UK Covid alert level rises from three to four as Omicron spreads

12 December 2021, 19:54 | Updated: 12 December 2021, 20:17

By Will Taylor

The UK's Covid alert level has been raised from Level 3 to Level 4, the Government has announced.

High community transmission of the Delta variant has been added to by the Omicron strain and the Department of Health said the latter presented a "rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services".

It has urged anyone eligible to book their Covid booster vaccines.

The embattled Prime Minister, who's under fire over his handling about an alleged Downing Street Christmas party said to have taken place during coronavirus restrictions, warned of a "tidal wave" coming and opened booster jabs to all adults in England from this week.

The Government has already implemented Plan B measures to slow the spread of Omicron, given experts' fears it is very transmissible and has eroded some of the protection given by vaccines.

Read more: Daily lateral flow tests for a week for double jabbed Covid contacts

Read more: Under-fire PM hosted Downing Street Christmas quiz last year during lockdown

This included expanding where face masks are to be worn and introducing the requirement to use the NHS Covid pass or a negative test result for certain events and venues.

However, vaccines are still considered the best way of avoiding serious illness and people aged 30 and above can now book their booster shots in England.

The chief medical officers for all four countries in the UK recommended the alert level should rise.

Read more: Education Secretary claims there's too much 'hype' around No10 Christmas party scandal

Read more: Covid booster jabs extended to over 30s as NHS steps up fight against Omicron

A statement from the Department of Health said: “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.

“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.”

It added that the NHS is under pressure but that has mostly been caused by other sources than Covid – but with Omicron, the department expects to see more pressure “soon”.

Speaking as the booster jabs were rolled out to over 30s in England, health secretary Sajid Javid said: "This is our national mission - the most recent data shows boosters are the essential defence against Omicron and we are doing everything in our power to get jabs into arms as quickly as possible.

"We are now expanding the offer to over-30s - so please come forward as quickly as possible to get boosted and help our country get ahead in this race with the variant."

Experts who advise the Government have warned that Omicron’s spread could cause between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths if some new measures are not introduced.

Scientists are working on finding out more about Omicron, including the severity of disease caused by infection.

Meanwhile, the PM has been introducing the measures against a backdrop of public anger over allegations about a Downing Street Christmas party last year.

He has insisted the Covid rules at the time were followed but ordered an investigation into what happened.

He was forced to deny claims he used the measures as a smokescreen amid torrid headlines.

Updates to follow