Covid cases fall for FOURTH day in a row as Boris Johnson is urged to treat virus like the flu

Britain’s daily Covid figures fell for the fourth day in a row today as Boris Johnson faced renewed calls to get the country back to normal amid signs that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous incarnations.

Department of Health bosses reported a further 141,472 cases today, a 6.7 per cent decrease from the 151,663 cases that were reported last Sunday 

However the number of people dying with the virus saw a 32.9 per cent rise, with 97 deaths reported today compared to 73 on January 2.

The latest vaccination figures show that 30,713 first dose jabs, 45,468 second doses and 225 514 booster jabs were delivered on Saturday.

It brings the total number of people to have received at least two doses of a vaccine to 47,677,951, whilst 35,499,486 have received a booster jab. 

And Covid hospitalisations in Omicron hotspot London fell 31 per cent to 310 on January 6, the latest date regional data is available for.   

Yesterday UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show there were 146,390 new positive tests over the last 24 hours, down 18.5 per cent on the previous week’s figure of 179,637.

It marked the biggest week-on-week fall since the start of November, well before the mutant strain sent cases soaring across the country. 

Amid the reducing infection rates, testing rules have been eased for travellers arriving in England, the Government has announced.

From Friday, fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to take a test before they travel to England.

And as of today, they may take a lateral flow test purchased from a private test provider within two days of arrival rather than the more expensive PCR.

It comes as the former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce suggested that coronavirus should be treated more like flu from now on, with booster jabs reserved only for the most vulnerable and at risk, amid signs that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous strains. 

Dr Clive Dix, chairman of the government agency from December 2020 until April, called for a return to a ‘new normality’ and a focus on disease management, saying: ‘It is pointless keeping giving more and more vaccines to people who are not going to get very ill. We should just let them get ill and deal with that.’  

A second expert, Dr David Speigelhalter, warned that people ‘are going to catch it and might catch it again’ and would have to get used to it.

At the same time, figures within Mr Johnson’s own Cabinet broke ranks to suggest that Covid isolation should be slashed from seven days to five to ease a manpower crisis, something Mr Johnson has been resisting.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested it would be ‘helpful’ if the UK followed the US example and only forced people to self-isolate after a positive test result, rather than after coming down with symptoms.

He pointed out the number of NHS trusts declaring critical incidents was comparable with winters before the pandemic and he hoped that the UK would become one of the first countries ‘to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic’. 

On another day of coronavirus news:

  • The scientists who warned that Britain had little option but to impose severe restrictions or face tens of thousands of deaths from were last night in retreat.
  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says pupils WILL sit A-Level and GCSE exams this summer but results will not return to the pre-Covid grading system for two years
  • Mr Zahawi has insisted there are no plans to end universal free lateral flow tests following criticism over reports the move was being considered.
  • The UK becomes the first country in Europe to pass 150,000 deaths with Covid, as Boris Johnson recognises ‘terrible toll’ of pandemic

Clive Dix

Professor Kevin Fenton

Dr Clive Dix (left) called for a return to a ‘new normality’ and said the country needs to learn to manage the disease rather than focus on halting the spread of the virus. It comes as Professor Kevin Fenton (right), Public Health England’s regional director for London, said the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus is thought to have peaked in London over the new year period

A second expert, Dr David Speigelhalter, warned that people 'are going to catch it and might catch it again' and would have to get used to it.

A second expert, Dr David Speigelhalter, warned that people ‘are going to catch it and might catch it again’ and would have to get used to it.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested it would be 'helpful' if the UK followed the US example and only forced people to self-isolate after a positive test result, rather than after coming down with symptoms.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested it would be ‘helpful’ if the UK followed the US example and only forced people to self-isolate after a positive test result, rather than after coming down with symptoms.

King's College London scientists today suggested that cases in the capital also appeared to be peaking. They said they had dropped by a third within a week, raising hopes that the worst of the outbreak may be over. The figures rely on weekly reports from three quarters of a million people nationally to estimate the prevalence of the virus

King’s College London scientists today suggested that cases in the capital also appeared to be peaking. They said they had dropped by a third within a week, raising hopes that the worst of the outbreak may be over. The figures rely on weekly reports from three quarters of a million people nationally to estimate the prevalence of the virus

The above maps show the percentage change in infection rates across London’s 32 boroughs over the week to December 26 (left) and the week to January 2 (right). They indicate that the outbreak is slowing in the city

Pictured above is the % change in infection rates in England over the week to December 26 (left), and January 2 (right)

Trade union leaders ‘no jab, no job’ rule will make NHS staff shortages worse  

Trade union leaders have warned the government that mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for NHS workers will make staff shortages worse.

Last month, MPs approved mandatory vaccinations for NHS and social care staff by April this year.

The government decided that all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have their first dose of a Covid vaccine by February 3, so they can receive their second dose before the March 31 deadline. 

But the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for the policy to be delayed ‘with immediate effect’ to avoid a shortage of key workers. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘We are in the middle of an NHS staffing crisis, borne not only from covid absences, but also long-term problems that need long-term solutions. Now is not the right time to introduce more bureaucracy.

‘Legislation for this policy has passed but this is precisely the wrong time to implement it. NHS Trusts need to focus their resources on patient care. 

‘We need to keep patients safe and maintain safe staffing levels. As hospitals declare critical incidents amid a surge in Covid cases, the NHS cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled staff.’ 

 

Influenza is currently treated as an endemic infection, a disease widespread in the population which is treated with vaccine boosters for the most vulnerable and time off work to recuperate. 

Despite the rapid spread of the omicron variant over the festive period and New Year, levels of flu in the UK have remained ‘very low’.

Flu positivity decreased by 0.5 per cent in the last week of 2021, while other key markers such as hospital admissions and GP influenza-like illness consultation rates also remained low, official data shows.

The hospitalisation rate for COVID-19 was at 18.41 per 100,000 in the last week of 2021, compared to 10.51 per 100,000 in the previous week. The hospitalisation rate for influenza, meanwhile, was at 0.14 per 100,000 over the sane period compared to 0.31 per 100,000 in the previous week.

It came as Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s regional director for London, said the spread of Omicron in the capital appeared to have peaked over the new year, with case rates were now falling across the city.   

And NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told the BBC that while the health service was being ‘stretched perilously thin’ he believed ‘the front line will hold’.

Speaking to Times Radio, Dr Speigelhalter said: ‘I am not sure about what will be recommended, but it [Covid] is endemic. It is not going to go away and will always be around. 

‘You are going to catch it and might catch it again. We are going to have to get used to it and work out a cost-effective way of keeping an appropriate lid on it. 

‘It is a big, challenging problem. It rightly makes us scrutinise what we can do in the winter to combat the spread of flu. We will become a lot more aware of diseases in the future. ‘ 

His comments came after Dr Dix used an Observer interview to challenge the widespread use of booster4s after the current round. 

Dr Dix, now chief executive of pharmaceutical firm C4X Discovery, said: ‘We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary. Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.

‘We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.’ 

He added: ‘We should consider when we stop testing and let individuals isolate when they are not well and return to work when they feel ready, in the same way we do in a bad influenza season.’

His comments about flu came after scientists suggested the Omicron variant could be less deadly than the seasonal virus.   

MailOnline analysis showed Covid killed one in 33 people who tested positive at the peak of the devastating second wave last January, compared to just one in 670 now. But experts believe the figure could be even lower because of Omicron.

Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Professor Fenton said: ‘We think we may have passed or are at the peak.

‘Data from the ONS suggests that the peak may have occurred at or just about new year period and we’re seeing reductions in overall case rates across the city and the prevalence of infections within the community.’ 

Schools and other sectors are under huge pressure as the spring term starts with warnings over a lack of staff due to the high number of infections sweeping across the UK.

It has prompted calls, now backed by Mr Zahawi, to follow the US example and cut the isolation period down to keep society and the economy running.

Free lateral flow tests ‘to be axed in weeks’: Mass testing devices could be limited to those with symptoms, care homes, hospitals and schools 

Free lateral flow tests could be axed as the Government prepares the country to live with coronavirus without ongoing restrictions.

Boris Johnson is set to announce the measure within weeks, the Sunday Times reported. 

The newspaper reported that the new system could mean that free tests are only given in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms.

Contact tracing by NHS Test and Trace could also be scaled back. More than £6billion has been spent on mass testing using lateral flow devices. 

A senior Whitehall source told The Sunday Times: ‘I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore. 

‘It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.’ 

But  Mr Zahawi has insisted there are no plans to end universal free lateral flow tests following criticism over reports the move was being considered.

He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday ‘they will continue to be available for free’.  

‘I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at,’ he added.

 

Speaking to Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme today he said: ‘It would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others.

‘But I would absolutely be driven by advice from the experts, the scientists, on whether we should move to five days from seven days. What you don’t want is to create the wrong outcome by higher levels of infection.’ 

He added: ‘I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five, six, seven, 10 years.’ 

Yesterday Britain’s daily Covid figures fell for the third day in a row on Saturday, official data showed in a sign the worst of the latest wave may be over.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures showed there were 146,390 new positive tests over the last 24 hours on Saturday, down 18.5 per cent on the previous week’s figure of 179,637.

It marked the biggest week-on-week fall since the start of November, well before the mutant strain sent cases soaring across the country.

But the number of people dying with the virus continued to increase, with 313 fatalities recorded — up 103 per cent on last week’s number.

It meant that more than 150,000 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.  

Responding to the news, Boris Johnson recognised the ‘terrible toll’ the virus had had on the country, whilst Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it marked a ‘dark milestone for our country’.   

The surge may be slightly overinflated due to fewer deaths being recorded during festivities on New Year’s Day last weekend.

Fatalities usually follow trends in case numbers around two weeks later due to the time it takes for the virus to take hold.

Meanwhile Covid hospitalisations in Omicron hotspot London fell 31 per cent to 310 on January 6, the latest date regional data is available for shows.

Experts hope nationwide numbers will continue to follow London’s trajectory of rapidly falling cases and now hospitalisations.

A similar trend was seen Omicron ground zero South Africa, which saw a sharp peak in cases before infections quickly dropped off.

Pupils WILL sit A-Level and GCSE exams this summer  

GCSE and A-Level exams will go ahead in the summer but results will feature some teacher assessed grades, he education secretary said today.

Nadhim Zahawi said that students would sit papers after they were cancelled in 2021 for the second year in a row.

But he ruled out an immediate return to the pre-Covid grading system, saying ‘we recognise that those students sitting their GCSEs or A-Levels have had their education disrupted’.

He promised more information would be released in a month’s time, detailing how the summer exam season would pan out, but insisted booster jabs would allow the exams to be sat in person.

He told Sky News: ‘We are going further and working with Ofqual to say ”we do want to go back to pre-covid grading and the robustness of the grading system”, but we are going to do it in two steps.

‘We are going to go to the medium between the teacher assessment and the pre-Covid for this summer,  and then we will go to pre-Covid grading the year after.’

Last year students had to rely solely on teacher-assed grades after Mr Zahawi’s predecessor Gavin Williamson axed in person exams, sparking a row over grade inflation.

 

Official data shows Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions.

Last week, Professor Robert Dingwall, a former JCVI member of and expert in sociology at Nottingham Trent University, told MailOnline it will be a few weeks until there are definitive Omicron fatality rates, but if they are consistent with the findings that it is less severe ‘we should be asking whether we are justified in having any measures we would not bring for a bad flu season’.

He said: ‘If we would not have brought in the measures in November 2019, why are we doing it now? What’s the specific justification for doing it?

‘If the severity of Covid infection is falling away to the point that it is comparable with flu then we really shouldn’t have exceptional levels of intervention.’

Dr Dix’s intervention came after Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the death figure total passed on Saturday was an ‘absolute tragedy’ made worse because ‘many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave’.  

With a total of 150,057 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the UK became the seventh country to pass the milestone, following the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru. It means it is also the first in Europe 

After hearing the testimony of a woman who lost two close relatives during the pandemic, Professor Hayward, who works at University College London, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘It is absolutely tragic and to think that’s been repeated so many times is awful.

‘I think we could have done better. I think some of the deaths are even more tragic for the fact that many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave.’

In a tweeted statement, the Prime Minister said: ‘Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on our country and today the number of deaths recorded has reached 150,000.

‘Each and every one of those is a profound loss to the families, friends and communities affected and my thoughts and condolences are with them. 

Gloomsters who wanted to impose severe restrictions in Britain admit they were wildly wrong about 75,000 Omicron deaths

The scientists who warned that Britain had little option but to impose severe restrictions or face tens of thousands of deaths from Omicron were last night in retreat.

First, modellers who advise the Government said winter deaths from the highly transmissible variant would be ‘substantially’ lower than they had originally believed, then Independent SAGE, a group of Left-leaning scientists who have pushed for lockdowns, distanced themselves from the need to impose further curbs.

Before Christmas, epidemiologists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine produced a series of dire scenarios in which they warned Omicron could lead to between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths by the end of April.

But one of its leading modellers said last night he believes the true figure will be far lower, mainly due to Omicron being less lethal than originally feared.

Dr Nick Davies said that he and his team were working on revised scenarios that will soon be presented to scientific advisers and senior civil servants.

 

‘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.’ 

Sir Keir added: ‘Our thoughts are with all those who have lost someone, and we thank everyone supporting the vaccination effort,’ he tweeted.

‘We must ensure the public inquiry provides answers and that lessons are learned.’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘This is a terribly sad milestone for our country. Every life lost has left many more hearts broken.’

Jo Goodman, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said the official figure of 150,000 coronavirus deaths being recorded was ‘yet another indictment of the Government’s handling of the pandemic.  

‘We didn’t need to be here and bereaved families and the rest of the country need answers as to how we have suffered one of the highest global death tolls.

‘This is ever more urgent as deaths from the Omicron variant continue to surge, with little apparently being done to address this. The public inquiry cannot begin its work soon enough. 

‘We continue to feel frustrated at the use of 28 day figures to portray the death toll, when the true figures of those with Covid-19 recorded as a cause of death are significantly higher.’

The chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council said the UK has marked ‘a sombre and deeply tragic milestone’ as he called on the Government to enforce ‘immediate public health measures’ to fight the impact of coronavirus.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul said official figures showing more than 150,000 people have now died within 28 days of contracting Covid were a ‘stark reminder’ that the virus remains ‘serious and deadly’.

‘Today marks a sombre and deeply tragic milestone in our fight against this devastating virus. Each of the 150,000 who have died have left loved ones and friends behind, and our thoughts and sympathies go out to them for their loss,’ he said.

‘We must not play down the impact of Omicron as a mild illness, especially with increasing numbers of patients being hospitalised.’

Wales’s Drakeford says Prime Minister is  ‘ignoring the science’ 

England has been accused of ‘ignoring the science’ in refusing to introduce coronavirus restrictions by Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford, as he continued his war of words with the UK Government.

Mr Drakeford defended his earlier comments that England was the ‘global outlier’ in the fight against the Omicron variant.

On Friday, he had launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accusing him of leading a Government which was ‘politically paralysed’.

Speaking on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Mr Drakeford said: ‘I’m asked time after time why isn’t Wales doing the same things as England?

‘My answer was to point out that in this debate it is not Wales that is the outlier.

‘Wales is following the same path of putting protections in place that is being followed by Scotland, Northern Ireland, and not just devolved governments in the UK, but governments across Europe and across the world.

‘The questions as to why the UK Government has decided not to follow that course of action are for them to answer, not for me.

‘I think they have not done what the science would have told them they should do.

‘But that’s decisions for them to answer for – I’m answerable for the decisions we take here in Wales.’

Alert level 2 restrictions remain in Wales, including wearing face coverings indoors, groups in public places such as restaurants limited to six people, and working from home if possible.

Indoor events of more than 30 people or outdoor events for more than 50 people are not allowed.

On Friday there was 994 people with Covid-19 being treated in Welsh hospitals while around 40 are in critical care – the majority of whom are unvaccinated.

Mr Drakeford said that having different restrictions in both England and Wales made public health communications ‘more difficult’.

‘When we have different messages across our border that does make it more difficult for us,’ he told Sky News.

‘We have faced this in the past and we go on doing as we see it as the right thing to protect lives and livelihoods here in Wales.’

He also said he was hopeful the restrictions could be lifted in Wales as he was expecting a steep decline in infections once the peak in the next couple of weeks was reached.

‘As soon as we are in a position to see the peak past and the position improving, of course we will want to revert to the far more modest level of protections we had in place only a few weeks ago,’ he said.

‘We’re hopeful that the level of protections we currently have in place will be sufficient to mitigate the impact of Omicron to help our NHS to deal with the astonishing pressures which it’s having to deal with every day.’

 

Dr Nagpaul said the latest variant of the virus was resulting in soaring NHS staff absences, making it vital to increase protection against the virus for medics.

‘This is exactly why we’re calling for higher-grade respirator PPE masks, which can filtrate airborne spread of the virus which normal surgical masks do not,’ he said.

‘Government must do all it can to get control of Omicron with immediate public health measures, not only to protect the health service, but also more people from unnecessarily losing their lives.’

In a statement, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Saturday: ‘Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our sympathies are with everyone who has lost loved ones.

‘We are thankful for the collective national effort and the hard work of frontline health and social care staff and volunteers for administering vaccines to tens of millions of people and keeping people safe. Their tireless efforts have saved thousands of lives.

‘But the pandemic is not over. That’s why it is so important everyone continues to play their part, by coming forward to get boosted now, or getting a first or second jab, if you have yet to do so.’

It comes as Conservative MPs but Boris Johnson under pressure to announce a ‘Covid Freedom Day’ and lift all curbs on public movement.

They argued that the money generated from the move could be used to combat the soaring cost of energy bills.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, told The Sun: ‘As we head into what will be a difficult few months for many, a great way to help people with the cost of living would be to get the economy motoring.

‘That starts by removing Plan B Covid restrictions when they are meant to expire in two and a half weeks’ time. We need a Learn-to-live-with-it Day. I’m not saying Covid won’t present challenges in the future, but we are going to have to live with it and not deal with it as an emergency crisis forever.’

Confirmed infections are rising more than twice as quickly in Scotland as they are in England, jumping from 6,976 to 14,006 in the former nation in the week up to January 2 — and increase of more than 100 per cent.

For comparison, cases increased 44 per cent in England to 129,014 during the same period. They increased by more than 52 per cent in Wales to 9,718. 

The figures published by the Scottish Government on Saturday show 57,907 new tests for Covid reported results and 25.1 per cent were positive, up from 21.7 per cent on Friday.

The newly recorded deaths take the toll under this measurement, of people who tested positive for the virus in the past 28 days, to 9,931.

The figures include a note advising of delays between tests being taken and results being reported but saying Public Health Scotland is monitoring the situation.

There were 1,362 people in hospital on Friday with recently confirmed Covid, up 39 in 24 hours, and 48 were in intensive care, the same as the day before. 

Meanwhile, a new record daily number of Covid cases has been recorded in Ireland.

A further 26,122 cases were announced on Saturday. Previously, the highest daily total was 23,817, notified on January 6.

As of 8am on Saturday, there were 917 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 83 were in intensive care.

Warnings were issued last week that the health system will be challenged in the coming days as the state approaches the peak of the Omicron surge.

Approximately 12 per cent of healthcare staff were absent due to Covid-19 across all healthcare services on Friday.

The figures came after trade union leaders warned the Government that mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for NHS workers would make staff shortages worse. 

Last month MPs approved the measures for NHS and social care staff by April this year.   

Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England's regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England’s regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

English football club faces being driven out of business by Welsh Covid zealots 

An English football club faces being driven out of business after Wales launched a Covid crackdown on it for breaking the nation’s crowd rules because its stadium straddles the border.

Chester football club was warned they may have breached Welsh coronavirus regulations when they hosted crowds at two matches over Christmas and new year.

The National League North club’s Deva Stadium is on the border of England and Wales, with the front gates and main office in England but the pitch in Wales. 

Official data show Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions.

Confirmed infections are rising more than twice as quickly in Scotland as they are in England, jumping from 6,976 to 14,006 in the former nation in the week up to January 2 — and increase of more than 100 per cent.

For comparison, cases increased 44 per cent in England to 129,014 during the same period. They increased by more than 52 per cent in Wales to 9,718.  

The Government decided that all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have their first dose of a Covid vaccine by February 3, so they can receive their second dose before the March 31 deadline. 

But the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called for the policy to be delayed ‘with immediate effect’ to avoid a shortage of key workers. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘We are in the middle of an NHS staffing crisis, borne not only from covid absences, but also long-term problems that need long-term solutions. Now is not the right time to introduce more bureaucracy.

‘Legislation for this policy has passed but this is precisely the wrong time to implement it. NHS Trusts need to focus their resources on patient care. 

‘We need to keep patients safe and maintain safe staffing levels. As hospitals declare critical incidents amid a surge in Covid cases, the NHS cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled staff.’ 

The TUC has also called on ministers to prioritise access to lateral flow and PCR tests for key workers and ensure NHS staff have access to high quality PPE.

The union body said the staffing crisis existed before the Covid crisis and was driven by a decade of funding cuts and pay restraint, claiming one in ten NHS posts were vacant before the pandemic in 2019.  

Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London, who has worked in the ICU since early 2020 treating Covid patients, told Sajid Javid on Friday why he did not believe he should have to be vaccinated after being infected. 

In a video released by Sky News, the doctor told Mr Javid: ‘I had COVID at some point, I’ve got antibodies, and I’ve been working on COVID ICU since the beginning.

‘I have not had a vaccination, I do not want to have a vaccination. The vaccines are reducing transmission only for about eight weeks for Delta, with Omicron it’s probably less.

 

NHS England data shows a total of 68,082 staff were off sick on Boxing Day. More than a third of the absences (24,632) were because of Covid, up 31 per cent on the 18,829 who missed work because of the virus one week earlier. Covid absences have more than doubled in a fortnight, with just 12,240 off because they were infected or isolating two weeks earlier on December 12

NHS England data shows a total of 68,082 staff were off sick on Boxing Day. More than a third of the absences (24,632) were because of Covid, up 31 per cent on the 18,829 who missed work because of the virus one week earlier. Covid absences have more than doubled in a fortnight, with just 12,240 off because they were infected or isolating two weeks earlier on December 12

‘And for that, I would be dismissed if I don’t have a vaccine? The science isn’t strong enough.’

The Health Secretary politely expressed his disagreement and urged the public to get boosted during his visit. 

School Covid chaos: A QUARTER of teachers could be isolating or sick when all schools and colleges re-open next week, unions warn 

Up to a quarter of all school staff could take time off next week due to sickness or Covid isolation, education unions have warned. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told BBC Breakfast on Saturday that the government is bracing for potential school staff sickness rates to skyrocket in the coming weeks.

Mr Barton told viewers there was a ‘mixed picture’ of how Covid-related absences were affecting schools in 2022, and warned absences could skyrocket as more schools and colleges reopen next week. 

Mr Barton also reserved praise for the resilience shown by schoolchildren: ‘It’s almost like those evacuees of the Second World War thinking ‘Look what we did, look what we achieved but what we learned through that’. 

‘We were part of this Covid generation. I think all credit to those young people, and all the staff in school.  

He said: ‘I respect that, but there’s also many different views. I understand it, and obviously we have to weigh all that up for both health and social care, and there will always be a debate about it.’ 

But he took a parting swipe at the doctor, saying the government were taking advice ‘from people who are actually experts’.

Mr James said he did not believe Covid-19 was causing ‘very significant problems’ for young people, adding that his patients in the ICU had been ‘extremely overweight’ with multiple other co-morbidities. 

He said the Health Secretary did not seem to agree with him but had listened to his opinion.

‘I wouldn’t say he agreed with me,’ he said. ‘I had the feeling he was listening.’ 

There are already fears of staff shortages as 39,142 NHS workers in hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, NHS England data shows.

This was up a staggering 59 per cent on the previous week and more than three times up from the start of December, when there were 12,508 workers absent. 

Hospitals in Lincolnshire declared a staffing emergency, while bosses at United Lincolnshire Hospitals warned that so many doctors and nurses were now absent from shifts that patient care was ‘compromised’.

It was announced earlier this week that hundreds of troops are being sent into London hospitals to fill in for NHS staff who are isolating because of Omicron. 

Sir David Nicholson, the former chief executive of NHS England who now chairs the Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust, on Wednesday warned that it could lose hundreds of staff from the mandatory vaccination policy.

He told the Guardian: ‘My understanding on vaccines is that, though we may not put it in these terms, we will essentially be giving unvaccinated staff notice at the start of February.

‘I am sure that’s not quite the right way of putting it but that is the inexorable logic of where we are.’ 

Last week, NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor said the system was in a ‘state of crisis’ and hospitals were scrabbling for medics to plug a shortage in staff. 

Premier League footballers who refuse Covid vaccine could be BANNED from playing games after travelling abroad 

Premier League footballers who refuse Covid vaccinations have been warned they face losing the elite athlete exemption that allows them to skip mandatory 10-day isolation requirements when returning from abroad.

Stars from England’s top-flight division could face the prospect of missing out on domestic matches if they fail to receive a Covid shot, plunging Premier League teams currently crippled by rising cases into further chaos.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is said to be planning to cut the exception that currently allows unjabbed top athletes to skip 10-day isolation to ensure footballers are treated the same as ordinary citizens and travellers, according to The Telegraph.

Under current travel rules, unvaccinated people entering the UK are required by law to self-isolate for 10 days and to take PCR tests on day two and eight after their arrival. 

‘Elite sportspersons’ living in the UK and overseas must still follow normal travel restrictions, but can leave the mandatory self-isolation period early in order to train or compete in top flight competitions.  

Any change would be a blow to English clubs playing in European competitions this season, who could be forced to not select their players in the days after returning from playing matches on the continent. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told the Guardian that there were ‘no plans to change the implementation dates’. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The evidence is clear – vaccinations remain our best defence against COVID-19 by preventing infection and saving lives.

‘Health and social care workers are responsible for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if exposed to the virus. 

‘This is about patient safety, and ensuring people in hospital or care have as much protection as possible.

‘There are record numbers of staff working in our NHS, with over 4,800 more doctors and over 10,900 more nurses compared to October 2020. 

‘While over 90 per cent have been fully vaccinated we continue to work to boost uptake further.’ 

The trade union warnings came as police in Scotland were called to manage an ‘unplanned’ anti-lockdown protest in Glasgow on Saturday.

The activists began the unplanned procession by marching through Argyle Street, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, during what the campaign group called a ‘Freedom Rally’.

Some of them were pictured carrying placards saying ‘Do you trust your government with your life?’ and ‘vaccine passports means your body will be owned by the state forever’.

Protests also broke out in Europe over coronavirus restrictions. In Austria, riot police watched on as hundreds of furious demonstrators were pictured marching through the streets of Vienna. 

Marches were also seen in Paris and Magdeburg, Germany, where thousands protested against what they perceived to be excessively strict restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

Despite the protests, there was some good news in France as Emmanuel Macron’s government confirmed that some of the draconian curbs imposed on British travellers are set to be eased.   

Members of the French ministerial cabinet agreed to lift certain travel rules designed to prevent Brits from travelling into the country earlier this week as Omicron tightened its grip on France with over 330,000 new Covid cases recorded.

Gabriel Attal, spokesperson for the French Government, confirmed that the list of reasons for which UK travellers would be permitted entry into France would be expanded to now also allow in-person work to be completed in the country. 

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recorded the highest number and proportion of Covid absences out of all trusts in England, with one in 16 staff members (6.4 per cent) missing work due to the virus on December 26. Homerton University Hospital trust (5.7 per cent), Royal Papworth Hospital trust (5.1 per cent) and North Middlesex University Hospital trust (4.8 per cent) saw the highest proportion of their workforce stuck at home with the virus – equating to around one in 20

You’ll never take our freedom! Thousands of defiant protesters stage largest anti-lockdown rally in recent months as they march through Glasgow against Nicola Sturgeon’s draconian Covid restrictions

By Joe Davies for MailOnline 

Police have been called to manage an ‘unplanned’ anti-lockdown protest in Scotland’s largest city that appears to be one of the country’s largest demonstrations since the pandemic began. 

Thousands of protesters gathered at Glasgow Green at 1pm on Saturday as public anger boiled over at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s latest Covid curbs.

The activists began the unplanned procession by marching through Argyle Street, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, during what the campaign group called a ‘Freedom Rally’.

Some of them were pictured carrying placards saying ‘Do you trust your government with your life?’ and ‘vaccine passports means your body will be owned by the state forever’. 

The protest is believed to have been organised by Scotland Against Lockdown, a group that runs campaigns against mandatory facemasks.

The campaigners are also opposed to the Scottish and UK Governments’ Coronavirus Act 2020, social distancing and mandatory vaccines, according to its social media pages. 

Official data showed Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions.

Confirmed infections are rising more than twice as quickly in Scotland as they are in England, jumping from 6,976 to 14,006 in the former nation in the week up to January 2 – an increase of more than 100 per cent.

For comparison, cases increased 44 per cent in England to 129,014 during the same period. They increased by more than 52 per cent in Wales to 9,718. 

New figures also revealed there are 1,362 people in Scottish hospitals with confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of these, 48 people were in intensive care with the virus. 

Police have been called to manage an 'unplanned' anti-lockdown demonstration in Glasgow on Saturday. Crowds of activists marched in Argyle Street during what the campaign group called a 'Freedom Rally'

Police have been called to manage an ‘unplanned’ anti-lockdown demonstration in Glasgow on Saturday. Crowds of activists marched in Argyle Street during what the campaign group called a ‘Freedom Rally’

The protest is believed to have been organised by Scotland Against Lockdown, a group that runs campaigns against mandatory facemasks

The protest is believed to have been organised by Scotland Against Lockdown, a group that runs campaigns against mandatory facemasks

Public anger is boiling over at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's 'draconian' measures, as Covid cases continue to rise faster in Scotland compared to England, according to the latest available data

Public anger is boiling over at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘draconian’ measures, as Covid cases continue to rise faster in Scotland compared to England, according to the latest available data

A woman holding a sign saying 'Scotland c'mon guys 2 weeks to flatten the curve — 'aye right'' takes part in the protest in Glasgow on Saturday

A woman holding a sign saying ‘Scotland c’mon guys 2 weeks to flatten the curve — ‘aye right” takes part in the protest in Glasgow on Saturday

A man wearing

A man wearing 

People take part in the 'Freedom Rally', an anti-vaccine demonstration organised by the campaign group 'Scotland Against Lockdown' in Glasgow city centre

People take part in the ‘Freedom Rally’, an anti-vaccine demonstration organised by the campaign group ‘Scotland Against Lockdown’ in Glasgow city centre

Official data show Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions

WHAT ARE THE COVID REGULATIONS IN SCOTLAND? 

The same changes to testing for asymptomatic people as seen in England — with confirmatory PCR tests no longer required — were implemented in Scotland from Thursday.

On the same day, Scotland announced pre-departure testing for travellers entering the country would be scrapped.

The change will take effect from Friday at 4am, while those coming into the country will also be able to use a lateral flow test instead of a PCR as their post-arrival test, taken on or before the second day of their stay, from Sunday at 4am.

The requirement to self-isolate until a negative PCR is returned will also come to an end.

Other restrictions in the country include events having one-metre social distancing and being limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.

One-metre physical distancing is in place in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings.

Table service is also required where alcohol is being served.

Since December 14, people have been asked to reduce their social contacts as much as possible by meeting in groups of no more than three households.

Allowing staff to work from home where possible has become a legal duty on employers.

Care home visits have also been limited to two households.

 

One witness said about 1,000 people were taking part in the protest in Glasgow yesterday.  

A police spokesman said: ‘Officers are currently facilitating an unplanned procession in Glasgow City centre to ensure public safety and minimise disruption to the community.’

The protest came as a health board in Scotland warned it could declare a major incident next week as Covid case numbers continue to rise sharply.

Members of the military have already been drafted in to some areas to support NHS workers as the Omicron variant fuels Covid infection levels to record highs.

In a briefing to staff, NHS Grampian said that due to ‘an exponential growth’ of cases in the last fortnight, it could declare a ‘major incident’ as early as next week.

It said: ‘Based on our modelling data, we anticipate a continued and significant growth in the levels of the disease placing even more significant pressure on care homes, primary care teams, community teams and hospitals.

‘Our planned response will include a declaration of a major incident when a number of key trigger points are reached.

‘Looking at our local data, these triggers could be met as early as the end of next week.’

The document went on to explain staff will be briefed further with a major incident plan if the announcement goes ahead next week.

Military personnel began arriving to support NHS staff in NHS Grampian, NHS Ayrshire and Arran and NHS Lanarkshire on Friday.

It is understood Grampian will have 38 service personnel for four weeks, while 32 will work in Lanarkshire for the same period, and 20 in Ayrshire in Arran for the next six weeks.

The personnel have joined 221 members of the Armed Forces who have been supporting the vaccine programme across Scotland, with 96 driving ambulances in support of the Scottish Ambulance service.

New data released on Saturday also showed there were 12,602 new cases of Covid-19 reported, although there are delays in people receiving results from PCR tests.

Of the 57,907 new tests for Covid that reported results, 25.1% were positive.

There were 26 new reported deaths of people who have tested positive for the virus.

A first dose of a vaccination has now been received by 4,390,076 people, while 4,041,550 have received their second dose and 3,082,231 have received a third dose or booster.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘There continue to be large volumes of tests being processed by labs; this and the holiday weekend have impacted turnaround times resulting in delays between specimens being taken and results being received and reported.

‘Public Health Scotland are continuing to monitor the situation.’

Meanwhile, Wales yesterday doubled down on level two measures — which have been in place since Boxing day and include the rule of six, mandatory face masks in all indoor setting and a night club ban.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a former Government Covid adviser, said Omicron in Wales was ‘driving an increase which is not really being contained by these extra restrictions’.

But Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday launched an astonishing tirade at Boris Johnson over Covid restrictions.

He vowed to ignore clear evidence that the worst of the Omicron wave has passed in order to keep tough restrictions in place in Wales. 

Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England's regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England’s regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

December 26
January 2

Pictured above is the % change in infection rates in England over the week to December 26 (left), and January 2 (right)

NHS figures released yesterday show there were 13,045 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which 4,845 were not mainly sick with the disease. It means only six in 10 inpatients are primarily ill with Covid now compared to more than 80 per cent with Delta

NHS figures released yesterday show there were 13,045 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which 4,845 were not mainly sick with the disease. It means only six in 10 inpatients are primarily ill with Covid now compared to more than 80 per cent with Delta

Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England's infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year's Eve

Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England’s infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year’s Eve

The share of so-called 'incidental' cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of 'Covid patients' were not primarily in hospital for the virus

The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus

Map shows: vaccine uptake across England's 300-plus local areas, with darker colours indicating a higher proportion of the population that has got a booster. Uptake is lowest in London

Map shows: vaccine uptake across England’s 300-plus local areas, with darker colours indicating a higher proportion of the population that has got a booster. Uptake is lowest in London

Professor Dingwall told The Daily Telegraph: ‘What I think can be reasonably said is that all of the extra interventions put in place by the Welsh government really do not seem to have had any impact.’

He added that cases are soaring in parts of France ‘which have a lot more restrictions, but are also having big waves of Covid, especially in the major cities. 

He said: ‘Omicron is so infectious that actually nothing you do makes much difference’. 

But Mr Drakeford branded England an international ‘outlier’ in resisting tighter curbs and accused the PM of overseeing a ‘politically paralysed’ administration that had tied his hands.

He used a press conference to insist that Wales’ tough Covid restrictions on bars and mass events must stay in place due to an Omicron ‘storm’ breaking over the nation.

As the rest of the UK eases restrictions he warned of ‘a difficult month ahead’, despite admitting that the variant may not be as severe as previous waves.

But then, in a rant at Mr Johnson, he added: ‘In England, we have a Government that is politically paralysed, with a Prime Minister who is unable to secure an agreement through his Cabinet to take the actions that his advisers have been telling him ought to have been taken.

‘And even if he could get his Cabinet to address them, he can’t get his MPs to agree them.

‘The outlier here is not Wales. Wales is taking action, as is Scotland, as is Northern Ireland, and as are countries right across Europe, and right across the globe.

‘The one country that stands out as not taking action to protect its population is England.’

PCR tests are DROPPED as new Covid travel test rules come into force TODAY with returning travellers only needing to take a lateral flow on day two after arrival in England 

New rules for travellers entering England 

From Friday, January 7, fully vaccinated travellers and those aged under-18 no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England from countries outside the UK and the Common Travel Area.

As of today, travellers will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of the more expensive PCR test on day two. This test must be purchased from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed

Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days

Rules for testing have been eased for travellers arriving in England today, the Government has announced.

From Friday, fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to take a pre-departure test before they travel to England.

And as of today, they may take a lateral flow test purchased from a private test provider within two days of arrival rather than the more expensive PCR. 

Until now, travellers have been required to take the PCR test before day two and self-isolate while waiting for the result. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the pre-departure test discouraged many from travelling ‘for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense’, the BBC reports.

The announcement comes after airlines claimed traveller testing was making little impact, with data last week suggesting that one in 25 people in England had the virus.

On Friday, an airline boss said that demand for holidays was returning to pre-pandemic levels after the announcement of the eased restrictions. 

The measures will save families hundreds of pounds on not having to buy so many tests and make it much easier to book holidays – and has resulted in a surge in demand among winter sun-seekers and families looking to reunite with loved ones.

PCR tests on average cost around £80 per traveller, compared to £20-£30 for a rapid swab, saving families up to £200 on post-arrival tests alone. They could save another £100 in tests taken for entry into the UK.

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that demand for holidays had now reached similar levels to those seen before the start of the pandemic.

A busy terminal 5 arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport on Friday as passengers arriving back into the UK no longer need to take a PCR test

A busy terminal 5 arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport on Friday as passengers arriving back into the UK no longer need to take a PCR test

He said: ‘Demand is around pre-Covid levels. Prior to the announcement it was well below, but it has given people the confidence to look for a holiday, that they won’t be caught in resorts quarantining. People now want to start thinking about more cheerful things, ie going on holiday.

‘There’s always a risk that we could have new restrictions but I think the Omicron variant has shown to governments you need to bide your time and look at the science a bit before jumping into lockdown.

‘As Professor Whitty said we have to learn to live with this virus, we can’t just jump into further restrictions every time we have a new variant – we have to learn to live with it. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end we can get back to some form of normality.

‘Our plans for summer 2022 remain the same and we have a bigger programme than summer 2019. Some companies are saying it’s going to take two or three years to recover, we are back to above summer 2019 levels. 

‘I think it’s realistic [to be making such preparations], it’s optimistic obviously, but after two years of dealing with the virus, we’re in a place where we can live with it better. 

‘People are desperate to get away. It’s two or three years since some people have had a holiday, and I think it’s very good for health getting away in the sun, lying on a beach, getting some Vitamin D etc.’

Fully vaccinated travellers and those aged under 18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England

Fully vaccinated travellers and those aged under 18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England

Upon arrival, they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of the more expensive PCR test on day two. This test must be purchased from a private test provider - free NHS tests are not allowed

Upon arrival, they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of the more expensive PCR test on day two. This test must be purchased from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed

Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days

Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that demand for holidays had now reached similar levels to those seen before the start of the pandemic

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for tour operator Tui said Mr Johnson’s announcement ‘has given Brits the reassurance that travel will once again be easier and more affordable’. 

She went on: ‘We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised. 

‘January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.’ 

The firm’s biggest booking spikes have been for Mexico and the Canaries. Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said the easing of testing rules ‘should be the beginning of the end of Covid as a blocker to international travel’. 

Mr Jones continued: ‘I predict travel will be 90% back to 2019 levels before the end of spring. 

‘We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.’ 

Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month – including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

The cheapest single flights found by MailOnline for this month were £4 from London Stansted to Zagreb with Ryanair, and £5 for both London Luton to Rome with WizzAir and Stansted to Eindhoven with Ryanair. UK tourists can also go from Stansted with Ryanair to Oslo or Krakow for £6, Vienna for £7 and Sofia or Dublin for £8.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement in the House of Commons earlier this week that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now so prevalent in the UK that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease.

Flight booking website Skyscanner now expects 2022 will now be a ‘bumper bargain year for travel’ with prices currently up to 71 per cent cheaper than pre-pandemic for some destinations, compared to the 2019 average.

The company said that in the first hours following Mr Johnson’s announcement, Skyscanner saw an 81 per cent increase in visits to the site, week on week. 

It said bookings by UK travellers were already up 25 per cent in the week to this Monday compared to the previous week – and the top five summer destinations booked by Britons are Orlando, Malaga, Faro, Alicante and Palma.  

Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month - including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain

Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month – including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain

Passengers sit in the international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport today after the new testing rules were announced

Passengers sit in the international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport today after the new testing rules were announced

Passengers walk around the departures area of London Heathrow Airport today after the rules were changed

Passengers walk around the departures area of London Heathrow Airport today after the rules were changed

Flight crew walk through Heathrow Airport today as it was revealed that pre-travel testing requirements will be dropped

Flight crew walk through Heathrow Airport today as it was revealed that pre-travel testing requirements will be dropped

Cheapest flights available for Britons this month

  • £4 to Croatia: London Stansted to Zagreb (Ryanair, January 22, 0830-1150, 2h20m)
  • £5 to Italy: London Luton to Rome (WizzAir, January 22, 1020-1350, 2h30m) 
  • £5 to Netherlands: London Stansted to Eindhoven (Ryanair, January 22, 0615-0830, 1h05m) 
  • £6 to Norway: London Stansted to Oslo (Ryanair, January 22, 1800-2100, 2h) 
  • £6 to Poland: London Stansted to Krakow (Ryanair, January 22, 0840-1155, 2h15m) 
  • £7 to Austria: London Stansted to Vienna (Ryanair, January 22, 0830-1135, 2h05m) 
  • £8 to Bulgaria: London Stansted to Sofia (Ryanair, January 25, 0635-1135, 3h) 
  • £8 to Ireland: London Stansted to Dublin (Ryanair, January 25, 0530-0745, 1h15m) 
  • £9 to Czech Republic: London Stansted to Prague (Ryanair, January 25, 1145-1435, 1h50m) 
  • £9 to Denmark: London Stansted to Copenhagen (Ryanair, January 26, 0840-1125, 1h45m)
  • £9 to Germany: London Stansted to Berlin (Ryanair, January 22, 0730-1010, 1h40m) 
  • £9 to Greece: London Stansted to Athens (Ryanair, January 25, 1545-2115, 3h30m) 
  • £9 to Latvia: London Stansted to Riga (Ryanair, January 19, 0620-1055, 2h35m)
  • £9 to Portugal: London Stansted to Lisbon (Ryanair, January 25, 0620-0910, 2h50m) 
  • £9 to Romania: London Luton to Bucharest (WizzAir, January 22, 1650-2205, 3h15m) 
  • £9 to Spain: London Stansted to Zaragoza (Ryanair, January 22, 1245-1555, 2h10m) 
  • £9 to Sweden: London Stansted to Gothenburg (Ryanair, January 25, 1845-2140, 1h55m) 

Checked by MailOnline on Skyscanner at about 10am today. Flight arrival and departures times are local.

Stephanie Boyle, Skyscanner’s global travel industry expert, told MailOnline: ‘This news will go a long way towards boosting confidence for travellers who are hoping to visit loved ones overseas or book a holiday in 2022. 

‘We expect to see a surge in demand from UK holidaymakers following the scrapping of pre-departure testing and self-isolation requirements, especially given the timing which aligns with a traditionally busy time for travel. 

‘Winter-weary workers returning this week after the festive period tend to want something to look forward to and will be keen to book breaks in the short term as well as planning bigger trips for the summer.’ 

She added: ‘We have more information on what we can expect from a calendar year living with the virus now and many will be planning big trips for the summer when traditionally we have seen fewer restrictions. 

‘The travel industry has proved its agility and resistance through difficult times and will be hoping for these new simpler rules to remain in place without change to continue the safe and sustained return of travel.’

The current travel testing rules were introduced in November last year amid a global panic over the spread of Omicron – but with the variant now dominant in the UK, many questioned why they remained.

Mr Johnson told the Commons that from this weekend, costly post-arrival PCR tests would be replaced with cheaper rapid swabs for the fully vaccinated.

Travellers must buy the post-arrival lateral flow tests from private providers before returning to England. They cannot use free NHS ones.

Tests which previously needed to be taken within 72 hours of travelling to England have also been axed. 

This change came into force at 4am today, whereas the replacement of PCRs with lateral flows post-arrival will come into effect at 4am on Sunday.

The new rules will apply only to those who have been fully vaccinated – which means double, rather than triple-jabbed.

Children aged five to 17 will be treated as fully vaccinated even if they are not, meaning they must also take day two post-arrival lateral flow tests.  Under-fives are exempt. 

The changes apply only to England, with Scotland and Northern Ireland yet to declare if they will follow suit. In Wales, health minister Eluned Morgan said they would be ‘reluctantly’ following suit.

Mr Johnson said: ‘When the Omicron variant was first identified, we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country.

‘But now Omicron is prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to incur significant costs to our travel industry.’

The changes come just in time for the travel industry, with January traditionally the busiest period for summer holiday bookings.

A British Airway aircraft comes in to land at London Heathrow Airport yesterday evening as the rule changes were announced

A British Airway aircraft comes in to land at London Heathrow Airport yesterday evening as the rule changes were announced

An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport last night as Boris Johnson announced a relaxing of travel testing rules

An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport last night as Boris Johnson announced a relaxing of travel testing rules

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the House of Commons yesterday where he announced changes to the travel rules

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the House of Commons yesterday where he announced changes to the travel rules

What will the new travel rules be for UK tourists? 

If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England (meaning at least 14 days has passed since your second jab), and you will arrive in England from today (Friday, January 7), you do not need to:

  • Take a Covid test before you travel to England
  • Quarantine when you arrive in England

If you qualify as fully vaccinated and will arrive in England after 4am this Sunday (January 9), you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.

If you take a lateral flow test and test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take a free confirmatory PCR.

You must book the test before you travel to England. You can book lateral flows from today.

You must take the lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after arriving. For example, if you arrive on a Monday, this would be by the end of the Wednesday.

You cannot use a lateral flow until after 4am this Sunday. Before this time, you must use a PCR test after arrival. 

The fully vaccinated rules also apply to children aged 17 and under, people taking part in an approved vaccine trial, and people who are unable to have a vaccination due to medical reasons. Click here for more details

Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association trade body, said: ‘This is a long- overdue and welcome step back to the pre-Omicron regime. It’s clear that the extra measures had little or no impact on the spread on this new variant.’

Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘Travellers can now book with confidence and look forward to reconnecting with loved ones and business colleagues. Meanwhile… vital testing capacity can be reallocated where it is needed the most – in hospitals, schools and crucial national infrastructure.’

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said it would be a ‘massive boost’ for the sector at a ‘critical’ time of the year.

‘People will now be able to book knowing that – for the fully vaccinated – all emergency testing restrictions have been removed,’ he said.

‘Today marks an important step towards learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel sector look ahead to what will be an all-important spring and summer season.’

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren also welcomed the move but said the Government needed to go further.

‘This will make travel much simpler and easier and means our customers can book and travel with confidence,’ he said.

‘However, the Government must now urgently take the final step towards restriction-free travel and remove the last remaining unnecessary test for vaccinated travellers so flying does not become the preserve of the rich.’ 

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: ‘Although this is welcome news, there is still a long way back for aviation which remains the lifeblood of the UK’s economy, supporting millions of jobs in all four nations.’

NHS lateral flow tests cannot be used for international travel, and the tests must be brought from a private provider. 

Those who have already brought PCR tests for travelling needs can still use these.

Julia Simpson, chief of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: ‘The removal of pre-departure tests and replacing Day 2 PCRs with more affordable antigen testing will significantly boost the UK travel and tourism sector and help both it, and the whole UK economy recover much faster than expected.’ 

France ‘could soon SCRAP ban on British tourists’ as thousands of anti-lockdown erupt across Europe for another weekend with thousands marching through Paris, Germany and Austria against strict Covid curbs

  • Parts of draconian travel ban imposed on British travellers planning to head to France are set to be eased 
  • The ministerial cabinet agreed to scrap certain curbs preventing essential UK workers from entering France
  • As infections fall in England, Omicron cases surge in France – with more than 332k recorded on Wednesday  
  • Thousands turned up as anti-lockdown protests erupted in Austria, France and Germany for another weekend 
  • Riot police were pictured clashing with hundreds of demonstrators in Magdeburg, Germany on Saturday

By Jacob Thorburn for MailOnline 

The French government has confirmed that some of the draconian restrictions imposed on British travellers are set to be eased as anti-lockdown protests erupt in Europe for another weekend.

Members of the French ministerial cabinet agreed to lift certain travel rules designed to prevent Brits from travelling into the country earlier this week as Omicron tightened its grip on France with over 330,000 new Covid cases recorded.

Gabriel Attal, spokesperson for the French Government, confirmed that the list of reasons for which UK travellers would be permitted entry into France would be expanded to now also allow in-person work to be completed in the country. 

Attal admitted it would now be ‘a bit easier’ to enter France for essential work reasons, after the ‘list of compelling reasons, notably professional,’ was widened. It is not clear how this new announcement might affect trips for leisure or tourism.

Reports from French media suggest that while restrictions are only understood to be loosening for businesses at present, the easing of restrictions for travellers and tourists is expected to follow shortly after.

Despite some optimistic developments from the continent, fresh anti-lockdown protests occurred in countries across the EU on Saturday.

In Austria, riot police watched on as hundreds of furious demonstrators were pictured marching through the streets of Vienna in protest at the nation’s Covid curbs.

Marches were also seen in Paris and Magdeburg, Germany, as thousands joined together in protest against what are perceived to be excessively strict restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

FRANCE: Protestors also gathered in large crowds in Paris on Saturday, January 8, to demand an end to the nation's mandatory vaccine pass for social settings

FRANCE: Protestors also gathered in large crowds in Paris on Saturday, January 8, to demand an end to the nation’s mandatory vaccine pass for social settings

FRANCE: Flares, flags and signs were all used by the maskless protestors in Paris on Saturday, January 8, as they marched against vaccines

FRANCE: Flares, flags and signs were all used by the maskless protestors in Paris on Saturday, January 8, as they marched against vaccines

AUSTRIA: Riot police watched on as large crowds, of largely unmasked protestors, gathered in Vienna on Saturday to demonstrate against Covid curbs

AUSTRIA: A column of anti-riot police grapple with protestors in Vienna as the crowd's demonstrations against Covid curbs turned ugly

AUSTRIA: A column of anti-riot police grapple with protestors in Vienna as the crowd’s demonstrations against Covid curbs turned ugly

GERMANY: Thousands of demonstrators gather in Magdeburg, central Germany to protest against new German government measures designed to curb the spread of Covid

GERMANY: Thousands of demonstrators gather in Magdeburg, central Germany to protest against new German government measures designed to curb the spread of Covid

GERMANY: Riot officers use spray to push back against an advancing line of protestors during a huge demonstration in Magdeburg, Germany on Saturday January 8

GERMANY: Riot officers use spray to push back against an advancing line of protestors during a huge demonstration in Magdeburg, Germany on Saturday January 8

A masked protestor raises his fist alongside others as hundreds are seen marching against Covid restrictions in Vienna on Saturday, January 8

A masked protestor raises his fist alongside others as hundreds are seen marching against Covid restrictions in Vienna on Saturday, January 8

A furious woman shouts as she gestures at riot police in Vienna, Austria on Saturday, January 8

A furious woman shouts as she gestures at riot police in Vienna, Austria on Saturday, January 8

Thousands of Germans, baring banners and holding flags, gathered in Magdeburg, Germany on Saturday January 8

Thousands of Germans, baring banners and holding flags, gathered in Magdeburg, Germany on Saturday January 8

From December 18, British holidaymakers were subject to a raft of new restrictions that prevented them from making the trip across the English Channel. 

The travel constraints, which barred all Brits from any non-essential travel into France, included stopping legal French residents at the border, as Macron’s government singled out the UK amid claims the ban was designed to slow the arrival of the super-mutant Omicron variant.

And while England’s Covid cases appear to be plateauing since the turn of the new year, France recorded more than 332,000 fresh infections in the country on Wednesday – a new high mark since the pandemic began. 

The French President faced stinging criticism from travel experts when the ban was instigated, who immediately pointed out that Omicron was already prevalent in the country and made up a higher proportion of French cases according to data at that time.

French President Emmanuel Macron faced stinging criticism from travel experts when the UK travel ban was instigated, who immediately pointed out that Omicron was already prevalent in the country and made up a higher proportion of French cases according to data at that time

French President Emmanuel Macron faced stinging criticism from travel experts when the UK travel ban was instigated, who immediately pointed out that Omicron was already prevalent in the country and made up a higher proportion of French cases according to data at that time

Gabriel Attal, spokesperson for the French Government, confirmed that the list of reasons for which UK travellers would be permitted entry into France would be expanded

An empty freight and passenger departure area is pictured in Dover on December 30 after France's 'travel ban on Brits' came into force

Gabriel Attal, spokesperson for the French Government, confirmed that the list of reasons for which UK travellers would be permitted entry into France would be expanded. Pictured right: An empty freight and passenger departure area is pictured in Dover on December 30 after France’s ‘travel ban on Brits’ came into force

While England's Covid cases appear to be plateauing since the turn of the new year, France recorded more than 332,000 fresh infections in the country on Wednesday - a new high mark since the pandemic began

While England’s Covid cases appear to be plateauing since the turn of the new year, France recorded more than 332,000 fresh infections in the country on Wednesday – a new high mark since the pandemic began

German riot officers were pictured clashing with protestors in Magdeburg during a demonstration against new government measures to curb the spread of Covid

German riot officers were pictured clashing with protestors in Magdeburg during a demonstration against new government measures to curb the spread of Covid

Demonstrators, in opposition to vaccine pass and vaccinations to protect against COVID-19 shout slogans during a rally in Paris, France, Saturday, January 8, 2022

Demonstrators, in opposition to vaccine pass and vaccinations to protect against COVID-19 shout slogans during a rally in Paris, France, Saturday, January 8, 2022

Anti-vax protestors pictured in Paris wave flags, hold up placards and chant as they marched through the French capital on Saturday January 8

Anti-vax protestors pictured in Paris wave flags, hold up placards and chant as they marched through the French capital on Saturday January 8

Senior industry figures across the Channel also warned that several holiday and ski resorts faced the prospect of economic ‘catastrophe’ this month unless the ban is lifted. 

MailOnline understands the decision to came in the days leading up to France’s recent Omicron surge, where cases now stand higher than those seen in Britain. 

Currently, the sole reasons accepted for UK-based travel into France include for ‘urgent’ family matters or to travel back to main residence in Great Britain through the country. 

Non-EU citizens are still banned from travelling for tourism or leisure, and proof of a negative Covid-19 pre-departure test is still required. 

All travellers from the UK – including the fully vaccinated – are required to immediately quarantine upon their arrival into France, but their mandatory self-isolation period can end after two days if they provide a negative PCR test.  

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron admitted he planned  to ‘pi** off’ unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting jabbed.  

‘By – and I’m sorry for putting it this way – by p***ing them off even more,’ he said on Tuesday.

Macron, 44, made the cutting remark while responding to a nurse during a question and answer session with readers of Le Parisien on how the government will handle non-vaccinated people.  

The phrase prompted howls of condemnation from rivals and forced parliament to suspend a debate on a Covid-19 bill yesterday as opposition lawmakers demanded explanations from Macron.

He added: ‘I’m generally opposed to the French being p****d off. I complain all the time about administrative blockages. 

‘But when it comes to the non-vaccinated, I’m very keen to pi** them off. So we’re going to do it, the end. That’s our strategy.’ 

The French government has confirmed some of the draconian restrictions that barred British travellers from legally entering France are set to be eased later this month

The French government has confirmed some of the draconian restrictions that barred British travellers from legally entering France are set to be eased later this month

Germany's new Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned the country must revamp its vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant and to ensure it can develop a new vaccine rapidly if it faces a more deadly coronavirus strain in future

Germany’s new Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned the country must revamp its vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant and to ensure it can develop a new vaccine rapidly if it faces a more deadly coronavirus strain in future

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer tested positive for Covid-19 this week and vowed to do everything possible to prevent another nationwide lockdown

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer tested positive for Covid-19 this week and vowed to do everything possible to prevent another nationwide lockdown

Meanwhile, Germans were warned the country must revamp its vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant and to ensure it can develop a new vaccine rapidly if it faces a more deadly coronavirus variant in the future, Germany’s new Health Minister warned.

Karl Lauterbach, who was appointed health minister last month, made his comments in an advanced release of an interview to be published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.

‘If we get a variant that is as contagious as Omicron, but significantly more deadly, we should be able to develop and produce a new vaccine in a very short time,’ Lauterbach said.

The government is planning to put a permanent system in place to purchase and provide shots rapidly at any given time because there could be serious new outbreaks, he said.

‘We must not fall into the naive assumption that it (the pandemic) will be over soon. It’s not over,’ he said.

Germany closed large vaccination centres in several states last summer when demand for COVID-19 shots briefly declined to a trickle before picking up again.

The Omicron variant now accounts for 44% of coronavirus infections in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease said.

On Saturday, the RKI counted 55,889 newly reported corona infections within 24 hours, more than double the number a week earlier.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders tightened the rules for restaurant and bar visits on Friday as part of efforts to encourage more people to get a third vaccination, or booster shot, but shortened quarantine periods.

The Bundestag lower house of parliament will also soon discuss a draft bill for a general vaccination mandate. 

On Saturday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed he was well and had no COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for Covid this week, vowing to do everything possible to prevent another nationwide lockdown.

Nehammer, a conservative who has received three vaccine shots, has been conducting official business from home via video and telephone conferences since he tested positive.

‘Thanks to the vaccine, thank goodness, I’m doing well,’ he told Austrian radio in an interview. ‘I don’t have any symptoms.’

‘The studies verify that with the Omicron variant, three vaccination doses give particular protection. That’s been my experience too,’ said Nehammer, who will not attend any public appointments in the next few days.

He was apparently infected on Wednesday following contact with a member of his security team who tested positive on Thursday, the chancellery said on Friday.

Nehammer, 49, announced new measures this week to curb the spread of the coronavirus and pressed on with plans to make vaccination mandatory from next month.

‘The priority now is using the strongest possible protection measures for everyone to try to prevent a new lockdown. Because a lockdown is very burdensome for people,’ he said on Saturday.

Austria’s interior ministry registered 7,405 new coronavirus cases on Saturday. Since the start of the pandemic, 13,844 people have died in the country after contracting the virus.

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