UK hospitals brace for Omicron wave as daily cases hit fresh record

UK coronavirus cases hit a record excessive for the second day in a row on Thursday, with more than 88,000 people testing positive, as hospitals braced for a big wave of admissions prompted by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned it’s “entirely possible” that daily hospital admissions because of the Omicron variant may surpass the peaks from earlier coronavirus waves. In mid-January, greater than 4,500 Covid sufferers have been hospitalised in a single 24-hour interval.

“It is possible, because this is going to be very concentrated over a short period of time, even if it’s milder, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day,” he told MPs on the Commons well being and social care choose committee.

However, Whitty prompt that safety by way of vaccination may scale back sufferers’ size of keep, easing stress on the well being service as “the total number [of Covid patients in hospital] could still be lower even if the peak number per day is higher”.


In London, the place Omicron is already dominant, the variety of individuals testing constructive has tripled week-on-week to 23,272 cases within the newest 24-hour interval. Across the UK, 88,376 Covid cases have been recorded on Thursday, the very best degree for any 24-hour interval all through the pandemic.

Chart showing that the Omicron variant is now dominant in London, and has sent cases surging to their highest level of the pandemic

The surge in infections is beginning to heap stress on the well being system within the UK capital, with the variety of Covid-positive individuals requiring a hospital mattress rising by 16 per cent to 1,248 within the week ending December 14.

Of the 169 extra Covid-positive sufferers in hospital, 111 of them weren’t being handled primarily for Covid, and solely by the way examined constructive after admission for different situations, suggesting the figures may overstate the extent of extra stress on the NHS. An analogous pattern was noticed in a hospital within the South African metropolis of Tshwane, the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak there.


However, the variety of sufferers being handled straight for Covid in London has been rising on the identical price as through the early a part of the Delta wave in July, wherein Covid hospital occupancy peaked at 20 per cent of the earlier winter’s peak.

Chart showing that Omicron is causing a larger number of incidental Covid admissions than past waves, but the number of patients being treated for Covid is still climbing at the same pace as during the Delta wave in the summer

Prof Kevin Fenton, London regional director of public well being on the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, mentioned hospitals throughout the capital “expect this increase to continue”.

“London is particularly vulnerable to waves of infection caused by new variants due to our international connectivity and persisting challenges with lower-than-average vaccination uptake in many localities,” mentioned Fenton.


He cautioned that the brand new variant “will find those vulnerabilities in our defences”, including that “it is imperative that we drive up vaccination levels across the population . . . to withstand this oncoming wave”.

Experts are frightened that with case charges hovering to record ranges in current days, even a small portion of contaminated people growing extreme illness may pressure hospitals even additional than the Delta wave.

Chart showing that cases in London have now equalled their peak level last winter, and that the critical question now is whether more severe outcomes follow suit

“The concern is that the numbers are looking so stunningly huge that even if there is a reduction in severity, the NHS is still going to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of cases,” mentioned Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medication at Imperial College London and a member of Nervtag advisory group.

The influence of the Omicron wave could possibly be worsened by a backdrop of excessive mattress occupancy within the NHS and the potential for huge swaths of the workforce being pressured to take day without work sick. There are at present 814 essential care beds occupied in London hospitals, just under the extent right now final yr, however 20 per cent increased than the early December common of 685.

Dr Layla McCay, director of coverage on the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations throughout the healthcare sector, mentioned the well being service was “in for a bumpy ride this winter” due to Omicron hitting as the NHS faces “intense pressure” from mattress occupancy ranges of above 93 per cent.

“This is happening as cases of Omicron are climbing rapidly, NHS staff sickness absences are increasing, and teams are giving all they have to get people vaccinated and boosted,” famous McCay.

Chart showing that acute hospital bed occupancy in London is already tracking above the historical average for this time of year

On Thursday, 812,044 jabs have been administered throughout the UK, of which round 90 per cent have been third doses, marking essentially the most profitable day for the booster rollout on record.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation added pregnant women to the precedence record for jabs on Thursday after proof confirmed they’re at elevated threat of significant penalties from Covid-19. The newest analysis revealed 17 pregnant ladies and 4 infants died of the virus between May and October 2021, whereas solely 4 per cent of the 1,436 pregnant ladies admitted to hospital with Covid had been vaccinated.

The newest modelling printed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that if the Omicron variant isn’t any much less extreme than Delta then, with none extra restrictions, daily admissions of Covid sufferers throughout England may peak at someplace between 2,000 and 6,000 in mid-January, having reached slightly below 4,000 final winter.

The early proof that boosters present round 75 per cent safety in opposition to symptomatic an infection with Omicron means that LSHTM’s extra optimistic situation of a peak of two,000 daily hospitalisations is the closest analogue for the present state of affairs.

“It’s not a question of whether or not this will be ugly, it’s really about quite how ugly it will be,” mentioned Prof Stephen Brett, a essential care guide at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust who sits on the SPI-M modelling group.

But Brett mentioned hospital pressures could also be eased by individuals opting to behave extra cautiously regardless of restricted restrictions. “Population behaviour does seem to be shifting in a desirable direction without the government pulling any levers,” he added.

Whitty burdened the necessity for individuals to take a cautious method to social mixing over the festive interval. “People want to protect the time that is most important to them,” he mentioned. “That does mean in practice that it is sensible for people to cut down on work or other interactions with people, including potentially social ones, that are less important to them.”

He additionally warned that additional restrictions could possibly be wanted as new knowledge emerges, saying: “If it looked as if the vaccines were less effective than we were expecting, I think that would be a material change to how ministers viewed the risks going forward.”

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