Today Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the mutant strain accounts for 60 per cent of cases in England and 80 per cent in London as experts call for new measures to stop it spreading
The number of confirmed Omicron cases in the UK has risen by more than 12,000 in 24 hours.
Latest data from the UK Health Security Agency says that the number of known infections is 37,101.
The figure is a drop in the ocean of the real number, officials have previously admitted, with the strain believed to account for around 60 per cent of Covid cases in England.
In the past week more than half a million people have tested positive for Covid, with more than 90,000 cases yesterday alone.
Earlier today Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out restrictions being introduced as the mutant strain sweeps through the country.
Modelling from scientific advisers suggested that if ministers stuck to the current Plan B measures, there could be a peak of 3,000 hospital admissions in England per day.
Press Association Images)
Despite the ramping-up of the booster programme, experts said it would not help in terms of hospitals admissions in the near future, as many would be people who are infected now before immunity has had time to build.
Mr Javid said Omicron is “spreading rapidly” and now accounts for around 80% of infections in London and about 60% in England.
Asked about ruling out new coronavirus measures before Christmas, he said there is “a lot of uncertainty”, but that it is “time to be more cautious”.
He told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don’t think.
“At this point we just have to keep everything under review.”
Of the advice from scientists, he said: “It’s a very sobering analysis. We take it very seriously.
AFP via Getty Images)
“We do have to challenge data and underlying assumptions, I think that is appropriate, and take into account a broader set of facts.”
He hit out at people who have chosen not to be vaccinated against coronavirus as they “take up hospital beds” that could be used for patients in need.
Mr Javid criticised those who are eligible for a jab but have decided not to take up the offer, saying they are having a “damaging impact” on others.
He said 10% of the eligible population – more than five million people – still had not received their jabs, and around nine out of 10 of those needing the most care in hospital were unvaccinated.
A number of scientific advisers to the Government spoke out today, a day after minutes were published from a meeting warning it was “almost certain” there were hundreds of thousands of new Omicron infections each day in England.
The update from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) also stated that UK hospital admissions with the variant were probably around one-tenth of the true number because of a lag in hospital reporting.
Sage member Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said timing was crucial.
He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “We can’t wait for hospitalisations to go through the roof before we do something about it, because by then it’s too late.
“And in fact what happens by the end of this year is pretty well built-in now. There’s almost pretty well nothing we can do about it.”
He said boosters would not have a “big effect” on the immediate future because of the time it will take to build immunity.
On measures, he added: “Every day we delay will have a bigger impact further on.”
He said he was glad not to be the one making decisions “because they’re extremely difficult ones”.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), said while there remained uncertainty around the severity of the Omicron variant, it was right that plans were being made in the event of a “tsunami” of cases as described by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
He told Times Radio: “I think it’s absolutely right that governments and administrations around the UK are planning for that possibility as they are doing.”
He added: “We can’t afford to wait, but there is still the decision to make about what level of interventions.”
He said there was a “difficult balancing act”, but added: “I’m personally in favour of doing everything you can to make contacts as safe as possible, rather than banning them altogether.”
However, he said the scientific advice at this stage suggested that the Plan B measures and changes in the behaviour of the public probably would not be enough “to bring this wave completely under control”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there was still uncertainty, but information to inform whether Omicron will result in significant hospital admissions should be available soon.
He told Times Radio: “We need to be ready to very, very quickly implement tougher restrictions should there be very clear evidence that Omicron is going to lead to significant levels of hospitalisations and as I said, we should know that information in the not-too-distant future.”
He said London trusts in particular were facing pressure from rising Covid hospital admissions.
He said: “Over the last week, the pressure on London trusts has been mounting rapidly. It’s not just hospitals, it’s community mental health and ambulance trusts, too.
“So, for example, the number of hospitalised Covid patients or patients who tested positive for Covid has gone up by 30% in a week, at a time when nationally it’s only gone up by 4%.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.