UK records highest number of COVID cases since pandemic began amid warning from health chief

LONDON (AP) – The UK on Wednesday recorded the most new confirmed COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic, and England’s chief medical officer has warned the situation is likely to worsen because the omicron variant causes a new wave of illness during the Christmas holiday period.

Professor Chris Whitty described the current situation as two epidemics in one – with omicron infections increasing rapidly even as the country continues to grapple with the old delta variant, which still causes a large number of infections. Public health officials expect omicron to become the dominant variant across the UK within days. Omicron already represents the majority of cases in London.

The UK recorded 78,610 new infections on Wednesday, 16% more than the previous record set in January. While scientists are still studying the risks posed by the highly transmissible variant of omicron, Witty said the public should be prepared for the numbers to continue to rise in the weeks to come.

“There are several things we don’t know,” Whitty said. “But all the things we know are bad, the main one being the speed at which it is moving. It is moving at an absolutely phenomenal rate.

The comments came on the day the UK government put in place new rules ordering the wearing of masks in most indoor environments in England and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and large crowded events.

Britain is also stepping up its national vaccination program, aiming to offer a booster dose to every adult by the end of December. The government announced in a few days that it would open new mass vaccination centers in sports stadiums across the country, including Wembley, the 90,000-seat national football stadium in London.

Whitty advised people to limit their social contacts, prioritizing those who are most important.

“I am concerned that there will be a growing number of omicron patients entering the NHS, going to hospital, going to intensive care, and exact ratios that we do not yet know, but there will be substantial numbers,” did he declare. “It will start to become evident, in my opinion, quite soon after Christmas.”

Despite the upsurge in infections, daily coronavirus-related deaths in the UK are well below last winter’s peak. Britain recorded 165 deaths on Wednesday, compared to a record 1,820 on January 20.

Public health officials attribute widespread immunization to weakening the link between COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Meanwhile, Britain is moving forward with a public inquiry into how the government has responded to the pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced that Heather Hallett, a former Court of Appeal judge, would chair the inquiry, which is due to begin next spring.

“She brings a wealth of experience to this position and I know she shares my determination that the investigation investigate the government’s response to the pandemic in a forensic and in-depth manner,” Johnson said.

After pressure from bereaved families, Johnson agreed to hold an inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic, which has left more than 146,000 dead in Britain, the highest death toll in Europe after Russia. The investigation will have the power to call evidence and question witnesses under oath.

The Grieving Families for Justice lobby said a president’s announcement was a “positive step” but “comes far too late”.

“We have been calling for an investigation since the end of the first wave, and we will never know how many lives could have been saved if the government had had a rapid review phase in the summer of 2020,” said Matt Fowler, co-head of the group. founder. “With the omicron variant upon us, the investigation really can’t come soon enough.”

Hallett said she would consult with bereaved families and others on the mandate of the investigation.

“I will do my best to get the investigation to answer as many questions as possible about the UK’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future,” she said.

Hallett oversaw the inquiries into the deaths of 52 people killed in the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s public transport system. Last month, she was appointed to investigate the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died in 2018 after being exposed in Novichok, the Soviet-made nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English town. from Salisbury.

Due to Hallett’s position in the COVID-19 investigation, the government plans to find someone else to lead the investigation to explore allegations of Russia’s involvement in Sturgess’ death.

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