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No fresh Covid curbs as PM unveils daily tests for 100,000 critical workers
4 January 2022, 17:52 | Updated: 4 January 2022, 19:38
Critical workers will be able to take daily lateral flow tests as the UK battles with a staffing crisis caused by Covid-driven staff absences.
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Boris Johnson announced that from January 10, lateral flow tests will be available every working day to 100,000 employees across the economy.
Tests will be made available to key workers including NHS staff, Border Force, those working to provide public transport and people critical to food processing.
The Government hopes it will ensure infections are caught early, in an attempt to minimise the spread of coronavirus between colleagues as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly.
However, no fresh restrictions were announced by Mr Johnson on Tuesday afternoon.
It comes as data shows up to a million people are understood to currently be off sick due to Covid despite the government reducing the isolation period from 10 to seven days for those who test negative on days six and seven.
The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have all confirmed they declared internal critical incidents.
The Prime Minister also confirmed no new restrictions would be implemented but Plan B measures will be extended, stating "we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again".
But Boris Johnson said the latest record Covid case figures showed that those who believed the pandemic to be over were "profoundly wrong".
Speaking during the press briefing, the Prime Minister said: "Our United Kingdom is in the midst of the fastest growth in Covid cases that we've ever known.
"Previous waves of the pandemic didn't have a single day with more than 100,000 new cases reported, one day last week we had 200,000 people test positive.
"And the latest figure today is another 218,000, though that includes some delayed reports.
"So anyone who thinks our battle with Covid is over, I'm afraid is profoundly wrong.
"This is a moment for the utmost caution."
Mr Johnson also confirmed the Government are working to identify the NHS Trusts which are most likely to need military support during the staffing crisis.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said hospitals across the country were likely to face "very substantial pressure over the next couple of weeks".
"I don't think we think that the ICU pressure is going to be like it was in previous waves but there is very substantial pressure on the emergency service part - ambulances, A&Es," he said during the Downing Street press conference.
Sir Chris said that there was not likely to be a "single threshold" for when further action might be needed to be taken by the NHS but more "little by little" that things are rolled back, firstly in terms of routine procedures and then to more urgent but not emergency services.
"It will be patchy in different areas of the country, it will be patchy at different points along the epidemic and it won't reach a threshold but there will certainly be some hospitals in some areas of the country which will come under very substantial pressure over the next couple of weeks," he added.
Giving his reaction to the press conference, Wes Streeting told LBC, that offering tests to critical workers was a "perfectly good thing to do" but he expressed his concerns about the logistics.
Talking to Eddie Mair the shadow Health Minister said: "It is all very well Boris Johnson having the ambition but he has also got to deal with the current testing challenege and recognise that with in the coming weeks the NHS will be under severe pressure across England.
"We’ve seen just today, one NHS trust in the north east, telling people to call a cab or phone a friend if they have got a suspected heart attack or stroke, to get them to hospitals because ambulances are struggling.
"So these are key challenges for the NHS and the Prime Minister really didn’t say much about how he was going to address them."
A further 218,724 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded on Tuesday, the Government said, the first time the figure has been over 200,000.
The public were urged to come forward for their booster jabs during the conference, with the Prime Minister saying: "It’s absolutely heart-breaking that as many as 90 per cent of those in intensive care with Covid have not had their booster, and over 60 per cent of those in intensive care, who have Covid, have not had any vaccination at all.
"People are dying needlessly because they haven’t had their jabs, they haven’t had that booster.
"And there are 2 million booster slots available this week alone.
"It’s already the case that to travel to some countries you need a booster to be considered fully vaccinated, and it’s likely that within weeks this will increasingly become the norm.
"So if you haven’t done it already, get yourself boosted this month."