LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 08: British prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference at 10 Downing Street.
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LONDON — The U.K. reported a record number of new daily Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, with 78,610 in the last 24 hours.
The figure was an increase from 59,610 the day before, and it surpasses the previous high of 68,053 cases reported on Jan. 8.
It underlines the dramatic surge in infections that the country is seeing ahead of the holiday period with the omicron variant expected to quickly become the dominant strain. One senior British health chief has warned there could be “staggering” numbers in the next few days.
Long queues have been seen outside vaccination centers in many U.K. cities and towns with the government putting its booster program on overdrive to try to get a third vaccine shot to as many people as possible.
There were 165 new Covid deaths in the U.K. on Wednesday, according to government data.
While deaths remain low currently and initial reports suggest the omicron variant might not be any more severe than other Covid strains, health experts have repeatedly warned that the sheer number of infections could lead to mounting fatalities and an overwhelmed health-care system.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that at least one patient infected with the new omicron variant had died in the country. It was the first publicly confirmed death globally from the new heavily mutated strain.
Johnson has also warned Britain faces a “tidal wave” of omicron infections, and has announced that England would be speeding up its booster program to offer all adults a third dose of a vaccine by the end of the year.
The government had previously been aiming to extend its booster plan to all over-18s by the end of January.
So far, nearly 25 million people have had a booster shot of a vaccine in the country of 67 million. Scientists are optimistic that booster doses will improve immunity against the new, highly transmissible variant.
Some restrictions, including mask mandates in shops and instructions to work from home where possible, have been reintroduced in England throughout December.
But Johnson is experiencing a rebellion within his own political party with a significant number unhappy at the new Covid restrictions as well as a series of gaffes, scandals and embarrassments in recent weeks.
A vote on Tuesday evening in the House of Commons to require proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs was rejected by 96 of his fellow Conservatives.
Government officials will likely be mulling whether more Covid restrictions will be needed over the next few weeks and, indeed, whether they will have enough cross-party support to push the measures through.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, highlighted the sudden surge of cases in the U.K., saying Wednesday that the number is doubling every two days, or less than every two days.
“Which means if you have 100,000 cases today, it’s 200,000 cases [in] two days, 400,000 two days later, and then it’s 800,000 two days later. So in a week, let’s imagine in a week, eight days, just slightly more than [a] week of doubling time. The actual number of cases can increase eight or tenfold,” he said.
— CNBC’s Dawn Kopecki and Chloe Taylor contributed to this article.