The UK government will offer daily lateral flow tests to 100,000 workers in critical industries from Jan. 10 in order to help keep essential services open, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.
Staff working in areas such as food processing, transport, and the Border Force will be sent test kits for every working day, Johnson told a Downing Street news conference on Jan. 4.
He said the UK is “in the midst of the fastest growth in COVID cases that we’ve ever known” and the National Health Service (NHS) is moving to a “war footing.”
“Previous waves of the pandemic didn’t have a single day with more than 100,000 new cases reported, one day last week we had 200,000 people test positive. And the latest figure today is another 218,000, though that includes some delayed reports,” he said.
Johnson said that anyone who thinks the battle against the pandemic is over is “profoundly wrong,” adding that this is still “a moment for the utmost caution.”
The prime minister said he will recommend to Cabinet that the government should continue the “Plan B” measures that were introduced to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, under which people have been asked to work from home if they can, vaccine passports have been introduced for large-scale events and nightclubs, and a mask mandate has been enforced for most indoor settings, including cinemas and theatres.
But he said the UK has a chance to “ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again” because Omicron is known to be milder than previous variants of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus and thanks to the booster vaccine roll-out.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said last month that the Omicron variant is up to 70 percent less likely to result in hospitalization.
Johnson said the government has taken the “right approach” which must “balance a lot of considerations.”
Asked about the likelihood of further restrictions, he said the government will “monitor everything very closely” and “clearly can’t rule anything out.”
He said it depends on whether the virus will behave in the way it has behaved in South Africa, where authorities said last month the Omicron wave might have peaked, and “how quickly it blows through.”
“But if you ask me to guess, I would say we have a good chance of getting through the Omicron wave without the need for further restrictions, and without the need certainly for a lockdown,” he said.
PA Media contributed to this report.