Long lines formed at vaccination centres in Britain as people heeded the government’s call for all adults to get booster shots to protect against the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which the prime minister said Monday has caused at least one death.
In a televised announcement late Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone 18 and up would be offered a third vaccine dose by Dec. 31 — less than three weeks away, and a month earlier than the previous target.
“We are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, omicron,” Johnson said. He said boosters would “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of omicron.”
U.K. health authorities say omicron cases are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and it will replace delta as the dominant strain within days. But it’s unclear whether the expected wave of infections will inundate the country’s health system.
About 10 people are in U.K. hospitals with COVID-19 caused by omicron, and Johnson on Monday reported the country’s first COVID-19 death involving the variant.
Scientists in South Africa, where omicron was first identified, say they see signs the variant may cause less severe disease than delta but cautioned it was too soon to be certain. Health authorities around the world are watching Britain closely to see what an omicron surge looks like in a country with an older, more highly vaccinated population than South Africa’s.
More than 80 per cent of people age 12 and up in Britain have received two vaccine doses, and 40 per cent of adults have had three. Giving the rest boosters by the end of the month will be a huge challenge, requiring almost one million doses administered a day. Johnson acknowledged that many routine medical procedures would have to be postponed to meet the goal.
Teams of military planners and thousands of volunteer vaccinators will help give the jabs at doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies and pop-up vaccination centres.
While the online appointment booking system will not be open to under-30s until Wednesday, Johnson said any adult could show up at a walk-in centre to get a booster starting Monday.
Long lines, struggles with booking system
Lines built up at big London vaccination clinics on Monday morning. The line for shots at St. Thomas’s hospital, on the south bank of the River Thames in London, stretched across Westminster Bridge toward Parliament.
The government’s appointment-booking website struggled to keep up with demand. The National Health Service advised people to try accessing the site later in the day or on Tuesday, if they were having problems.
The government also ran out of rapid at-home virus test kits, which have been distributed free to households during the pandemic. The website where tests can be ordered said none were available on Monday. Starting Wednesday, people in England must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues.
Prime Minister <a href=”https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BorisJohnson</a>’s address to the nation on booster jabs: 12 December 2021. <a href=”https://t.co/EcZv3bhWgz”>https://t.co/EcZv3bhWgz</a>
Johnson’s Dec. 31 target applies to England. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are also expected to speed up their vaccination campaigns.
The British government raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level on Sunday, warning the rapid spread of omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services” at a time when COVID-19 is already widespread.
Concerns about the new variant led Johnson’s Conservative government to bring in vaccine certificates for nightclubs and to reintroduce restrictions that were lifted almost six months ago. Masks must once again be worn in most indoor settings and as of Monday, people were urged to work from home, if possible.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 270.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
In the Americas, three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine is the “optimal care” but two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains the U.S. government’s official definition of fully vaccinated, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said.
In Africa, Nigeria plans to ban flights from Argentina, Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia from this week in retaliation for being added to those countries’ red lists over the detection of the Omicron variant last month.
In Europe, Norway will further tighten its coronavirus restrictions this week in order to limit the spread of the virus, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told news agency NTB on Monday.
“The situation is serious. The spread of infection is too high and we have to take action to limit this development,” he said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, in the country’s most populous city of Karachi, the country’s National Institute of Health (NIH) said on Monday.
Meanwhile, coronavirus-free Queensland state opened its domestic borders to all vaccinated people for the first time in nearly five months, as Australians gear up for quarantine-free travel across most of the country during the busy Christmas period.
In the Middle East, Israel said it was adding Britain and Denmark to its “red” list of countries that Israelis are forbidden to visit.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET