The target for giving every adult in England a booster jab has been brought forward by a month over fears of a “tidal wave of Omicron” that could cause “very many deaths”.

Boris Johnson, in a pre-recorded address to the nation this evening, said Britain “must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” as he set a new deadline of jabbing everyone over 18 by the new year.

He said scientists had discovered that being fully vaccinated is “simply not enough” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus mutation and that, without a lightning speed mass booster campaign, the NHS could be overwhelmed.

The mission to administer millions of jabs by December 31 will see 42 military planning teams deployed across every health region, extra vaccine sites and mobile units, extended clinic opening hours to allow people to be jabbed around the clock and at weekends, and the training of thousands more volunteer vaccinators.

The announcement comes as the UK Covid alert level was raised to Level 4, up from Level 3, following a rapid increase in the number of Omicron cases being recorded.


READ MORE: UK could exceed one million Omicron variant Covid cases in December


Omicron emergency booster national mission

The Prime Minister said: “We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron here in the UK right now.

“At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe.

“And even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths.

“So we must act now. Today we are launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission, unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme, to get boosted now.

“A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January.

“Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month.

“Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the new year.”

The Prime Minister – whose address was pre-recorded, meaning he spoke to the nation without being flanked by his scientific advisers and without taking questions – said the UK Government would support the devolved administrations to “accelerate” their own rollouts of third jabs.

Some NHS appointments to be postponed

He revealed that the decision to speed up the jab rate would mean some NHS appointments would need to be postponed until the new year, arguing there would be “even greater” cancellations if the Omicron wave was allowed to rise.

In a direct plea to GPs, doctors, nurses and others on the NHS front line who he said had “worked incredibly hard” throughout the pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you, and your colleagues, and above all protect your patients from even greater pressures next year.”

When can you book your booster?

Every adult over 18 in England who has had a second dose of a vaccine at least three months ago will be able to have their booster from Monday.

The NHS booking system will be open for those under the age of 30 from Wednesday but the Prime Minister said “in some cases you can walk in from tomorrow”.

UK Covid Alert Level 4

The country’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director have recommended to ministers that the UK go up to Level 4 from Level 3.

The decision to increase the alert level follows advice from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) after a further 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron mutation were recorded in the UK as of Sunday.

It brings the total number of UK cases of Omicron to 3,137, a 65 percent increase from Saturday’s total of 1,898 UK cases.

HeraldScotland:

The five officials, including England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Sir Michael McBride, Scotland’s Professor Gregor Smith, and Wales’ Dr Frank Atherton, said the NHS was already under pressure “mainly driven by non-Covid pressures”, with Omicron’s ability to escape vaccines “likely” to add to those demands.

“It is extremely important that if you are eligible, you get your Covid vaccination now – whether this be your first, second or booster dose,” they said.

“People should continue to take sensible precautions including ventilating rooms, using face coverings, testing regularly and isolating when symptomatic.”


READ MORE: Omicron variant symptoms - What are the symptoms of the new Covid variant


What does UK Covid Alert Level 4 mean?

Increasing the UK Covid alert level to Level 4 means the epidemic is “in general circulation, transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising”, according to Government guidance.

HeraldScotland:

In a joint statement, the CMOs and NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis said the emergence of Omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services”.

They added: “Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.

“Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.”