British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling for thousands of volunteers to staff new vaccination centres in shopping areas, stadiums and racecourses as the government accelerates its booster program to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The drive comes two days after Johnson set a target of giving booster shots to all adults by the end of this year to stem the tide of omicron, the latest variant of concern.
“We need tens of thousands of people to help out — everyone from trained vaccinators to stewards,” Johnson said in a statement. “Many thousands have already given their time — but we need you to come forward again, to work alongside our brilliant GPs, doctors, nurses and pharmacists, to deliver jabs and save lives.”
Johnson faces a large rebellion among his Conservative lawmakers on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote over new restrictions to try to curb the spread of the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa in November.
The House of Commons is voting on measures that come into force this week, ordering masks to be worn indoors in England, changing rules on self-isolation and — contentiously — requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and large crowded events.
Vaccine passes have become commonplace in many European countries, but Johnson’s government has resisted introducing them in England, though the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own health rules, have done so.
Johnson argues that the highly transmissible omicron strain has changed the argument, and vaccine passes are now a sensible measure. Many Conservative legislators disagree, arguing that vaccine passports are economically damaging and a restriction on individual freedoms.
Long queues formed at vaccine centres in England on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of people rushed to get COVID-19 booster shots.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that Britain will remove all 11 countries from its COVID-19 travel red list from Wednesday.
“Now that there is community transmission of omicron in the U.K. and omicron has spread so widely across the world, the travel red list is now less effective in slowing the incursion of omicron from abroad,” he said. “Whilst we will maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel, we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.”
–From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:40 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 270.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a case-tracking tool from U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
The African continent might not reach the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of its 1.3 billion population against COVID-19 until the second half of 2024, a target many of the world’s richer countries have already met, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
The warning comes as the world faces a new surge in cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant. Health officials in South Africa, which first announced the variant, say early data indicates it causes less severe illness and shorter, less-intensive hospital stays. But some richer countries have rushed to allow booster vaccine doses in response, even as less than eight per cent of Africa’s population has received two doses.
Just 20 of Africa’s 54 countries have fully vaccinated at least 10 per cent of their populations against COVID-19. And 10 countries have fully vaccinated less than two per cent of their populations.
The WHO Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, pushed back against any suggestion that African nations are allowing large numbers of vaccine doses to go to waste amid poor infrastructure and vaccine hesitancy. The African continent has received about 434 million vaccine doses, and some 910,000 of them have expired in 20 countries, Moeti said. The main challenge in Africa, she said, remains access to vaccine supplies.
📺LIVE: Tune in for this <a href=”https://twitter.com/WHOAFRO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@WHOAFRO</a> press briefing on the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> pandemic, the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Omicron?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Omicron</a> variant and vaccine rollout in <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Africa?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Africa</a>. Dr <a href=”https://twitter.com/MoetiTshidi?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@MoetiTshidi</a> is joined by Professor Flavia Senkubuge. <a href=”https://t.co/Vxyu0BojLs”>https://t.co/Vxyu0BojLs</a>
In Europe, France is contemplating tightening controls for travellers coming from Britain, where the new, more contagious omicron coronavirus variant seems to be rapidly spreading, said French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal.
“Regarding Britain, the current rule is to show a negative test less than 48 hours old in order to enter France,” Attal told France Info radio on Tuesday. “But we are always looking at means to tighten the framework. We are currently working on that and we should, I think, come to a conclusion in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, the Dutch government on Tuesday said it is considering closing schools a week early for Christmas this year as coronavirus infections remain high and hospitals struggle with a wave of COVID-19 patients.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is considering requiring its residents to get a booster shot to qualify as fully vaccinated against COVID-19, its health minister said.
In the Middle East, Oman reported two cases of the omicron variant. Health ministry officials said the cases involved travel abroad, according to local media reports.
In the Americas, the omicron variant was estimated to be 2.9 per cent of the COVID-19 variants circulating in the United States as of Dec. 11, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the week ending Dec. 4, the omicron variant constituted 0.4 per cent of all the variants in the country, based on the specimens sequenced.
The agency also estimated that the fast-spreading variant was 13.1 per cent of circulating coronavirus variants in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for the week ending Dec. 11.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:25 a.m. ET