UK COVID cases hit record; Top doctor warns of worse to come

Dec 14, 2021, 6:39 PM | Updated: Dec 15, 2021, 1:59 pm
People partly wearing a face covering walk across Westminster Bridge in London, Wednesday, Dec. 15,...

People partly wearing a face covering walk across Westminster Bridge in London, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. As of Monday in England, people were urged to work from home if possible, with long lines forming at vaccination centers for people to get booster shots to protect themselves against the coronavirus omicron variant. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — The U.K. recorded the highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections Wednesday since the pandemic began, and England’s chief medical officer warned the situation is likely to get worse as the omicron variant drives a new wave of illness during the Christmas holidays.

Professor Chris Whitty described the current situation as two epidemics in one — with omicron infections rising rapidly even as the country continues to grapple with the older delta variant, which is still causing a large number of infections. Public health officials expect omicron to become the dominant variant across the U.K. within days. Omicron already accounts for a majority of cases in London.

The U.K. recorded 78,610 new infections on Wednesday, 16% higher than the previous record set in January. While scientists are still studying the risks posed by the highly transmissible omicron variant, Witty said the public should be braced for the figures to continue rising in coming weeks.

“There are several things we don’t know,” Whitty said. “But all the things we do know are bad, the principal one being the speed at which this is moving. It is moving at an absolutely phenomenal pace.”

The comments came on the day that the U.K. government implemented new rules ordering masks to be worn in most indoor settings in England and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and large crowded events.

Britain is also accelerating its the national vaccination program, with a goal of offering a booster dose to every adult by the end of December. The government said within days it will open new mass vaccination centers at sports stadiums around the country, including Wembley, the 90,000-seat national soccer stadium in London.

Whitty advised people to limit their social contacts, putting a priority on those that are the most important.

“I am afraid there will be an increasing number of omicron patients going into the NHS, going into hospital, going into intensive care, and exact ratios we don’t yet know, but there will be substantial numbers,” he said. “That will begin to become apparent, in my view, fairly soon after Christmas.”

Despite the surge in infections, daily coronavirus-related deaths in the U.K. are well below last winter’s peak. Britain recorded 165 deaths on Wednesday, compared with a record 1,820 on Jan. 20.

Public health officials credit widespread vaccination with weakening the link between COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Meanwhile, Britain is moving forward with a public inquiry into how the government has responded to the pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced that Heather Hallett, a former Court of Appeal judge, would chair the inquiry, which is due to begin next spring.

“She brings a wealth of experience to the role and I know shares my determination that the inquiry examines in a forensic and thoroughgoing way the government’s response to the pandemic,” Johnson said.

After pressure from bereaved families, Johnson agreed to hold an inquiry on his government’s handling of the pandemic, which has left more than 146,000 people in Britain dead, the highest toll in Europe after Russia. The probe will have the power to summon evidence and to question witnesses under oath.

The pressure group Bereaved Families for Justice said the announcement of a chairperson was a “positive step” but “comes far too late.”

“We’ve been calling for an inquiry since the end of the first wave, and we will never know how many lives could have been saved had the government had a rapid review phase in summer 2020,” said Matt Fowler, the group’s co-founder. “With the omicron variant upon us, the inquiry really cannot come soon enough.”

Hallett said she would be consulting bereaved families and others on the inquiry’s terms of reference.

“I shall do my utmost to ensure the inquiry answers as many questions as possible about the U.K.’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future,” she said.

Hallett oversaw inquests into the deaths of 52 people killed in the July 7, 2005 bombings on London’s transit system. Last month, she was appointed to lead an inquiry into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died in 2018 after being exposed to Novichok, the Soviet-made nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury.

Because of Hallett’s position with the COVID-19 probe, the government plans to find someone else to lead the inquiry to explore allegations of Russian involvement in Sturgess’ death.


Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy answers questions after his legal...
Luis Andres Henao, The Associated Press

After Supreme Court backs Bremerton praying coach, no sweeping changes

Three months after the decision, there’s no sign that large numbers of coaches have been newly inspired to follow Joseph Kennedy’s high-profile example.
12 hours ago
(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

GOP candidate apologizes after antisemitic post surfaces

A GOP candidate for the Washington Legislature has acknowledged that a post he put on social media in 2020 is antisemitic.
12 hours ago
Associated Press

Sheriff probed after comments surface condemning Black staff

WHITEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina sheriff was recorded calling Black employees by derogatory names and saying they should be fired, a television station reported. Several Black officers in leadership positions were later demoted or fired. Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene issued a statement arguing that the recording of the February 2019 phone call […]
1 day ago
This combination of images provided by NASA shows three different views of the DART spacecraft impa...
Associated Press

Space telescopes capture asteroid slam with striking clarity

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid strike, the first planetary defense test of its kind. NASA on Thursday released pictures of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes. Telescopes on all seven continents also watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday […]
1 day ago
President Joe Biden talks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa outside the West Wing of the...
Associated Press

South Africa’s Ramaphosa denies money-laundering allegations

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denied allegations of money laundering while being questioned by lawmakers Thursday over a scandal that threatens his position and the direction of Africa’s most developed economy. Ramaphosa already faces an investigation by police and a Parliament-appointed panel over the theft of a large amount of money in […]
1 day ago
FILE - A fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala., June 18, 2015. Alabama inmat...
Associated Press

Alabama prisons reduce meals, nix visits amid inmate strike

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Thousands of inmates in Alabama’s overcrowded prison system are receiving only two meals a day during a prisoner work stoppage that was in its fourth day Thursday, and the agency said weekend visitation also was being canceled. While inmates and activists have accused the Department of Corrections of using pressure tactics […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
UK COVID cases hit record; Top doctor warns of worse to come