Britain’s Hospitals Threatened by Fast-moving Omicron

It’s a new national race between the virus and the vaccine.

The omicron variant is spreading so rapidly it has the potential to overwhelm Britain’s hospitals, highlighting the need to strengthen coronavirus restrictions, and speed up the delivery of booster vaccine shots, the country’s health minister said Tuesday.

There is still likely to be a surge in hospital admissions if it goes unchecked, U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers. Even if it proves to be less severe than other variants.

To speed up the booster program program, health officials suspended the 15-minute observation period normally required for anyone receiving a Pfizer or Moderna shot. Lawmakers also voted Tuesday to approve tougher rules on mask-wearing in most indoor public places and mandatory COVID passes for nightclubs to slow the variant until more vaccinations can be delivered.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged everyone eligible to get a booster shot to “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of omicron.” Everyone 18 and up will be offered a third dose by December 31, a month earlier than the previous target, Johnson said.

Javid said the rapid spread of omicron in Britain meant it no longer made sense to try to stop the importation of cases from abroad. As a result, the government lifted a ban on visitors from 11 African countries and a requirement that U.K. residents returning from those countries quarantine in a hotel at their own expense.