously welcome they seem to be allowing haulage to travel… but clearly this is going to be difficult for passengers trying to return to their homes for Christmas or go abroad at this time of year.’

And a spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: ‘These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season. In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.’

Families, who have already paid for tests and packages, will also face a battle to get any money back in time for Christmas.

The PM’s spokesman said the government does not think travel bans are a ‘effective or proportionate’ response to Omicron.  Asked whether Mr Macron should think again, the spokesman said: ‘I think at all stages it’s been down to countries to consider what approach is right for them.’

Advertisement

Photographs today showed major stations including Waterloo and London Bridge looking empty, while normally-bustling areas such as Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square were also very quiet.  

Last night Professor Whitty called for limits on socialising last night despite Mr Johnson insisting festive plans should not be cancelled over Omicron. 

Professor Whitty issued a clear message on Christmas socialising during a press conference, suggesting people should ‘prioritise’ and not meet friends if they hoped to see their families. 

He cautioned against reports from South African doctors that Omicron was a milder strain, said a ‘substantial’ rise in hospitalisations was ‘nailed on’ and warned the NHS could face serious staff shortages as medics become ill. 

Advertisement

Meanwhile Mr Johnson denied he was imposing a lockdown by stealth, saying the situation was ‘very different’ from last year. 

He told reporters: ‘What we have is the additional protection of the vaccines, and the ability to test. 

‘So if you want to do something, if you want to go to an event or a party, then the sensible thing to do, if that’s a priority… is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious. 

‘But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.’

Advertisement

Mr Johnson has urged care when seeing loved ones and friends – including taking a test before meeting anyone vulnerable – but said last night: ‘We are not cancelling events or closing hospitality. 

‘We are not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix. What we are saying is think carefully before you go about what kind of event it is.’ 

It comes after a raft of Omicron warnings in TV broadcasts and press conferences this week – and as Mr Johnson continues to face pressure from MPs within his own party following a major rebellion by 100 of them on Tuesday who voted against the mandatory use of Covid health certificates brought in as part of the new ‘Plan B’ measures. 

Hospitality firms are now ramping up calls for support from the Government with sales at hard-hit pubs and restaurants plunging by more than a third over the last ten days with £2billion of trade already lost in December.

Advertisement

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has made a plea for business rates relief and VAT discounts to be extended, warning that the sector has been knocked harder than expected by the new restrictions.

Elsewhere, the CBI also urged the Government to provide support ‘in lockstep with future restrictions’ after the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases led to a surge in booking cancellations and badly damaged consumer confidence.

Clive Watson, chairman of The City Pub group, told the Evening Standard that he was closing all of its venues in the City of London and other office-dominated areas five days early tomorrow, because there is ‘no one around’.

Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton said he had lost £1million worth of bookings this month, while several major West End shows such as The Lion King have cancelled performances because of outbreaks among cast and crew.

Advertisement

Meanwhile the Queen has cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch next week as a precaution, with a source suggesting it could put too many people’s arrangements for the festive season at risk if it went ahead.

And Brentford manager Thomas Frank has called for the next round of Premier League fixtures to be postponed to allow clubs to deal with Covid outbreaks. 

Frank saw his side’s clash with Manchester United go under on Tuesday, with Burnley’s match with Watford last night becoming the third Premier League fixture in a week to be called off. 

Tonight’s match between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur was postponed due to Covid cases in both teams, although Liverpool v Newcastle United and Chelsea v Everton are both still expected to take place.

Advertisement

However, Manchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion has been called off this weekend. 

It comes after thousands of darts fans descended upon London’s Alexandra Palace for the World Darts Championship last night.

And young revellers were clearly still happy to be out, with hundreds photographed showing their vaccine passports last night in London as well as in Leeds, Nottingham and Newcastle where they visited nightclubs.  

Northumberland Street in Newcastle is pictured this afternoon with just nine shopping days remaining until Christmas

Northumberland Street in Newcastle is pictured this afternoon with just nine shopping days remaining until Christmas

Advertisement
A very quiet Liverpool city centre this lunchtime as Britons continue to work from home following the updated guidance

A very quiet Liverpool city centre this lunchtime as Britons continue to work from home following the updated guidance

People walk past quiet shops and bars in Manchester city centre this morning with the Christmas market looking empty

People walk past quiet shops and bars in Manchester city centre this morning with the Christmas market looking empty

People walk past quiet shops and bars in a shopping arcade in Manchester today as the city centre is much quieter than usual

People walk past quiet shops and bars in a shopping arcade in Manchester today as the city centre is much quieter than usual

Quiet or empty bars and restaurants in Manchester's Spinningfields area this morning amid the surge in Covid-19 cases

Quiet or empty bars and restaurants in Manchester’s Spinningfields area this morning amid the surge in Covid-19 cases

Advertisement
A pedestrian walks past the Bank of England in London today with the City of London appearing to be very quiet

A pedestrian walks past the Bank of England in London today with the City of London appearing to be very quiet

A sparsely-populated platform at Westminster station today as people wait for Circle or District line Underground trains

A sparsely-populated platform at Westminster station today as people wait for Circle or District line Underground trains

A woman walks past a closed food outlet at Covent Garden in London this morning amid the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases

A woman walks past a closed food outlet at Covent Garden in London this morning amid the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases

A man wearing a Christmas jumper walks past a large 'Merry Christmas' sign in London's Leicester Square this morning

A man wearing a Christmas jumper walks past a large ‘Merry Christmas’ sign in London’s Leicester Square this morning

Advertisement
A small number of people on London Overground train at Canada Water station this morning on their way to work

A small number of people on London Overground train at Canada Water station this morning on their way to work

Empty tables and chairs at Fumo Restaurant near Trafalgar Square in London this morning amid a surge in cancellations

Empty tables and chairs at Fumo Restaurant near Trafalgar Square in London this morning amid a surge in cancellations

A very quiet Jubilee line platform at Canada Water station in London during rush hour this morning

A very quiet Jubilee line platform at Canada Water station in London during rush hour this morning

A handful of people cross London Bridge before dawn at about 7.30am this morning as Britons shun going into the office

A handful of people cross London Bridge before dawn at about 7.30am this morning as Britons shun going into the office

Advertisement
An empty Jubilee line platform at London Waterloo station during rush hour this morning

An empty Jubilee line platform at London Waterloo station during rush hour this morning

Today’s congestion in London was by far the lowest 8am to 9am level for this week. The figure was 59 per cent yesterday, 68 per cent on Tuesday and 60 per cent on Monday. On Thursday of last week, it was at 68 per cent.

Boris insists he isn’t overseeing a ‘lockdown by stealth’ as Tories rage at Chris Whitty after his ‘public health socialist state’ warnings against socialising see thousands cancel Christmas plans 

Boris Johnson today denied imposing a ‘lockdown by stealth’ as Professor Chris Whitty faced a Tory backlash after telling the nation to restrict socialising in the run up to Christmas.  

The PM said this morning that ‘we have got to be very cautious’ because of the spread of the Omicron variant but he insisted ‘we don’t want to make your choices for you about your social life, we are not closing things’. 

Advertisement

Prof Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, sparked Tory fury last night when he used a Downing Street press conference to urge people to limit and prioritise their social contacts in the coming days. 

Conservative MP Joy Morrissey tweeted: ‘Perhaps the unelected covid public health spokesperson should defer to what our ELECTED Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister have decided. I know it’s difficult to remember but that’s how democracy works. This is not a public health socialist state.’ Ms Morrissey, who is a Government parliamentary private secretary, the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder, subsequently deleted the tweet as she faced a wave of criticism. 

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called her comments ‘outrageous’ and demanded that she apologise while Tory former cabinet minister Julian Smith said ‘personal attacks by any politician’ on members of the civil service are ‘completely unacceptable’.

Prof Whitty said this morning that he did not want to dictate what people can and cannot do, but told MPs: ‘This is about saying to people, look, this is a period to prioritise. And also to be clear, (this) was a message the Prime Minister also said last night.’

Advertisement

Prof Whitty made the comment to the Health and Social Care Select Committee as he also warned pandemic disruption is likely to continue for another 18 months until vaccines and antiviral drugs are capable of doing ‘almost all of the heavy lifting’ when it comes to tackling Covid variants. 

In half-term the Thursday figure fell to 31 per cent, while in the summer break it was between 25 and 39 per cent. The last time it was lower than 49 per cent outside of term-time on a Thursday morning was July 22 at 36 per cent.

It comes as Transport for London revealed that the number of morning rush-hour commuters using the Underground today had plunged by nearly a third in just a week as Britons shun going into the office.

Only 910,000 passengers entered or exited the Tube up to 10am this morning, which was down 31 per cent on the same period on Thursday last week and less than half (44 per cent) of normal pre-pandemic levels.

Advertisement

Transport for London reported that bus usage across the capital also fell this morning to 1.09million Oyster or contactless card taps, which was down 13 per cent on last week but still at 71 per cent of pre-Covid numbers.

The difference between Tubes and buses is partially because the latter are more regularly used by children going to school as normal and lower-paid Londoners in key worker roles that require them to travel in to their workplace.

Yesterday, there were 960,000 people using the Tube during the morning rush hour, which was down 29 per cent on Wednesday last week and this was at 44 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

However, across the entire day yesterday, there were just over 2.1million journeys on the Tube, which was at 51 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and only a 20 per cent week-on-week decrease in ridership.

Advertisement

On Tuesday this week, there were 1million people on the Underground in the morning rush hour, which was down 26 per cent on Tuesday last week and at 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

The biggest reductions on Wednesday were observed at City of London stations where there were 323,400 entries and exits yesterday compared to around 521,100 on the same day last week.

In terms of Underground stations linked specifically to shopping locations, there were around 544,800 entries and exits on Tuesday – compared to around 661,800 entry and exits last week.

On Monday, TfL, which runs the capital’s buses and Tubes, recorded an 18 per cent reduction in Tube journeys up to 10am, while bus usage dropped 6 per cent.

Advertisement

However, across all of Monday, the week-on-week fall was only 12 per cent on Tubes and 2 per cent on buses, mostly because leisure travel has not fallen as much as commuting.

It also emerged yesterday that train journeys across all of Britain have fallen to July levels, with industry revenue down 23 per cent week-on-week this Monday, meaning it is now at just 43 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

This was down from 55 per cent of pre-pandemic levels the previous Monday – and it means this Monday’s figure is the lowest level on a Monday since the end of July, when the country first reopened after the third lockdown.  

People sit on a London Underground train this morning after new Covid-19 infections hit record levels yesterday

People sit on a London Underground train this morning after new Covid-19 infections hit record levels yesterday

Advertisement
People wear face masks as they walk across Westminster Bridge in London this morning with the roads very quiet

People wear face masks as they walk across Westminster Bridge in London this morning with the roads very quiet

A man wears a face mask as he walks past an advert in support of the vaccination campaign at Westminster station today

A man wears a face mask as he walks past an advert in support of the vaccination campaign at Westminster station today

An empty bar in London's Covent Garden called Mr Fogg's Tavern stores chairs inside while it is closed this morning

An empty bar in London’s Covent Garden called Mr Fogg’s Tavern stores chairs inside while it is closed this morning

A woman wears a face mask as she walks past Covid posters at Westminster station on the London Underground today

A woman wears a face mask as she walks past Covid posters at Westminster station on the London Underground today

Advertisement
Two people sit apart and eat inside a McDonald's next to Charring Cross on the Strand in Central London this morning

Two people sit apart and eat inside a McDonald’s next to Charring Cross on the Strand in Central London this morning

People walk past a sign in Covent Garden at the London Transport Museum reading 'Next stop, Christmas' this morning

People walk past a sign in Covent Garden at the London Transport Museum reading ‘Next stop, Christmas’ this morning

A quiet Christmas market in Covent Garden in London today as a rapid rise in Covid cases has led to a surge in cancellations

A quiet Christmas market in Covent Garden in London today as a rapid rise in Covid cases has led to a surge in cancellations

The Rail Delivery Group also said daily rail journeys in the week to December 9 were at an average of 55 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

Advertisement

Is THIS why Omicron is spreading so rapidly? Study claims ultra-infectious variant replicates in airways 70 TIMES quicker than Delta

The Omicron variant multiplies 70 times faster than Delta in the airways, according to a study which may explain why the mutant virus is spreading at a ferocious pace.

Hong Kong University researchers also found the new variant replicates 10 times slower in the lungs than its predecessor.

That finding lends weight to the theory it is milder than the past variants, something which doctors in South Africa have been claiming for weeks.

The researchers exposed lung tissue in a laboratory to the original Covid strain that was identified in Wuhan last year, along with the two variants, to compare how the viruses behave after infection.

Advertisement

Omicron replicated faster in the bronchus — tubes connecting the windpipe and lungs — suggesting people with the strain may be more infectious.

Higher viral loads nearer the throat means people are more likely to breathe out viral particles.

Delta was found to duplicate much quicker in the lungs, where more of the virus can lead to the most severe illness.

The finding may be the biological clue behind why doctors insist people infected with the strain only suffer cold-like symptoms.

Advertisement

This was down from 63 per cent the previous week (to December 2) and 72 per cent the week before that (to November 25). 

Omicron was first reported in the UK on November 21 – and, since then, weekly train ticket sales have dropped from 68 per cent of pre-pandemic levels to just 59 per cent for the week ending December 11.

During a press conference last Wednesday, Mr Johnson urged people in England to work from home where possible from yesterday, which brought the country in line with the rest of the UK. 

It comes as Professor Whitty called for limits on socialising last night despite Mr Johnson insisting festive plans should not be cancelled over Omicron.

Advertisement

In a sign of the divisions between scientists and No 10, the chief medical officer gave a downbeat assessment of the Covid variant, warning of a huge surge in cases.

He cautioned against reports that Omicron was a milder strain, said a ‘substantial’ rise in hospitalisations was ‘nailed on’ and warned the NHS could face serious staff shortages as doctors and nurses fell ill. 

Professor Whitty issued a clear message on Christmas socialising, suggesting people should ‘prioritise’ and not meet friends if they hoped to see their families. He added: ‘Don’t mix with people you don’t have to.’

But, speaking at a tense press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister struck a markedly more upbeat tone, hailing record booster jab figures as evidence of a ‘great national fightback’ against Omicron.

Advertisement

Third dose rates were double those in the EU, he said, adding: ‘Let’s keep going. Let’s carry on giving Omicron both barrels. Let’s slow its spread and give the vaccines more time.’

He urged care when seeing loved ones and friends – including taking a test before meeting anyone vulnerable – but insisted there was no need to limit Christmas activities.

‘We are not cancelling events or closing hospitality,’ he said. ‘We are not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix. What we are saying is think carefully before you go about what kind of event it is.

‘Are you likely to meet people who are vulnerable? Get a test, make sure there is ventilation, wear a mask on transport.’

Advertisement

Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson would not hesitate to impose further restrictions if necessary, despite being rocked on Tuesday night by a revolt of 100 Tory MPs over the introduction of Plan B measures such as Covid passports.

Revellers enjoy a night out in Leeds last night as they continue to attend nightclubs despite the vaccine passport requirement

Revellers enjoy a night out in Leeds last night as they continue to attend nightclubs despite the vaccine passport requirement

Revellers are not dettered from having a good night out in Newcastle last night even though Covid infections are on the rise

Revellers are not dettered from having a good night out in Newcastle last night even though Covid infections are on the rise

© Licensed to London News Pictures. 15/12/2021. Nottingham, UK. StudentsANottingham city centre. Photo credit: Ioannis Alexopoulos/LNP

A young woman shows her Covid passport to a bouncer outside a nightclub in Nottingham city centre last night

Advertisement
People sit outside a bar in London's Soho last night as vaccine passports become a requirement at large indoor venues

People sit outside a bar in London’s Soho last night as vaccine passports become a requirement at large indoor venues

People display their Covid passes as they arrive at Heaven nightclub in London last night ahead of a House Gospel Choir gig

People display their Covid passes as they arrive at Heaven nightclub in London last night ahead of a House Gospel Choir gig 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street in London yesterday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street in London yesterday

Advertisement

No 10 said MPs, who depart for their Christmas break tonight, would be recalled to legislate for new curbs if needed. Downing Street hopes the country can get through Christmas without the need for further sweeping restrictions.

Advertisement

But Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, told MPs that Omicron was ‘probably the most significant threat’ since the start of the pandemic – and warned that case numbers were likely to hit ‘staggering’ levels.

Professor Graham Medley, one of the Government’s leading modelling experts, said there was a ‘very real possibility’ the NHS would be overwhelmed next month.

Dr Nikki Kanani, director of primary care for the NHS, urged football fans not to attend stadiums this weekend unless it’s to ‘get a jab’ at a pop-up site. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

Similar Posts