At least one person in the United Kingdom has died after contracting the Omicron variant as officials warn the new coronavirus strain is spreading at a “phenomenal” rate.
As fears of another punishing wave grip the country, Britons in their hundreds have formed queues at vaccine centres to get booster shots, heeding government advice.
“Sadly at least one patient has now been confirmed to have died with Omicron,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Monday.
“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus – I think that’s something we need to set on one side – and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population.”
Since the first Omicron cases were detected on November 27 in the UK, Johnson has imposed tougher restrictions.
On Sunday, he urged people to get a third shot to prevent the health service from being overwhelmed as he warned of a “tidal wave” of infections which could overcome even those who are fully vaccinated.
Data released on Friday showed that vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection was substantially reduced against Omicron with just two doses, but a third dose boosted protection up to more than 70 percent.
Parliament is due to vote on Tuesday on whether to enforce further measures, which include ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for some venues.
Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) - 15 December 2021 51,476 views • Streamed live on Dec 15, 2021 •
Prime Minister's Question Time, also referred to as PMQs, takes place every Wednesday the House of Commons sits. It gives MPs the chance to put questions to the Prime Minister.
In most cases, the session starts with a routine 'open question' from an MP about the Prime Minister's engagements. MPs can then ask supplementary questions on any subject, often one of current political significance.
The Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, asks six questions and the leader of the second largest opposition party asks two.
A senior member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet resigned Saturday night, adding to a sense of disarray within a government that has faced rebellion from his own lawmakers and voters this week.
Brexit Minister David Frost said in a letter to Johnson that he was stepping down immediately after a newspaper reported that he had planned to leave the post next month.
Frost said the process of leaving the EU would be a long-term job. “That is why we agreed earlier this month that I would move on in January and hand over the baton to others to manage our future relationship with the EU,″ he said in his resignation letter.
However, the Mail on Sunday said earlier that he resigned because of growing disillusionment with Johnson’s policies. The newspaper said Frost’s decision was triggered by last week’s introduction of new pandemic restrictions, including a requirement that people show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues.
And in his resignation letter, Frost said the UK needed to “learn to live with Covid. ... You took a brave decision in July, against considerable opposition, to open up the country again. Sadly it did not prove to be irreversible, as I wished, and believe you did too. I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.”
The news follows a stunning defeat for Johnson’s Conservative Party in a by-election Thursday in North Shropshire, a long-time party stronghold. Earlier this week, 99 Conservative lawmakers voted against so-called vaccine passports in the House of Commons, the biggest rebellion in Johnson’s 2 1/2 years as prime minister.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson isn’t up to the job as the omicron variant drives a spike in coronavirus infections.
“A government in total chaos right when the country faces an uncertain few weeks″ Rayner tweeted. “We deserve better than this buffoonery.″
Even some of Johnson’s own party members piled on.
“The prime minister is running out of time and out of friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government,″ tweeted Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen. “Lord Frost has made it clear, 100 Conservative lawmakers have made it clear, but most importantly, so did the people of North Shropshire.″
Frost led talks with the European Union as Johnson’s government sought to re-negotiate terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.
His resignation comes after the UK recently softened its stance in the talks with the EU over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. The change of tone from Britain came as a surprise to many because it seemed at odds with the hardline position of the Brexit minister, who was nicknamed “Frosty the No Man.”
Johnson’s government is also under fire over reports that officials held Christmas parties last year when pandemic rules barred such gatherings.
Watch live: Boris Johnson in first Prime Minister's Questions of the new year 463 watching now • Started streaming 36 minutes ago • Watch live from 3pm as Boris Johnson takes questions from the House of Commons on a range of issues including the latest Covid-19 measures.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is absent this week owing to testing positive for coronavirus. Shadow Chancellor Angela Rayner has instead taken his place.
Thereafter, Health Secretary Sajid Javid is expected to make a statement on the situation regarding the spread of the Omicron variant.