At least one British patient has died from the Omicron coronavirus variant, Boris Johnson revealed today.
The Prime Minister said the new strain was also causing hospital admissions and the ‘best thing’ people could do was get their booster jab.
Mr Johnson warned against being complacent about the new strain amid claims by doctors in South Africa that it is milder than past variants.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination clinic in Paddington, West London, he said: ‘Sadly yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.
‘So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.’
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the news underlined ‘the seriousness of the situation’.
He tweeted: ‘The awful news of the UK’s first Omicron death underlines the seriousness of the situation and my heart goes out to their family and friends.
‘This is why the booster rollout is so vital and public health measures are necessary to reduce its spread.’
Earlier, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid revealed that at least 10 people have been admitted to hospitalised with Omicron in England and more in Scotland.
It came as Boris Johnson’s pledge to dish out a million booster jabs a day to beat Omicron descended into chaos on its first day, with vaccine centres warning stocks are running low and Britons left standing in ‘two hour’ queues.
Hundreds of thousands of people were rushing to get their third dose less than two weeks before Christmas, hours after the Prime Minister revealed that the booster programme would be opened to all UK adults.
But Britons faced lines stretching at least 300 yards at jabbing centres, which started forming almost an hour before they even opened.
And the NHS booking system crashed as thousands tried to secure a top-up dose, with health service bosses now urging people to ‘try again tomorrow’.
In another sign of chaos, a 37-year-old in Bicester, Oxfordshire, who lives two miles from a vaccination centre was told their nearest appointment was 26 miles away.
The Government also ran out of lateral flow tests, with the website reading: ‘Sorry, there are no more home test kits available right now’. From tomorrow, vaccinated people who are close contacts of a Covid case will be asked to swab themselves once a day. Experts have urged people to test themselves repeatedly in the run up to Christmas.
NHS bosses warn that scaling up the booster programme now will be ‘incredibly difficult’ and inevitably have ‘consequences’, with patients once again facing the threat of cancelled operations.
In a massively ambitious move last night, the Prime Minister brought forward the deadline to offer all over-18s a third jab by New Year’s Day as he warned the country: ‘There is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.’
The Army and thousands of extra volunteers will be drafted in to achieve the target, and clinic hours extended to help dish out up to 20million jabs over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
The drive will also see 42 military planning teams across every region, additional vaccine sites and mobile units, an extension of opening hours for clinics so they run seven days a week and thousands of extra volunteer vaccinators trained.
But concerns about whether the Government could even hit the goal were raised almost immediately after Mr Johnson’s 8pm announcement last night. Even at the height of the NHS’s vaccine drive in March, the health service never managed more than 850,000 jabs a day.
GPs fumed they found out about the goal at the same time as the rest of the nation, and NHS bosses warned it would take ‘time’ to get the scaled up programme ‘fully up and running’.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis and Labour MPs slammed the Government for failing to ramp up the booster drive in September, and warned the ‘vaccine wall of defence was crumbling’.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that patients waiting for elective surgery such as hip replacements could see their treatment postponed as the NHS races to roll out a million jabs a day. He promised, however, that critical care for cancer patients would be unaffected.
The PM’s intervention last night comes amid the ever-growing threat of tougher restrictions in January, with the potential for a new lockdown if Omicron cases surge out of control after the UK’s Covid alert level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4.
Both Scotland and Wales have dangled the possibility of having to go even further in bid to ward off the highly-transmissible variant.