Sajid Javid has said he is not able to confirm any deaths linked to the Omicron Covid-19 variant in England to date as he made a plea for people to get vaccinated.
The Health Secretary stressed that a delay between infection, admission to hospital and death should be expected, adding that around 10 people are currently hospitalised with the variant in England at the moment.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “In England, there’s about 10 people that are confirmed, in England, with Omicron [in hospital].
“At this point in time I can’t confirm a death.
“There is always a lag between infections and then hospitalisation and then, sadly, death.”
‘Play your part’
Mr Javid urged everyone who is eligible to ‘play their part’ and get their Covid-19 booster vaccine, as he warned that the country is “once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus”.
The UK government has brought forward its target of offering a booster jab to all adults in England by one month to 31 December.
Extra vaccination sites will be opened to meet the target alongside additional mobile units, and 42 military units will be deployed across every health region.
Clinic opening hours are to be extended to allow more people to get vaccinated, with Mr Javid saying the plan is for centres to be open for at least 12 hours per day over the Christmas holidays, apart from Christmas Day.
He told Sky News: “We are going to have even more vaccination centres, we are going to open all vaccination centres seven days a week for at least 12 hours a day - some for many, many longer than that - some for perhaps even 24 hours.
"Over the Christmas holiday period… I don't think they are going to open on Christmas Day at this point. The current planning is to open them every other day.
"We are throwing everything at it. And can I just please say this to your viewers - please play your part, this could not be more important.
“We need to win this race against the growth of this virus."
‘We have got to act early’
Mr Javid warned that “we have got to act early” and said that booster vaccines are now “more important than ever” as Omicron cases are growing at a “phenomenal rate”.
The push to offer millions of booster doses by the end of December will see GP teams asked to “clinically prioritise their services to free up maximal capacity” to support the vaccination programme, NHS England has said.
This will be done alongside delivering critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care.
However, the NHS said this “might mean that for some people, routine appointments are postponed as part of the national mission to roll out boosters”.
Mr Javid said that it “should not be the case” that people die because they cannot get treatment on the NHS due to the booster drive, but some appointments and surgical procedures will be “pushed into the start of the new year”.
He explained: “There will be a focus on any urgent need and any, of course, emergency care.
“If we don’t do this, if the NHS doesn’t do this, then more people will suffer.”
The Health Secretary added that people with symptoms of cancer will be “completely unaffected” by the diversion of NHS resources during the booster rollout.