The Prime Minister warned the Cabinet a ‘huge spike of Omicron’ was coming and it’s understood that further Covid curbs can’t be ruled out
Boris Johnson has accepted a shock model suggesting 200,000 people were infected with Omicron yesterday – and warned ministers a “huge spike” is coming.
The Prime Minister held a virtual Cabinet meeting for the first time in months in light of the increasing number of Covid cases.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty told ministers to expect a “significant increase in hospitalisations” as cases rise, but it was too early to say how severe Omicron was, No10 said.
According to The Sun, Prof Whitty warned people could have to be turned away from hospitals by mid-January as a Covid wave engulfs hospital staff.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has estimated that the new variant was infecting 200,000 people a day as of yesterday.
The shock figure is much higher than the recorded cases, which officials say is due to the speed at which the strain spreads and the delay in cases being picked up in official tests.
It’s understood the 200,000 figure is only the mid range of modelling – so it could be even higher. With cases doubling every two to three days, it could theoretically lead to a million infections a day by next week.
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The Government is believed to be taking the figure seriously and it was raised by Health Secretary Sajid Javid in Cabinet this morning.
New figures showed 2.9% of all state school pupils – 236,000 – were off for Covid-related reasons on December 9, up from 2.6% (208,000) two weeks earlier.
Officials have not ruled out further restrictions to deal with the variant.
In a readout of this morning’s Cabinet meeting, the PM’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister said a huge spike of Omicron was coming and the measures we aim to introduce as part of Plan B were balanced and proportionate, helping to reduce transmission while we ramp up the booster programme.”
But reports overnight have suggested pubs could have entry restrictions and furlough could be brought back.
No10 refused to rule out the measures, calling them “speculation” and “hypothetical” and adding: “We need to learn more about this variant on things like severity before we decide what, if any, action is needed in the future.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman added the government “have the ability” to make changes to restrictions and refused to rule out doing so during MPs’ Christmas break.
The bleak ‘200,000 infections in one day’ estimate was produced by using modelled daily incidence from the Office for National Statistics.
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ONS modelled daily incidence allowed experts to estimate that there were approximately 23,000 daily Omicron infections on 7 December.
By assuming a constant doubling time of around 2 days, UKHSA estimated that during the day of the 13 December, approximately 207,000 people were infected with the Omicron variant.
Prof Whitty told Cabinet this morning that cases of Omicron are doubling every two to three days and a “significant increase in hospitalisations” is due.
The huge gap with confirmed new Omicron cases – just 1,500 or so yesterday – is because cases take time to detect and sequence. That time lag makes a big difference if they are doubling every two days.
Some infections are also never picked up formally because they are mild or asymptomatic.
On the 200,000 daily infections estimate, the PM’s spokesman said: “We think it is a valid figure which is recognising it’s an estimate and that models have wide ranges.”
He added: “It does provide an understanding of how quickly Omicron is transmitting. We expect it to become the dominant variant in London today, given case rates are doubling so fast, and it will inevitably become the dominant variant in [interrupted].”
Told that could mean a million cases a day by next week he said: “Cases are increasing significantly. This is what we are seeing because of the exponential growth of this variant.
“We still don’t know crucial detail on things like severity and the protection boosters provide against hospitalisation and death.”
Asked why new restrictions weren’t being imposed, the spokesman said: “We need to learn more about this variant on things like severity before we decide what, if any, action is needed in the future.”
Asked why Mr Johnson was not planning further measures despite the incoming “spike”, the spokesman argued the link between cases and severe illness had been “severely … reduced” by vaccines.
“We are not being complacent, which is why we’ve brought forward drastically the target for getting everyone boosted,” he said.
It’s thought new curbs could shortly be brought in on the Commons voting procedure, with hundreds of MPs expected to cram in to division lobbies tonight.
And Dr Susan Hopkins of the UK Health Security Agency today warned restrictions could have to be in place for eight weeks.
Yet No10 said it was still advising people not to cancel Christmas parties.
The PM’s spokesman said: “Our position on that hasn’t changed. The PM believes we have a proportionate and balanced approach given wheat we know about this variant.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.