Boris Johnson is set to lead a Covid press conference amid concerns that cases of the Omicron variant continue to rise.

The Prime Minister will be joined by England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Downing Street has confirmed. 

The conference news comes as schools return and Omicron cases rise following the festive period.

There has been wide speculation over what Mr Johnson will discuss in his briefing from NHS staff shortages to even a possible lockdown.

Will there be another lockdown?

The Prime Minister is said to be against imposing further restrictions with current Plan B rules and the booster jab rollout said to be “working”.

Covid cases are also expected to drop across the UK in the next one to three weeks, according to a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

Imperial College London's Professor Neil Ferguson, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, has said that infection rates might already be plateauing in London.

Professor Ferguson added that Omicron numbers have been so high they cannot be sustained “forever”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18 to 50 age group – which has been driving the Omicron epidemic – may possibly have plateaued.

“It’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet, but I think… this epidemic has spread so quickly in that group it hasn’t had time to really spread into the older age groups, which are at much greater risk of severe outcomes and hospitalisation, so we may see a different pattern in hospitalisations.

“Hospitalisations are still generally going up across the country and we may see high levels for some weeks.

“I would say that, with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.

“Whether they then drop precipitously, or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau, remains to be seen.

“It’s just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of opening schools again will be.”

Professor Ferguson predicts a rise in Omicron cases since the variant did not have much time to infect pupils before the schools closed for the Christmas break.

“We expect to now see quite high infection levels – of mild infection I should emphasise – in school-aged children.”

Made with Flourish

The Imperial College London Professor added that there was “good news” about Omicron.

Professor Ferguson has said that the data shows that “it is certainly less severe” than previous Covid variants which has helped keep hospital numbers down compared to previous peaks.

“And then the vaccines – as we always expected they would – are holding up against severe disease and against severe outcomes well.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as, as the Prime Minister said, a difficult few weeks for the NHS.”

Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told Sky News it is not yet certain that future variants of Covid-19 “will be causing mild disease”.

Sir Pollard said that more time is needed to evaluate whether the virus will become milder, adding: “If indeed we do have ongoing problems with more severe disease, updated vaccines for the new variants may be one of the ways that we manage living with the virus in the future.”

On whether people will need to be vaccinated every six months, Sir Andrew said: “Well, it’s just not – from a global perspective – affordable, sustainable or deliverable to give fourth doses to everyone on the planet every six months.

“Remember that, today, less than 10 percent of people in low-income countries have even had their first dose, so the whole idea of regular fourth doses globally is just not sensible.

“Now, it may be that, as the science evolves, that we can work out who the most vulnerable are in populations and target future boosters to those individuals to maintain their protection.

“But for the vast majority of people who are vaccinated, the risk now is extremely low of severe Covid, for those who have had three doses, and it’s likely that we’ll reach a point where we’re focusing those booster doses on those who most need them.

“And of course, at this moment, we don’t know what that looks like. Does that mean that we need updated vaccines each year like we do with flu? We need more data to make those decisions.”

Is Boris Johnson's Plan B working?

Bournemouth Echo: Boris leaving Downing Street in a mask. Credit: PABoris leaving Downing Street in a mask. Credit: PA

The minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup has also told broadcasters that the Government’s Plan B “is working”.

When asked if ministers are listening to health professionals and are prepared to bring in more restrictions, Ms Throup told Sky News: “As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have got Plan B, which is people working from home, the Covid pass, face coverings and obviously the vaccine programme, which is so, so important.”

She added: “Plan B is working, as you can see from the number of hospitalisations. It’s far, far fewer than this time last year and that’s so important as well, that the vaccines are working, the measures for people to work from home are working.

“The Prime Minister said that Plan B is working and there’ll be a Cabinet meeting today, and I don’t see any reason why we need to change. It’s important we do follow the data.”

Is the NHS in crisis?

Bournemouth Echo: People queuing in masks for a vaccine. Credit: PAPeople queuing in masks for a vaccine. Credit: PA

Ms Throup added that she is “not sure” how many Britons are currently self-isolating and she could not give a number for how many NHS trusts have declared a critical incident over Covid-19.

She added: “The vaccine is working and that’s the best way to stop the transmission, and to stop hospitalisations and for our life to get back to normal.”

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Chris Hopson, said the staffing situation in hospitals is “almost impossible” as leaders try to manage their resources.

Mr Taylor spoke to Times Radio saying that for many, “the most pressing element of all” is the number of staff who are absent due to Covid.

He added that hospital admissions seem to have “perhaps plateaued in London or there may be a second peak after the new year now, but it’s rising across the rest of Britain”.

Meanwhile, chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson, has said that at least “half a dozen” NHS hospitals have declared a critical incident as they try to respond to Covid.

The health leader also said that the fears raised before Christmas of a huge rise in the number of seriously ill older people needing critical care and mechanical ventilation have not occurred yet.

“There are a number of chief executives who are saying, if we were going to see that surge, we probably would have seen the beginnings of it up to now, so there are glimmers of hope,” he said.