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People wear masks on a street in London. Photo: Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.K. government on Sunday raised its official coronavirus alert level, citing an increase in cases largely driven by the Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The country first detected the new strain late last month in two travelers returning from Southern Africa. In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reintroduced COVID-related restrictions to curb infections.

The big picture: Johnson warned during a briefing Sunday evening that "there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming."

  • The prime minister announced that everyone in England over the age of 18 will be able to sign up for a booster beginning on Monday.
  • "From tomorrow, in England, we're opening up the booster to every adult over 18 who's had a second dose of the vaccine at least 3 months ago," Johnson said, adding: "The NHS booking system will be open for these younger age groups from Wednesday, and that's the best way to guarantee your slot, but in some places, you can walk in from tomorrow."
  • Johnson also said his government will help with accelerating vaccinations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, the U.K. published a report that estimated that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are only about 30% effective against symptomatic infection with Omicron, and the AstraZeneca vaccine isn't effective at all.

  • U.K. health officials reiterated that people should continue to take "sensible precautions," adding that it is "extremely important" to receive the COVID vaccine.

What they're saying: "Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta," the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.

  • "Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly," it continued.
  • "When vaccine protection is reduced in the way that is happening with Omicron it is essential to top up that protection with a booster."

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker