PRIME Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation this afternoon as a new Covid-19 variant has emerged.

The PM will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm today.

He will be joined by England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

It has not been officially announced what the PM will discuss, but the press conference comes amid a backdrop of multiple hospitals declaring "critical incidents" in recent days, the first day of the working year (including the return of schools) and the emergence of a new variant of the virus.

The UK is "monitoring" the new strain, which has "46 mutations" and was first detected in France.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said it is aware of the new mutation, dubbed the IHU variant, but confirmed it is not yet a variant of concern.

The Express reports at least two cases of the new variant, officially named B.1.640.2., have been recorded in the UK.

The government agency told the newspaper: "We are aware of a small number of cases of B.1.640 in the UK and have been monitoring this particular variant specifically since late October.

"As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations.

"At the present time, it has not been designated a Variant Under Investigation or a Variant of Concern.”

The agency added: "UKHSA is monitoring the domestic and international situation closely through our world-leading genomic surveillance."

Meanwhile, public services are resorting to emergency plans to mitigate staff shortages caused by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which continues to rage throughout communities.

At least six hospital trusts have declared critical incidents – where priority services may be under threat.

Boris Johnson said on Monday that he would “make sure that we look after our NHS any way that we can”.

And the Education Secretary said schools should be prepared to merge classes into large groups if staff levels dipped too low.

But health leaders warned the health service was “in a state of crisis”, and a headteacher predicted remote learning could return if school staff were struck down with the virus.

The Daily Telegraph reported that up to 10 million “critical” workers would be able to access Covid tests through their employers, after days of complaints that they could not be ordered online and stocks in pharmacies were patchy.

The newspaper said health, education, transport and utilities workers would be included in the scheme, which could be announced as early as this week following a meeting of Cabinet’s Covid Operations Committee on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

But in the meantime Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said “a number of trusts across country have declared internal critical incidents over the last few days”.

One of those was United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, where “extreme and unprecedented” staff shortages were expected to result in “compromised care”.

And chief executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, Aaron Cummins, confirmed in a statement that the trust had declared an “internal critical incident”.

In an internal message from Mr Cummins shared on Twitter, he told staff that “sadly, despite everyone’s best efforts, many of our patients are still receiving a level of care and experience that falls below the level of standards we would like”.

Meanwhile, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s hard to imagine that if the NHS is being affected, that retail is being affected, if sporting fixtures are being affected, it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t in schools and colleges have the same issues around staff shortages.”

Bin collections and train services have also been hit.

A further 157,758 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in England and Scotland as of 9am on Monday, the Government said.

Scotland saw its highest number of daily cases yet, while numbers for Wales and Northern Ireland had not been reported on Monday night.

Boris Johnson's press conference will be broadcast on BBC, ITV, Sky News and other major news channels.

It will also be available to stream on social media.