LONDON: The UK on Wednesday crossed another COVID-19 record as its daily coronavirus infections crossed the 100,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began, overtaking the previous daily high of 93,045 last week, driven by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant.
The official tally reports 106,122 COVID cases, with 8,008 people in hospital with coronavirus as of Tuesday, up 4 per cent from a week ago.
Meanwhile, there were 140 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive COVID test, which have so far maintained a downward trend.
The figures also include a record number of boosters and third doses of COVID vaccines as of Tuesday, with 968,665 delivered and taking the overall total to more than 30.8 million.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated his "Get Boosted Now" stance as he ruled out further lockdown restrictions ahead of Christmas, but warned that additional measures may be required next week, once more data around the severity of Omicron becomes available.
It comes as government advisers have recommended that vulnerable five to 11-year-olds be offered a new paediatric formulation of the COVID vaccine.
The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the vaccination should be given to children at higher risk of COVID-19.
"Children aged 5 to 11, who are in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone (of any age) who is immunosuppressed, should be offered a primary course of vaccination," JCVI said.
The children should be given an age-appropriate dose of 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, a third of the adult dose, with an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses, the statement said.
The JCVI recommendation came as UK regulators approved the new age-appropriate formulation of the vaccine for use in children aged five to 11.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found such a jab to be safe and effective.
The JCVI said further advice regarding the jab for other five to 11-year-olds will be issued in due course after consideration of additional data, and on the Omicron variant more broadly.
It has also recommended that booster jabs be offered to 16 and 17-year-olds as well as to people aged 12 to 15 who are in a clinical risk group; or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed; or who are severely immunocompromised and who have had a third primary dose.
So far, all adults in the UK are being offered three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and younger age groups of 12 and over are offered one or two doses.
Millions more "cutting-edge" antiviral treatments for COVID-19 have been secured for National Health Service (NHS) patients, the UK government said on Wednesday as it signed two new contracts to help tackle the Omicron variant.
The new contracts are for 1.75 million additional courses of Merck Sharp and Dohme's (MSD) molnupiravir (Lagevrio®) and 2.5 million additional courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir (PaxlovidTM) from Pfizer, which will be available from early next year and are both expected to be effective against Omicron.
The new deals, accelerated following the surge of cases of the new variant, is aimed at helping reduce hospitalisations and ease pressures on the NHS.
"Our COVID-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it's vital we further bolster our national response to the virus by ensuring access to the world's best treatments too," said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
"This is a mammoth deal for the UK Government and for patients across the country that are set to benefit from these antivirals over the coming months. If you're aged 50 and over or have an underlying health condition and test positive for COVID-19, sign up to the study as soon as you can and take advantage of this remarkable treatment," he said.
The 4.25 million new courses are in addition to the procurement of 480,000 courses of molnupiravir and 250,000 courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir announced in October.
Antivirals are treatments used to either treat those who are infected with a virus or sometimes protect exposed individuals from becoming infected.
According to the NHS, they target the virus at an early stage, preventing progression to more severe, or even critical, symptoms.
"Both antivirals in our current portfolio could be vital tools against Omicron, with current evidence showing they will be effective against the variant," said Eddie Gray, Chair of the UK Antivirals Taskforce.
"The Antivirals Taskforce will continue its work to ensure vulnerable people who test positive for COVID-19 can rapidly access these medicines.
Signing up to the study is a simple and easy way you can protect yourself once you contract COVID-19 , if eligible, please sign up as soon as you test positive, he said.
Molnupiravir is already being rolled out to hundreds of patients through the national study PANORAMIC, run by the University of Oxford in close collaboration with general practitioner (GP) hubs.
The UK government is urging everyone aged 50 and over, or between 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition, to sign up to the trial if they test positive for COVID-19.
Last week, deployment of the antiviral to those at highest risk began outside of the clinical trial, for example, people who are immunocompromised or cancer patients, after they tested positive.
And as of Monday, the antibody treatment sotrovimab (XevudyTM) was also being made available to this group of patients.
Molnupiravir has shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk, non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 by 30 per cent.
PF-07321332/ritonavir reduced the relative risk of COVID-19-associated hospitalisation or death by 89 per cent in those who received treatment within three days of symptoms appearing.
Should PF-07321332 be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), it will also be deployed through the PANORAMIC study as quickly as possible, the NHS said.
The study was launched to allow medical experts to gather further data on the potential benefits these treatments bring to vaccinated patients, and will help the NHS to develop plans for rolling out the antivirals to further patients next year.
For treatment access outside of the study, those in the highest risk group are informed by the NHS if they have a condition that will make them eligible to receive these treatments, should they test positive for COVID-19.
The NHS said the UK's Antivirals Taskforce will continue to look at a number of further treatment options, spanning a range of different antiviral mechanisms.
Alongside the work of the Therapeutics Taskforce, the focus is on ensuring as many people as possible can be protected from COVID-19, future variants and other future diseases.