British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed the country's first death from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 as long queues were seen outside walk-in vaccination centres across the UK with people queuing for their booster vaccine doses.
During a visit to a vaccine clinic in west London, Johnson warned against the complacency of the mildness of the variant and also refused to rule out bringing in further restrictions beyond the government's work from home guidance now in force as part of measures to tackle the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
"Sadly, yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron, Johnson told reporters.
"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. So, the best thing we can do is all get our boosters," he said.
Earlier, Boris Johnson had warned of a tidal wave of the highly transmissible variant on its way as he issued an urgent televised address on Sunday night.
He announced an enhanced Omicron Emergency Boost campaign, which sets an end of the year deadline for all adults aged over 18 to be offered a third top-up dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This brings forward his previous timeline of January 2022 for this target in an effort to build a "wall of vaccine protection" against the new variant.
I am afraid we are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omicron, and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe, said Johnson.
No-one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming, and I'm afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need. But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose a booster dose we can all bring our level of protection back up, he said.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid reiterated the message on Monday, adding that the Omicron variant is "spreading at a phenomenal rate" and infections are continuing to double every two to three days.
We are clearly once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus," he said.
Ten people in England are in hospital with the new COVID variant, first detected in South Africa, with one death now reported related to Omicron in the UK.
Meanwhile, people in England are now expected to work from home if they can, as part of the government's Plan B guidance. The change brings England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Plan B also means stricter face-covering rules for indoor spaces and compulsory COVID vaccination pass for venues will come in from Wednesday.
Members of Parliament are expected to vote on the new measures on Tuesday. One of the three votes in the House of Commons will be on COVID vaccine passes, and could be opposed by Johnson's own 60 Tory MPs.
However, all parliamentary votes are expected to pass as the Opposition Labour is backing the government.
The UK's COVID alert level has been raised to level four which means a high or rising level of transmission for the first time since May due to the spread of Omicron. Early data suggests that getting a third booster dose gives around 75 per cent protection against symptomatic infection against Omicron.
More than half a million booster jabs and third doses were administered by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK on Saturday, the second day that has happened since the booster rollout began in the country.
A further 1,239 new cases of Omicron were announced in the UK on Sunday, bringing the total number of UK Omicron cases to more than 3,000 and the total number of COVID infections to 48,854.