Number of people in hospital with Omicron variant rises by 20 to 85

Number of people in hospital with Omicron variant rises by 20 to 85 and cases rise by 69% in a day with another 10,059 infections recorded

  • Hospital admissions in England for Omicron variant increased by 31 per cent
  • Number of deaths in country of people with variant has risen from one to seven
  • Confirmed Omicron cases in England stood at 23,168, up 9,427 on previous day
  • It comes as a Sage adviser warns UK should go into lockdown before Christmas

The number of people in hospital with the Omicron coronavirus variant has risen by 31 per cent as another 10,059 cases of the mutation are recorded – bringing the UK’s total to 24,968.

Hospital admissions in England for people with confirmed or suspected Omicron rose to 85, from 65, said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The number of deaths in England of people with the variant has risen to seven, from the previous figure of one. 

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today.

Cases in Northern Ireland rose to 827, a rise of 514. Scotland’s cases have reached 792, an increase of 96. In Wales there are 181, up 22 on the previous day.

The figures come as a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) adviser warns the UK should go into lockdown before Christmas or it will be ‘too late’.

It is hoped a circuit breaker could stop Omicron hospitalisations peaking at 3,000 a day, according to Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of Sage.

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident in London amid ‘huge concern’ at the spread of the Omicron variant across the capital.

Hospital admissions in England for people with confirmed or suspected Omicron rose to 85, from 65, said the UK Health Security Agency today

Crowds pack onto Northumberland Street in Newcastle on the final Saturday shopping day before Christmas amid continuing fears about the rising cases of the Omicron variant

Shoppers are seen in Leeds city centre today on what is normally the busiest day for Christmas shopping

Shoppers donned Christmas hats as they headed into Canterbury City Centre for their festive shopping on Saturday

Cabinet ministers are understood to have received a briefing on the latest situation regarding the Omicron variant.

There was no meeting of the Cabinet or further discussion but ministers were given an update on the data surrounding the variant.

On Saturday, Prof Reicher told Times Radio that ‘all the science suggests that (Plan B is) not going to be enough’.

He said: ‘The only way really, or at least the most effective way, we can have an immediate effect is to decrease the number of contacts we have.

‘In many ways, the most effective way of diminishing contact is to have a circuit-breaker.

‘Now, you could have it after Christmas, the problem is after Christmas it’s probably too late, it’s probably by then we will have had a huge surge of infections with all the impact upon society.

‘When people say ‘look, we don’t want to close down’, of course, we don’t want to close down. But the problem is at the moment, things are closing down anyway, because of the spread of infection. So I think we need to act now.’

Lord Victor Adebowale, chairman of the NHS Confederation, voiced support for a circuit-breaker, warning that a cautionary approach should be taken.

He told Times Radio: ‘I would support the circuit-breaker. My members would support the circuit-breaker.

A shopping street in Gloucester. Retailers face an uncertain Christmas as people choose to stay at home during the latest wave of Covid 19 infections

There were slightly more shoppers out and about in Manchester on Friday – with many of them wearing face masks 

‘We’ve been calling for Plan B for some time now and we’re glad that it was voted through. I think the Government has to be prepared to recall Parliament if further interventions are needed.’

He added: ‘The fact of the matter is we should be taking the precautionary principle. We should be protecting our NHS and our public services. We have no economy without health.’

The UK reported more than 90,000 new Covid cases in another record daily total on Friday.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said the Omicron variant had been identified in 89 countries as of Thursday and had a doubling time of between 1.5 and three days. 

It said data is still limited on the severity of the strain, but added: ‘Given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.’ 

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident in London amid ‘huge concern’ at the spread of the Omicron variant across the capital

A Government spokesperson said: ‘The Government will continue to look closely at all the emerging data and we’ll keep our measures under review as we learn more about this variant.’      

And in London, Mr Khan said he was ‘incredibly worried’ about staff absences in vital public services including the NHS, fire service and police due to rapidly rising cases.

The declaration of a major incident will allow authorities to work together and support each other to reduce service disruption and allow more time to give out booster jabs, the mayor’s office said.

The Mayor of London said: ‘The surge in cases of the Omicron variant across our capital is hugely concerning, so we are once again declaring a major incident because of the threat of Covid-19 to our city.

‘The Omicron variant has quickly become dominant, with cases increasing rapidly and the number of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19 on the rise again.

‘We are already feeling the impact across the capital and while we are still learning about this variant, it’s right that London’s key agencies work closely together to minimise the impact on our city, including helping to protect the vital vaccination programme.’

What do we know about Omicron and how are things looking across the UK?

The Omicron variant is continuing to spread across the UK, having already become dominant in Scotland.

Here is what we know so far:

When did Omicron first appear?

UK scientists became aware of the new strain – also known as B.1.1.529 – on November 23 after samples were uploaded to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana.

On November 27, the Government said two cases of the variant had been identified in the UK, with the people involved linked to each other and to travel to southern Africa.

What do we know about Omicron’s ability to spread and can it get around the vaccines?

It largely evades immunity from past coronavirus infection or two vaccine doses and the risk of reinfection with Omicron is 5.4 times greater than that of the Delta variant, according to researchers at Imperial College London.

This suggests the protection against reinfection by Omicron from past infection may be as low as 19%.

Researchers estimated the proportion of Omicron among all Covid cases between November 29 and December 11 was doubling every two days up to December 11.

Is there evidence suggesting Omicron is milder than Delta?

An Imperial College London study found no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, although data on hospital admission was very low at the time of the study.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from the college, said their findings suggest the ‘level of immune evasion means that Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health’.

According to the data, boosters are vital in controlling Omicron, but they may lose some effectiveness over time.

Separately, early data from South Africa suggested two doses of the Pfizer vaccine offer 70 per cent protection against hospital admission and the head of South Africa’s medical association Dr Angelique Coetzee told British MPs that most cases of Omicron in South Africa are mild.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that such early data should be treated with caution as there is a danger people have over-interpreted it to mean there is no problem.

He said even if the new variant is milder, its ability to spread faster means there could still be an issue.

What is the current situation in England?

Omicron is now the predominant variant among new cases of coronavirus in England, figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published on Friday suggested.

Some 54.2 per cent of a sample of new coronavirus cases across England with specimen dates for December 14 and 15 were found to have S gene target failure (SGTF) – a way of detecting the likely presence of Omicron.

As of December 17, there were 23,168 confirmed Omicron cases in England – a rise of 9,427 on the previous day.

The number of deaths of people with Omicron rose to seven, from the previous figure of one, the UKHSA said on Saturday.

The number of people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Omicron increased to 85, from 65.

What about Scotland?

On Friday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Omicron was now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland, as she warned a ‘tsunami’ of the variant was hitting the country.

UKHSA data up to December 17 showed there were 792 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said the R number, which measures the rate of infection, could be above four and cases of the virus had increased by more than 40% in the past week.

She urged people to stay at home in the run-up to Christmas, saying the emergence of Omicron has been the ‘cruellest of blows’.

How are things looking in Wales?

First Minister Mark Drakeford said despite the hope for ‘a new year in which the pandemic would become a fading memory’, Omicron ‘poses a new threat to our health and safety’.

He described it as ‘the most serious development in the pandemic to date’ and warned people it must be taken seriously.

UKHSA data up to December 17 showed there were 181 confirmed cases of Omicron in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said new restrictions will be brought in on December 27 ‘as we prepare for a large wave of infections’, adding they will be a ‘strengthened set of reasonable measures, which will include returning to the two-metre rule for social distancing’.

What is happening in Northern Ireland?

Public health officials have warned that in a worst-case scenario, Northern Ireland could be recording around 11,000 Covid cases a day in the middle of next month if no further restrictions are introduced.

Stormont ministers will meet on Wednesday to consider potential new measures to help slow the spread.

Confirmed cases of Omicron in Northern Ireland had more than doubled by December 17, with a total of 827 – up 514 on the previous day.

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