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Covid cases have soared by 179,756 with a further 231 deaths – though both mark a decline on last week’s figures.
Last week the UK recorded a further 189,213 cases and 322 deaths – marking a 5% drop in cases over the last seven days.
The latest figures come as an expert who was instrumental to the UK’s first lockdown said Covid cases should start to drop across the UK in the next one to three weeks.
Prof Ferguson, of Imperial College London and Sage member, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18 to 50 age group – which has been driving the Omicron epidemic – may possibly have plateaued.
“It’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet, but I think… this epidemic has spread so quickly in that group it hasn’t had time to really spread into the older age groups, which are at much greater risk of severe outcomes and hospitalisation, so we may see a different pattern in hospitalisations.
“Hospitalisations are still generally going up across the country and we may see high levels for some weeks.
“I would say that, with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.”
It comes as Boris Johnson has announced new travel rules which include scrapping pre-departure tests and self-isolation, and also allowing travellers to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two of arriving in the UK.
The changes will only apply to travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid, aka who have a full course of one of the approved jabs.
For those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, the existing rules around self-isolation and PCR testing will remain the same, including pre-departure tests and self-isolation requirements.
It comes as more than 20 NHS trusts have now declared a critical incident over Covid staffing shortages, No10 suggested today.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said more than 20 trusts have now reached the alert level where priority services may be under threat.
The figure is higher than 15 hospitals whose details were publicly confirmed earlier today.
Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, The United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and University Hospitals Dorset are among the hospital trusts that have signalled they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients due to staff shortages.
Meanwhile, 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester have paused non-urgent surgery and appointments, although a critical incident has not yet been declared at the sites.
Yet the PM’s spokesman stressed critical incidents were “not a good indicator” of the pressures the health service was under.
He said: “I think my understanding on critical incidents, obviously the numbers do vary…
“It’s worth understanding that critical incidents can last, in some certain circumstances, a matter of hours, a morning or afternoon, a day some of them can last longer than that.
“So they’re not a good indicator necessarily of how the NHS is performing.”
He said: “We know that there are a number of trusts that have reported critical incidents.
“I believe it’s more than 20 currently, but that number will fluctuate. But again, those critical incidents can vary in terms of their scale, some can relate to one part of the trust, some can be across the whole trust. So it’s not a good indicator, necessarily, of NHS performance at any one time.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.