As millions of families gathered for the festive season after last year being banned from mixing indoors, more than 100,000 received a positive test result
Christmas Day was the worst day on record for new Covid-19 infections in England, new data has shown.
As millions of families gathered for the festive season after last year being banned from mixing indoors, more than 100,000 received a positive test result.
In England alone, 113,628 new cases were reported on Christmas Day.
The Christmas Day figure for England is the highest on record since the pandemic began – followed by 107,055 reported on December 23 and 105,069 on Christmas Eve, according to NHS England.
But despite the sky-rocketing cases, this has not translated into mass hospitalisations – yet.
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A total of 8,474 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am on December 27, according to new figures from NHS England.
This is up 27% from a week earlier and is the highest number since March 5.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on January 18.
But there are fears that staff absences in the already-stretched NHS hospitals could results in disaster, and a group representing NHS trusts in England say it is “still far too early” to dismiss concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Staff absences are creating such pressure that “even relatively small numbers of extra Covid cases may bring difficult decisions on prioritisation and staff redeployment”, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson.
Medical leaders have expressed fears that “something is going to have to give” as one modeller said as many as 40% of London’s NHS workforce could be absent, with Covid-19 a major factor, in a worst-case scenario.
In a statement, Mr Hopson said: “Trusts are not, at the moment, reporting large numbers of patients with Covid type respiratory problems needing critical care or massively increased use of oxygen, both of which we saw in last January’s Delta variant peak.
“We should therefore be cautious about over interpreting current Covid admission data.
“As the Covid community infection rate rises rapidly due to Omicron, we will get significantly more cases of incidental Covid in hospital.”
Mr Hopson said staff absences, along with the accelerated booster campaign and urgent care that could not be put off, meant there was pressure “being felt right across GPs, social care, ambulances and community and mental health services as well as hospitals”.
“It is therefore still far too early to say that we no longer need to worry about Omicron and hospitalisations.
“Trusts are still preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he added.
It also comes as the Health Secretary has said no further coronavirus restrictions will be introduced in England before the new year after ministers reviewed the latest data.
Sajid Javid said “people should remain cautious” and urged those marking the start of 2022 to consider testing themselves beforehand and to celebrate outside, with the Omicron variant growing so fast that it accounts for 90% of all new Covid-19 cases.
The decision not to impose restrictions beyond the Plan B measures already in place in England comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed on the impact Christmas mixing had had on coronavirus infections and hospital admissions.
Mr Javid told broadcasters on Monday: “We look at the data on a daily basis – that hasn’t changed over the Christmas period.
“But there will be no further measures before the new year. Of course, people should remain cautious as we approach New Year’s celebrations.
“Take a lateral flow test if that makes sense, celebrate outside if you can, have some ventilation if you can.
“Please remain cautious and when we get into the new year, of course, we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then, at least.”
Professor Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London Southbank University, said the NHS absence rate in the capital had risen by 30% on normal levels as of Christmas Eve, with “Omicron in particular putting a lot more strain on the system”.
The sickness rate in the NHS has almost doubled to 8-9%, with shortages being felt in the north west of England and the Midlands, as well as London, the academic said.
Pressed on what was likely to happen over the coming weeks, Prof Leary told the BBC : “One of the scenarios we’ve modelled is around 40% of the workforce being off, absent in London.
“We’d hope that’s a worst-case scenario, but because we are already seeing an increase, I think it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect that to go up significantly.”
Dr Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the current number of staff absences in NHS emergency departments could “push us over the edge”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “Our members, those who got back to us, were pretty emphatic that they are suffering significant staffing issues right now.
“We’re worried that something is going to have to give.
“When our members are reporting that 20-25% of available staff are off sick for various reasons, but we think Covid is the prime contributor at the moment, that really is a considerable amount.
“That will push us over the edge as regards to normal function and we will have to start thinking about focusing our efforts on what we can do for the most people and concentrating our efforts on those who are most in need of our services.”