Boris says 'no further shutdowns' and critical workers will get daily tests

Boris Johnson has once again resisted calls to introduce a new Covid crackdown to tackle an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases – but declined to rule out future restrictions.

The Prime Minister says he will continue with plan B for now, admitting that the NHS is ‘on a war footing’.

Addressing a virtual press conference from Downing Street, he admitted the weeks ahead would be ‘challenging’ – and said there was a ‘chance’ extra measures would not be needed in England.

Mr Johnson said critical workers would now get daily tests as part of efforts to ‘ride out’ the Omicron variant.

It comes as the UK reported a record number of new cases on Tuesday, with nearly 220,000 confirmed infections.

The PM has been insisting for weeks that new measures are not needed, despite the Omicron surge piling pressure on the NHS and a spate of hospitals declaring critical incidents.

Experts are warning that the health system is in ‘a state of crisis’.

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There are ‘unprecedented’ health worker shortages, while staff still able to come in are ‘exhausted’ after giving up their days off, according to the chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

Mr Johnson conceded that the latest Covid data shows that those who believed the pandemic to be over were ‘profoundly wrong’.

He added: ‘Our United Kingdom is in the midst of the fastest growth in Covid cases that we’ve ever known.

‘This is a moment for the utmost caution.’

Again branding the Omicron variant ‘milder’, he continued: ‘We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.’

Mr Johnson’s reluctance to impose measures is in spite of many other European nations doing so, including in the UK.

Earlier there was a ‘crunch’ meeting on new Covid rules – but the PM’s mind was thought to be made up before it took place.

Meanwhile, many people faced a chaotic first day of the working year, fuelled by Covid-related absences.

Children face being turned away from school or put in merged classes if their teacher is off, while businesses feared having to shut their doors if too many staff are isolating.

The shortages are also causing delays for rubbish collections, with bins ‘overflowing’ with Christmas waste.

In a bid to slow the shortages, Mr Johnson said the Government has identified 100,000 critical workers who will be offered daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open.

He said people working in areas such as food processing, transport and the Border Force would be sent test kits for every working day from January 10.

‘As the NHS moves to a war footing I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow we continue with Plan B because the public have responded and changed their behaviour buying valuable time to get boosters in arms,’ he said.

The Prime Minister and England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty again urged people to get vaccinated.

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