The leader of Rochdale council has warned the borough could face ‘a nightmare before Christmas’ as Omicron cases rocket across the country.
The new coronavirus variant is highly transmissible, and has already become the dominant strain in Manchester.
It is likely to ‘outpace’ the Delta form of the disease in the UK according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
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In Rochdale health bosses say that, while vaccines give hope, Covid cases remain high and are rapidly increasing.
Figures for the week to December 11, show the borough's infection rate stands at 463.2 cases per 100,000 people - lower than the England average, but a six per cent rise ‘week on week’.
Councillor Neil Emmott has urged people to ‘pull together’ and take ‘extra steps’ to safeguard themselves, their families and friends.
Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday night, he said Omicron had arrived in the borough and was being spread in the community.
He said: “My message is that everyone eligible should make getting a booster jab their number one priority. Anyone who is still to get their first or second doses should come forward too.
“During Christmas we must all take extra steps to safeguard ourselves and our families and friends.
“That means as well as getting the vaccine; doing regular tests, especially before any large gatherings, and letting in fresh air when mixing with other people indoors.
“This is my Christmas message to our borough – let’s all do what we can to protect those we love and cherish the most.”
And he issued a stark warning of the consequences should people fail to get boosted and act with due caution.
He said: “I do not say this lightly – without us all pulling together again as we have done so many times during this pandemic, there will be a real nightmare before Christmas and a not very happy new year for many.”
On Sunday, the national Covid Alert Level was raised to 4 - one below the highest level - as the government responded to the Omicron threat.
Coun Emmott says the local authority and NHS are doing whatever they can to ramp up the vaccination programme ‘which remains our greatest protection against this virus’,
“It is even more important now as recent studies indicate that two doses of the vaccine offer much less protection against Omicron,” he said.
“New walk-in clinics are being held and every effort is being made to ensure that as many people as possible can be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.”
Councillor Daalat Ali, portfolio holder for public health, echoed the leader’s message.
He told the meeting: “It is vital that people come forward for their booster jabs and if they have not already had them, their first and second doses.
“None of us wants more restrictions on our lives and I’m sure everyone wants our children to be able to stay in schools.”
Coun Ali continued: “Let’s not forget that this is the season of goodwill and we are a borough known for our community spirit.
“Let us all as members of the council help spread the message far and wide – do everything you can to help slow the spread of Omicron. Get vaccinated, keep testing, take care and stay safe.”
Kuiama Thompson, the council’s director of public health, has also warned that the pandemic is entering a ‘crucial phase’.
She said: “Whilst the growing number of vaccines being carried out gives us more hope, cases still remain high in Rochdale and are rapidly increasing so we must continue to do all we can.
“The booster programme has now been widened so that anyone aged 18 and over who had their second vaccine more than three months ago can now get boosted. That offers vital defence against the new Omicron variant as evidence clearly shows the increased protection it offers.”
Ms Thompson is urging Rochdalians ‘to come forward for their booster when they can, get tested regularly and follow the guidance’.
“It's crucial that we identify any cases of the new variant as quickly as possible to keep the community safe and protect our loved ones,” she said.
“Enjoy the festivities, but take care and remember at all times that COVID-19 is a present no one wants this Christmas."