In a televised message, Johnson said Britain faces a national emergency in combating the Omicron variant and "urgently" encouraged people to get booster shots. File Photo by Kiara Worth/COP26/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 13 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that at least one person has died from the Omicron coronavirus variant in Britain and warned of a "tidal wave" of new COVID-19 cases due to the mutation.
Johnson spoke to reporters at a vaccine center in Paddington after announcing that the country would accelerate its program for booster vaccinations.
Britain also raised its COVID-19 alert level to the second-highest level for the first time since May.
"Sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron," Johnson said, according to The Guardian. "I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that's something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population."
Johnson also refused to rule out whether Britain would impose further restrictions through the holiday season amid fears that Omicron could quickly become the dominant variant.
In a televised message, Johnson said Britain faces a national emergency in combating the Omicron variant and "urgently" encouraged people to get booster shots.
The Health Security Agency said that ten people have been hospitalized with the Omicron variant in Britain.
"Hospitalizations always lag a few weeks behind infections, therefore it isn't surprising that we have started to see people being admitted to hospital with the Omicron variant," Dr. Susan Hopkins, the agency's chief medical adviser, said in a statement.
The agency said that new studies have shown that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines provide "much lower levels of protection against symptomatic infection compared to the protection that they provide against Delta."
The agency said preliminary data shows that booster shots increase effectiveness against Omicron with around 70% to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.
"Our scientists are confident that with a third dose, a booster dose, we can all bring our level of protection back up," Johnson said in his televised speech.
"I know there will be some people watching who will be asking whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants and if we really need to go out and get that booster. The answer is yes, we do."
Starting on Wednesday, anyone over the age of 18 who received their second dose at least two months ago will be able to book an appointment for a booster. Britain has sent 42 military teams across the nation to help provide more vaccine sites.
More than 500,000 vaccinations were administered in Britain on Saturday, and Johnson tweeted Monday that more than 110,000 had booked appointments by early Monday.