Boris Johnson has said the UK is making “great progress” in tackling Omicron – but warned the variant remains “incredibly contagious”.
Speaking following a pharmacy visit, the prime minister said 36 million people have now received the booster jab and are more protected from Omicron, but acknowledged that the number of people in hospital with COVID is “massively up” and “increasing”.
Mr Johnson also confirmed that ministers are considering reducing the self-isolation period for fully vaccination people who test positive for the virus.
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Calls to shorten isolation period
His comments come as the PM faces growing pressure from some of his own Conservative MPs to reduce the isolation period to five days from the current seven.
Asked if changes could be made to both the government’s isolation and lateral flow testing policies in the coming weeks, he reiterated his call for people who have not already done so to “join the movement” and get a vaccination.
“We’re making great progress – the number of people who have been boosted, as I say, is 36 million, 90% of the over 50s have been done – but there are still millions who need to do it,” he said.
The prime minister also noted that “Omicron is still out there and is incredibly dangerous”.
Pressed on whether the isolation period should be cut, Mr Johnson added: “The thing to do is to look at the science. We are looking at that, and we will act according to the science.”
Reports lateral flow tests will soon no longer be free
The prime minister said the government will continue to make lateral flows available “for as long as is necessary”.
Earlier on Monday, Michael Gove refused to deny that free lateral flow tests could be phased out in the coming weeks, less than 24 hours after another minister told Sky News the government would “absolutely not” charge for them.
The housing secretary told Kay Burley that lateral flow tests will be free for “as long as we need them”, but did not directly answer whether they could be phased out in the coming weeks.
Yesterday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that the government has no plans to scale back free lateral flow tests to high risk settings.
Mr Zahawi dismissed a report in The Sunday Times, saying he did “not recognise” the story that the tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals and schools, and people with symptoms, “within weeks”.
PM reiterates booster call
The prime minister was also asked by broadcasters about mandatory jabs for NHS workers.
“Well, let me just say that I mentioned the 18,000 people with COVID currently in hospital. That, as you know – as everybody in the country knows – is massively up and the numbers are increasing,” he said.
The PM said “perhaps 30% or more” of those 18,000 have “contracted COVID in hospital”.
He continued: “Now, to me, that is just not acceptable. You shouldn’t go into hospital and then contract COVID. So it is very important that our NHS staff should be properly protected, should be properly vaccinated – and I certainly encourage that.”
It comes after Sky News filmed the health secretary being directly challenged by an unvaccinated ICU doctor about the soon-to-be legal requirement for NHS workers to get jabbed.
PM dodges parties question
The prime minister dodged a question on whether he attended a party in Downing Street on 20 May 2020 during lockdown.
Asked if he and his wife Carrie attended, Mr Johnson said: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”
Pressed on whether he had been interviewed by Ms Gray, he said: “All that is a subject for investigation by Sue Gray.”
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating the 20 May event as part of her inquiry into numerous allegations of rule-breaking events being held in Number 10 during the pandemic.