THE UK is facing two epidemics at once from the Delta and Omicron coronavirus variants, Professor Chris Whitty has said.

Whitty, who is the UK Government’s chief medical adviser and the chief medical officer (CMO) for England, was speaking at a televised Covid briefing alongside the Prime Minister.

The briefing was held in the wake of the news that the UK broke the record for the most coronavirus cases recorded in a single day on December 15. The 78,610 cases recorded exceeded the previous daily high by more than 10,000.

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Whitty warned that “we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up”.

He also said that cases of the Delta variant appear to have been “reasonably flat” in recent weeks, while Omicron cases are growing rapidly.

“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,” Whitty said.

He was speaking after the Prime Minister had addressed the nation, speaking at a lectern adorned with what seems to be the UK Government’s latest three-word slogan: “Get boosted now.”

The National:

Boris Johnson’s contribution to the briefing centred on the drive to get people vaccinated.

He said it is “absolutely vital” that everyone gets a booster jab to tackle the Omicron variant, which in some areas is seeing a doubling rate of under two days.

Johnson said: “I’m afraid we’re also seeing the inevitable increase in hospitalisations up by 10% nationally, week on week, and up by almost a third in London.”

He said there were also “signs of hopes” and a “great national fightback has begun”.

He added: “People have responded with an amazing spirit of duty and obligation to others and I want to say that each and every one of you who rolls up your sleeve to get jabbed is helping this national effort.”

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Whitty said people “cannot really argue” that vaccines do not work.

He told the press conference: “When people say ‘do vaccines work’? I really do think if people look at these data, they cannot really argue, except that vaccines are remarkable at working.

“But people do still go into hospital even when they’re double vaccinated and they will still go into hospital even after boosters, but their risks are much reduced.”

Johnson added: “While hospital admissions are going up nationwide, we’re starting to see admissions coming down among some of the more vulnerable older age groups where we’ve already got those boosters in arms.”

The Prime Minister also drew comparisons with abroad, claiming that the “pace of rollout across the four nations is such that the UK as a whole now has twice as many boosters per head as the EU, and more than twice as many as the United States”.

The CMO also addressed reports that Omicron may be less severe, and cause fewer hospitalisations, than Delta.

He said: “I want to put a really serious caution on this, as I think it has been overinterpreted.

“If the rate of hospitalisation were to half, but you’re doubling every two days, after two days you’re back to where you were.”

He later cautioned that any decrease in severity of Omicron vs Delta may possibly be explained by immunity, and so is “not something you could necessarily replicate here”.

He said that the level of immunity in South Africa, where reports of lower severity originate, is much higher than it was in the past.