LONDON – The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, declared a ‘major incident’ on Saturday as the omicron variant of the coronavirus swept through the UK capital.
The impact of the variant’s rapid spread has already been felt across the city with staff absences from frontline services, according to a statement from the town hall.
Khan said the increase was “of great concern”. Urging citizens to get vaccinated, he added that the omicron variant “has quickly become dominant with rapidly increasing cases and the number of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19 on the rise again”.
The statement was made after 65,525 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in London in the past seven days, the statement said. Over the past week, the number of coronavirus patients in London hospitals has increased by 29%, he added.
A major incident means coordination agreements between key public services will be strengthened and the city may request additional support from the government to deal with pressures caused by the spread of the virus, the statement said.
The announcement will help authorities reduce service disruptions and allow more time to administer booster vaccines, as experts learn more about the severity of the variant and the impact it will have on National Health Service, he added.
The news comes as the UK reported more than 93,000 cases on Friday alone, breaking the record for a third day in a row.
New regulations intended to help slow the spread of omicron, including masks in public places and the use of Covid-19 passes for certain locations, were passed in Parliament earlier this week.
Despite advice from global experts, there has been resistance to the measures, especially from members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.
As of Thursday, the omicron variant had been detected in 89 countries, according to the World Health Organization, which said it was spreading much faster than the delta variant in countries where community transmission is documented, with a time of doubling between 1 1/2 and three. days.
The severity of the omicron variant is still unclear, but hospitalizations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given the rapid increase in the number of cases, it is possible that many systems of health are quickly overwhelmed, the WHO said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in the United States, some schools were closing their doors again, reverting to online learning as they braced for the rapid rise in omicron cases amid the continuing Delta onslaught. At the same time, people are clamoring to get their hands on coronavirus tests as Americans prepare to travel for holiday gatherings.
This week, the death toll from coronavirus in the United States topped 800,000.