UK PM Boris Johnson warned of serious challenges ahead in coping with the omicron variant, as he eased testing rules to free up capacity to deal with a virus caseload that's soaring across the country.
Pre-departure tests for vaccinated travelers arriving UK will be eliminated from Friday, while people who test positive using rapid home kits will no longer be required to take PCR tests to confirm the result from January 11, reports NDTV.
"Thanks to the sheer size of the omicron wave, we still need to take steps to ensure our testing capacity reaches those who need it most," Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. The U.K. is "experiencing the fastest growth in Covid cases that we have ever known," he said, while hospital admissions are "rising rapidly, doubling around every nine days."
UK on Wednesday reported 194,747 new infections. It was another daily record if Tuesday's data, which included a backlog of cases from over the New Year holiday, is excluded.
Even so, the UK PM reiterated his plan to bank on light-touch protocols to deal with omicron, with his cabinet officially approving his plan for the country to stick to "Plan B" measures on Wednesday. This comes despite warnings from National Health Service leaders that hospitals are coming under serious pressure.
Over 20 hospital trusts are presently recording "critical incidents," his office informed, while Johnson said that "potentially of greatest concern" is the rapid increase in infections among elderly and more vulnerable people, "with the obvious risk that this will continue to increase the pressures on our NHS."
Johnson would likely spark fresh fury from members of his ruling Conservative Party if he had to place stringent regulations, and in Parliament he has consistently said he's confident they won't be required.
"Whatever the situation may be -- and I'm confident it will be much better -- we will continue with the fundamental tools that we have; that is vaccination, therapeutics and testing," Johnson said.
Meanwhile the revision of domestic testing regulations implies the government will effectively now be depending on people reporting their results from home tests to trace the pandemic.
It is estimated that around one million people report their lateral flow test results daily; of those testing positive, between 60 percent and 80 per cent then go on to meet the current requirement to get a confirmation from PCR test.
The concern is how many people will continue to report their test results once they are no longer required to get a PCR test, and knowing that registered rapid test results are now the significant component in the official test-and-trace program.
However, scientists generally welcomed the change owing to the high prevalence of the virus. "This is a sensible approach as long as positive results are reported and the lateral flow kits are in good supply," Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said in a statement.