A BOOSTER jab is the best Christmas gift you can give your family, Boris Johnson told The Sun last night — as data revealed Omicron is half as likely to put people in hospital.
The stunning news from around 80,000 of the first Omicron cases in the UK has finally confirmed hopes that the latest strain is milder.
Downing Street had been braced to announce a “circuit breaker”.
But the new data means no announcement on restrictions for next week are expected before the festive weekend.
Hopes were rising that fresh curbs could be avoided altogether if hospital admissions do not spike.
Revellers were still warned not to make plans for New Year’s Eve just yet after daily confirmed cases passed 100,000 for the first time in the pandemic.
But it was also another daily record for boosters with a total of 1.06million first, second and third jabs in arms. Of those, 968,665 were boosters.
Last night the PM issued a rallying cry to Sun readers, warning that two jabs are not enough to fight the new mutant strain, saying: “The most important thing we can all do is to get a jab.
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While much about this new variant remains uncertain, we do know that two jabs does not give you enough protection against catching Omicron.
"You need that booster to bolster your immune system and to protect yourself and your family.”
🔵 Read our Covid-19 live blog for the latest updates
Despite the good news, Wales and Northern Ireland were yesterday plunged into further restrictions from Boxing Day — with the Prime Minister urged not to follow down that path yet.
Research by Prof Neil Ferguson and Prof Azra Ghani at Imperial College put the hospital risk at between 30 and 50 per cent lower. They said jabs are critical, too.
Prof Ferguson added: “This is good news. Alpha was more severe than the wild virus we had before and Delta was more severe again.
“We might be getting back to what we saw with Alpha or even the wild type last year.
“The issue is that if there are enough patients, it still poses a challenge to the NHS.
"We’re not talking about anything like what we saw last year with overflowing intensive care units and ventilator beds. But the sheer demand of numbers can be challenging.”
A study by Edinburgh University estimated that under-60s are up to two thirds less likely to be admitted to hospital with Omicron.
Researchers said a booster jab appears to slash the risk of getting ill by 57 per cent compared to two doses — bolstering the case for the top-ups.
Prof Ferguson added: “We see that even if you do become a case but you’re vaccinated, you have a lower risk of being hospitalised than if you’re unvaccinated.
“If you’re infected with Delta after two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, you have a certain risk of being hospitalised — and we think the risk is about the same if you're infected with Omicron.
“We think Omicron is less severe but the reason your risk is the same is because the vaccines are slightly less effective, which is what we expected.”
The scientists stress the figures are early data but both studies found the variant is milder — and the UK Health Security Agency is set to back it up today.
Half the level of severity means cases would have to rise twice as high to reach the same level of hospital admissions compared with Delta.
But there is a very real risk they will because the strain is taking over three to four times faster than Delta did in the spring.
But on the back of the good data rising-star Tory MP Greg Smith told The Sun: “Wales and Scotland have completely jumped the gun with positive data coming out of South Africa and London.
“We need to keep putting our eggs in the vaccine basket.
“I really hope the PM will not make any rushed decisions now and hold off until after Christmas before even considering any further measures.”
Revellers were warned against sending New Year’s Eve invitations just yet in case party-pooping restrictions are needed.
Care Minister Gillian Keegan told them: “There is uncertainty. So if you can’t change your plans quickly, then maybe think about it.
“We can’t predict what the data is going to tell us before we’ve got the data.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out further restrictions again yesterday, saying: “The best advice is continue to remain cautious…no new restrictions before Christmas, and beyond that we will keep the situation under review.”
The PM will continue poring over key hospital data that could make or break his decision to pull the trigger on a post-Christmas tightening after the weekend.
If the NHS risks being swamped with Omicron he could return to Step 2 measures like outdoor pints.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the figures and tweeted: “This is encouraging early data. Hopefully confidence will build as we get more.
“Key point to remember though — a smaller percentage of a much larger number of cases will still put increased pressure on NHS and economy. So we must keep suppressing virus while we complete boosters.”
But Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford tried to turn the screw on Boris by unveiling a Boxing Day toughening of the rules.
The hated Rule of Six will return for pubs, restaurants and cinemas in Wales and large events will be banned. Labour’s Mr Drakeford accused the PM of dithering and claimed he was hostage to Cabinet concerns about more restrictions.
He said: “They are paralysed by their internal divisions and are unable to act on it.”
Mr Drakeford insisted he and the PM had the same data but only one had acted. He added: “I heard the Prime Minister earlier this week say the position had never been more urgent.
“Asked what he was going to do about it, he said that he was doing nothing. Well, that would not be acceptable to me.”
Last night Tony Blair rowed back from earlier comments in which he branded vaccine refuseniks as “irresponsible idiots” whose actions would allow the new variant to rip through Britain.
Following a backlash ex-PM Mr Blair admitted he had been too “undiplomatic” in his language.
Rush for 1st dose
HESITANT Brits of all ages are coming forward in their thousands to get jabbed for the first time as Omicron surges, NHS figures show.
Around one in ten over-18s are still unvaccinated against Covid. But in England, 102,891 adults had their first dose this past week.
And 227,596 have joined the jabbed club since the start of the month.
Even 3,177 over-70s, who have been eligible for a year, got their first vaccine between December 15 and 21.
They were joined by 24,395 people in their 40s, 50s and 60s — along with 75,409 aged from 18 to 39.
NHS England’s Dr Nikki Kanani said: “Vaccines offer the best protection against coronavirus and there is no reason not to get them.
"So give yourself the gift of the jab this Christmas. It is never too late to come forward.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, said getting a jab is morally the right thing to do and suggested Jesus would do so.
He said: “It’s not about me and my right to choose.
“It’s about how I love my neighbour. It reduces my chances of getting ill and infecting others.”
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