Raab: ‘Speeded up’ booster jab rollout will give us a great Christmas

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In a bid to calm fears over rising cases of the Omicron variant, the Deputy Prime Minister is positive the festivities can go ahead without restrictions.

But a top statistician later warned the celebrations could lead to tougher Covid curbs in the New Year.

Mr Raab said: “We stay vigilant but I think we’re in a much more confident position because of the vaccine, because of the boosters.”

A further 86 Omicron cases were confirmed yesterday, taking the UK total to 246 – a 53 percent rise in one day.

However, health experts also insisted vaccines, particularly the boosters, appeared to be protecting people against serious illness from the latest Covid mutation.

Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.

“All the family, friends, loved ones are being able to get together in a way we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years, I think, is really important. Of course we’ll continue to be vigilant, but the reality is… hospitalisations down, deaths down.

The Deputy PM said 80 percent of people were now double jabbed and a third have had a top-up.

He added: “We can go into this Christmas totally in a different position from the last Christmas.

“I mean, of course it always depends a little bit on their personal condition. If they’re safeguarding it may be different.

“But I think people should enjoy Christmas, get their loved ones around them, celebrate it in a way we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

However, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said he feared increased festive contacts could trigger a fresh wave of crackdowns.

The Cambridge University statistician said: “This is a terrible time for a variant to come along when the next two weeks are probably some of the highest-risk periods, with a lot of indoor socialising that we know is extremely high risk.

“It’s appalling timing. I’m sure the Government would love not to disrupt Christmas.

“What happens after Christmas of course is another matter. The New Year is quite likely to see quite a lot of challenges to face – and that could very well mean more stringent measures.”

Boris Johnson will review precautions introduced after Omicron emerged in South Africa by December 18.

They include masks in shops and on public transport and new isolating rules for anyone in contact with someone infected with Omicron.

Mr Raab stressed ministers had so far not needed to trigger the Government’s winter Plan B, including advising people to work from home where possible.

He said: “That’s testament to the success of the vaccine rollout and the plans that we’ve put in place, but also just delivered over the last year.” South African health researcher Prof Willem Hanekom said early figures suggested the variant was highly transmissible but had a less than one per cent chance of reinfection and typically resulted in milder disease.

He added: “I want to say we have to be cautious, these are very early days.”

Government adviser Prof Mark Woolhouse said the jabs would still be “very, very good” at protecting people from serious illness.

But he warned it was too late to stem or stop a potential UK wave of the variant. Prof Woolhouse said: “It is highly transmissible, it appears to be spreading very rapidly in South Africa and the early signs are that it’s spreading pretty rapidly in the UK too.

“If those trends continue, over the course of the coming weeks and months, Omicron could even come to replace Delta entirely right around the world.”

Asked about the new travel rules, he replied: “That may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. If there’s commuthe nity transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.

“The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find.

Struggling “But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave if we’re going to have one.” From tomorrow, travellers to the UK must take a pre-departure test regardless of jab status.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned the NHS would be in a “very, very difficult position” if Omicron led to a surge in hospital admissions.

She said hospitals were already struggling to cope with the number of people on wards. Dr Henderson added: “It is pretty spectacularly bad now. It will get worse and if the new variant becomes a thing in terms of numbers and translates into hospitals admissions, we are going to be in a very, very difficult position. We will always still be there.

“We still want patients to come but we do have to help people to understand that really at the moment the service is so stretched that an extra push could be very, very difficult.”

A further 43,992 Covid cases were confirmed yesterday and 54 more deaths.

There have now been 170,000 fatalities where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.

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