UK Omicron cases rise by 19,544 as Brits gear up for 'cautious' New Year celebrations

A FURTHER 19,544 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in the UK today as Brits gear up for New Year celebrations.

The increase in infections today brings the total to 229,666, but experts have insisted that the variant is milder than those that came before it.

Omicron is now responsible for 90 per cent of cases in the UK and has taken over from the Delta variant.

It comes as a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.

The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that today will be the last day that Omicron cases are reported separately.

Ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations tomorrow, Brits have been urged to be sensible when attending gatherings and parties.

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Earlier this week health secretary Sajid Javid had urged people to take a lateral flow test before going out.

But a shortage of both lateral flow tests and PCR kits has meant that many people currently don't have access to tests.

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The government last night said that testing is 'not a requirement' to go out this New Year.

The rush for lateral flow tests could be down to NYE celebrations and the change in isolation rules.

The change in rules meant that people testing negative on day six and seven on isolation could be released – meaning that many Brits who missed out on Christmas, might be able to celebrate New Year.

A spokesperson for No 10 said that testing wasn't a requirement of going out this New Year.

They told The Times: “People should exercise caution, and testing is one of several mitigations,.

“The government is not telling people they should not go out. It’s about personal responsibility. But of course people should get a test where possible.”

Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the conditions at a New Year's Eve gathering were "perfect" for spreading coronavirus.

Experts today said that the shortage in tests was problematic.

"I think it's very worrying indeed," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don't think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year.

"But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus."

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