Cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant are now being treated in hospitals, cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has told Sky News.
The education secretary also said there were currently no plans to vaccinate primary school children and that Boris Johnson would be saying more about the coronavirus booster programme “later today”.
Even if the COVID-19 Omicron mutation proves to cause less severe symptoms than the Delta variant, high infection rates could still see tens of thousands of people end up in hospital, Mr Zahawi warned.
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Speaking to the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme, he said: “I can confirm to you this morning there are cases in hospital with Omicron.
“We’ve been able to test people who are in hospital over the past two weeks, and so there is a lag to hospitalisation.”
He warned Omicron was “so infectious that it will dominate and exponentially grow”.
He said: “Let’s do a mathematic exercise for a second. You get to a million infections by say the end of December – 1% is 10,000 severe infections that could be in hospital.
“Three days later it is two million, three days later it is four million. Three days beyond that it is eight million.
“That is the risk, that even if it is milder, say 50% milder than Delta, then the numbers are huge – it is a small percentage of a very large population.”
Referring to the reimposition of restrictions, Mr Zahawi: “The reason we are taking these proportionate, I think precautionary measures – the most significant thing, scientists tell us, is the work from home, that has the greatest impact on slowing down Omicron, hence why we’ve had to take these measures.”
Speaking as the booster programme was extended to the over 30s, Mr Zahawi said: “It is now a race between the booster and that protection, and the Omicron variant.”
He added: “We are over 20 million (booster jabs) already.
“We are now in a race to get all adults who are eligible for their booster jab to be boostered as quickly as possible, and the prime minister will be saying more about this later today.”
He added: “This is going to be a national endeavour to boost the nation as quickly as possible so we can control Omicron and bring back that equilibrium that we had with the virus, as we continue to protect the economy and of course on that journey towards endemic from pandemic status.”