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Nation's record Covid cases as Christmas fears grow: 'Two epidemics'

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is adamant he will not be "locking stuff down" and urged "the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted" as the country recorded its highest number of Covid cases ever.

But England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty struck a more cautious tone, advising people earlier in the week to limit their social contacts as fears grew that tighter restrictions would be introduced before Christmas.

France announced on Thursday (local time) it would be tightening entry rules for British travellers after the UK recorded its highest number of confirmed new infections since the pandemic began.

Hours later, the UK set another record, with a further 88,376 confirmed infections reported, almost 10,000 more than the day before.

People sit on outdoor tables outside a restaurant on Old Compton Street in Soho, London, where new restrictions have come into force to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The UK has hit a new record of Covid cases as Omicron continues to surge. Source: Kirsty O'Connor – PA via Getty Images

Much remains unknown about omicron, but officials increasingly warn it appears more transmissible than the delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide.

With so many questions unanswered, uncertainty reigned over how quickly and how severely to crack down on Christmas travel and year-end parties.

The chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see in the festive period.

Pubs and restaurants said many people were heeding that advice by cancelling Christmas parties, though there has been much debate about what's okay to do.

Omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, with the variant expected to soon replace delta as the dominant strain in the country.

On Wednesday, Prof Chris Whitty said: "I'm afraid we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up.

"What we've got is two epidemics on top of one another – an existing delta epidemic, roughly flat, and a very rapidly growing omicron epidemic on top of it."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen on December 15, 2021 leaving 10 Downing Street.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he won't be locking down the country. Source: AP (zz/KGC-254/STAR MAX/IPx)

'No plans to reintroduce tiers' in UK despite Omicron surging

The UK government has said it has "no plans" to bring back Covid restrictions tiers.

The omicron variant is now the dominant strain of Covid in London and is expected to overtake delta everywhere else in the UK in a matter of days.

Questions have been raised in recent days over if the tiering system should be brought back, with such sharp variations in cases across England.

The system saw the areas of England subject to different levels of restrictions based on their current case rates.

However, even the highest tiers of restrictions at the time failed to actually reduce cases significantly with a full national lockdown always being introduced soon after.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on Thursday the situation in the UK was different from last year because of the widespread use of vaccines and the ability to test.

If people want to attend an event "the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious," he said.

"But we're not saying that we want to cancel stuff. We're not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted," he said.

with AP and Connor Parker, Yahoo News UK

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