LONDON – Britain surpassed 100,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the British government announced an easing of isolation restrictions.
The new toll of 106,122 new infections – the highest on record – comes as the highly transmissible variant of Omicron continues to rise across the country. The rise is a 50 percent increase over the past week, according to government data.
An increase in coronavirus cases has winnowed staff at hospitals, clinics, rail services, fire departments and ambulance services across England, where most pandemic restrictions have been lifted since the summer. Ahead of the release of the new case numbers on Wednesday, England has announced that it is reducing the number of days people are required to self-isolate after showing symptoms of Covid-19 to seven days instead of 10 days – a change which officials say was based on updated advice from health experts, and which could help alleviate the staff shortage.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the move was based on guidelines from government health security agencies that a one-week isolation period as well as two negative test results had “almost the same effect. protector than a period of isolation of 10 days “.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted adding new restrictions before Christmas, although he has said he “will not hesitate to act” after the holidays if necessary.
People in England will be allowed to end their quarantine if they can produce negative tests on days six and seven. This creates a more lenient policy than in the United States, where people can end their periods of quarantine. isolation 10 days after showing symptoms if they have not had a fever for 24 hours and their other symptoms of Covid-19 improve.
“These new guidelines will help break chains of transmission and minimize the impact on lives and livelihoods,” Dr. Jenny Harries, executive director of the Government’s Health Security Agency, said in a statement. She stressed that people should continue to follow public health advice.
People who are not fully vaccinated should still self-isolate for 10 days if they come in contact with an infected person.
Elsewhere in Europe, governments have been divided in their responses to the growing epidemics of the Omicron variant.
The Netherlands has closed non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, gymnasiums, outdoor sports, cultural venues and schools. Sweden said this week it was adding new restrictions on gatherings, and Finland is asking restaurants to close early from Friday.
Other countries have suspended the introduction of new restrictions before Christmas. New rules in Germany will come into effect on Tuesday and in Portugal nightclubs and bars will close from midnight on Saturday for at least two weeks.
In France, proof of vaccination is required to enter bars and restaurants. The government has said it has no plans to add any new restrictions. Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Wednesday that emphasis was placed on the rapid deployment of booster injections.
In Britain, Scotland and Wales are adding restrictions from Sunday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not rule out further restrictions in England, where a wave of infections is putting severe pressure on the National Health Service, which was already strained by labor shortages caused by funding cuts, Brexit and the almost two-year exhaustion of the pandemic.
Britain is not experiencing the kind of severe bed shortage hospitals have faced during earlier peaks of the pandemic, but the strain on the system from staff illnesses is evident across the country.
Data projections from Health Service Journal, a trade publication, has indicated that one in three National Health Service workers could be absent from work by New Year’s Eve if the current case rate persists.
While some evidence suggests that the Omicron variant may produce less severe symptoms than Delta, it also appears to be up to twice as transmissible.