Published: 10:00, 16 December 2021
| Updated: 20:15, 16 December 2021
The Prime Minister put in a surprise appearance at an East Kent vaccine centre this morning, as the NHS continues to roll out the government's emergency coronavirus booster programme.
Boris Johnson arrived at the Saga building vaccination centre, on Holmes Way, Ramsgate at around 10.30am.
It comes just days after he announced an "emergency booster national mission" - a concerted effort to reduce the spread of the new variant sweeping across the UK.
Speaking at the centre, Mr Johnson said: "I think the vaccination centre in Ramsgate is amazing. It's certainly one of the very best I've seen. But there are people up and down the country who are doing an incredible job. And I just thank Dr. Ash and all his teams. The spirit of the volunteers here, the spirit of the the doctors and nurses, the people who are preparing the jabs, the vaccinators themselves, it's just fantastic dedication.
"And I would just say to everybody in the Kent and Medway area the capacity is here. There's a huge jabs army of enthusiastic volunteers and doctors and nurses who are willing to get the jabs into your arms so come forward and get them.
"This is such a big opportunity for us now, to get protected in the run up to Christmas and beyond. There's a lot of Omicron about. It's spreading incredibly fast. And the booster jab does give you a very high degree of protection. And that's a great thing.
"We're putting huge amounts into the NHS and into public services in Kent. Just in the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, there are about 304 more doctors and 34 to 45 more nurses. And there are now record numbers of doctors and nurses in the NHS overall, across the country, and there are record numbers in training, we've got about 60,000 nurses in training.
"This has been a sort of golden age for recruitment and understanding about what the NHS can do for this country.
"I'm not going to hide it from you, this is a tough time. The NHS is really, really doing an incredible job. I know that people are tired. I know they've had a stressful year and I can't thank them enough. They're doing an absolutely incredible job. But we will give them every support that we can."
On what to do about events booked over the next few weeks the Prime Minister said: "I would say to everybody what we said last night and it will continue to be the message. We've got Omicron spiking.
"We don't want to tell you what to do in your social life. We just want people to exercise caution and restraint if something is a priority for you. If going to a football match is something you want to do then think about how to minimise your exposure. Think about getting a test, do all the sensible things. That's what we're saying
The spread of the Omicron variant has forced governments to enforce new restrictions including Covid passes for large venues as part of Plan B. This morning, UK tourists were banned from entering France.
Wednesday recorded 78,610 daily Covid-19 cases, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
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The previous record was was 68,053 on January 8.
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said in yesterday's Downing Street briefing that records will be broken "a lot" over the next few weeks, due to the "phenomenal" speed of transmission in the new variant.
The government's plan is to offer a jab to every adult in England by New Year's Eve, a target which would require a million vaccines to be administered every day until then.
Jabs could even be offered on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in an effort to hit the lofty target.
The Department of Health officially opened the booking of the booster roll-out to over 18s on Wednesday, but some centres in Kent have been offering walk-in appointments since the beginning of the week.
Large queues formed outside a walk-in vaccination centre in Sevenoaks, as locals waited more than three hours to receive their booster.
Those visiting the Saga building this morning were done even quicker than previous visits, after advice from the UK's chief medical officers saw the 15-minute observation period following a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine suspended in a bid to speed up the rollout.
Guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care states the risk of an allergic reaction following vaccination with the mRNA vaccines is low, and only around one report per 100,000 vaccine doses.
Last week, the UK Health Service Agency said a third dose gives around 70% to 75% protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron.
But the uptake across Kent has been varied.
On Sunday, KentOnline reported 38.3% of the county's population aged 12 and over have had third doses of the Covid vaccine - recently shown to offer much better protection against Omicron.
In Dartford, however, only 32.2% had gone for the third dose.
Thanet, where the Prime Minister visited this morning, had the third highest uptake at 42.9%.
But scientific and medical experts have explained this does not yet offer much of an indication over the danger of the new variant.
Speaking on KentOnline's livestreamed show The Lowdown, University of Kent virologist Martin Michaelis said: "Obviously one death of one person is a tragedy, but it doesn't tell that much, so we really have to wait.
"It takes 2,3,4 weeks until infections translate into serious disease and death."
But he also warned of the apparent danger of Omicron, which was first discovered in South Africa.
He added: "As far as I know, there is not just an increase in the number of infected people in South Africa that's driven by Omicron, but there's also a steep increase of people in hospitals.
"So it's not this mild variant that doesn't make anyone ill."