The UK crossed another grim COVID-19 milestone after recording 150,000 deaths since the pandemic hit the country in 2020, even as the Omicron variant surge continues with a further 146,390 daily infections and 313 deaths on Saturday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic has “taken a terrible toll on our country” as he renewed his appeal for people to get vaccinated and thanked the National Health Service (NHS) for its life-saving efforts.
“Each and every one of those is a profound loss to the families, friends, and communities and my thoughts and condolences are with them,” said Johnson. “Our way out of this pandemic is for everyone to get their booster or their first or second dose if they haven’t yet. I want to thank everyone in the NHS and all the volunteers who have come forward to help with our country’s vaccine programme,” he said.
Opposition Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer described the figure as a “dark milestone” for the UK. “Our thoughts are with all those who have lost someone and we thank everyone for supporting the vaccination effort,” he said.
He also reiterated calls for a public inquiry to take place to “provide answers” and ensure “lessons are learned”. It comes as the UK’s Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, became the first Cabinet minister to suggest further cutting down the seven-day self-isolation period for mild COVID cases to five days as the country was on the road from pandemic to endemic.
The US recently shortened the self-isolation period to five days, but Zahawi pointed out that it was important to remember that in the UK isolation begins when you get symptoms while in the US it starts from when you test positive. He told the BBC that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) had said that there might be a higher spike if the period was cut from seven to five days but the government would keep the measure under review as staff absences due to self-isolation continue to pile significant pressure on frontline services.
However, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said such a move would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with coronavirus. “Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ COVID,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile, ministers have denied media reports that indicate an end to the current system of providing the public access to free home kits for lateral flow tests. “We are not calling to end free lateral flow tests,” Zahawi said.
These tests are currently available through the NHS as people are advised to test at least twice a week and before attending large gatherings, to try and prevent asymptomatic transmission. It is also used by workers to be able to return to work after testing negative on day 6 and day 7 of their self-isolation period.