Omicron surge sparks fears over Christmas as UK Covid infections highest since January


With the festive weekend just a fortnight away and Plan B coming into force Covid cases across the UK continue to soar.

Friday saw the highest number of new Covid infections since January, sparking fears that this year’s festivities could yet be impacted by the threat of Omicron.

Across the UK there is a stark regional divide with the northern regions of England and Scotland seeing comparatively fewer Covid cases compared to the south and midlands.

Infection rates per 100,000 people for the seven days up to December 5 reveal just 20 local areas south of Nottingham saw a case rate of less than 400.

The worst hit regions are largely in the south east with Reigate and Banstead recording a case rate of 910.6

Devon has also seen high case rates along with Gloucester and South Northamptonshire.

Some rules have been changed while others have not
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And since then nationwide cases have continued to surged to a new high with today recording 58,194 further Covid-19 cases in 24 hours – a 15 per cent jump from this time last week.

While Boris Johnson has implemented a host of new Covid restrictions under Plan B he has stopped short of banning gatherings or limiting how many people can meet up.

Covid passports have been introduced in a limited fashion for some large events with the caveat that lateral flow tests can be used instead of confirmed vaccination.

There is no indication so far that the Rule of Six will return, meaning there are no limits on social gatherings inside or outside.

The Prime Minister also rejected the suggestion that festive parties and nativity plays should be cancelled during Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference.

Map showing case rates across the UK separated into local area regions

But he has refused to rule out a Christmas lockdown so there is still a chance things could change, a worry that is particularly heightened with the latest Covid figures.

Today’s huge rise is more than last week’s tally when 50,584 cases were counted on Friday and 143 people sadly died.

Yesterday 50,867 new infections were recorded as well as 148 deaths, which makes Friday the highest figure since January 9 when there were 59,937 new infections.

While the country was plunged into lockdown on January there was a drop in cases until July when they began to rise, with a peak reaching 54,674 seen on July 17.

Many are hoping for a relatively normal Christmas after last year’s chaos
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Since then cases have not fallen below tens of thousands of new Covid infections every day.

Throughout the last three weeks, during one third of that period the UK saw more than 50,000 new infections every day.

Only three days out of 21 saw less than 40,000 cases.

Case numbers for each day over December are below:

  • Friday December 10 – 58,194
  • Thursday December 9 – 50,867
  • Wednesday December 8 – 51,342
  • Tuesday December 7 – 45,691
  • Monday December 6 – 51,459
  • Sunday December 5 – 43,992
  • Saturday December 4 – 42,848
  • Friday December 3 – 50,584
  • Thursday December 2 – 53,945
  • Wednesday December 1 – 48,374

While the numbers of Covid cases have stayed high people being hospitalised with the disease across the country is not as steep as during the previous devastating waves.

Cases have soared over the past weeks
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New patients are currently numbering in the several hundreds each day, but this is nowhere near the soaring figures that were seen in January.

At the start of this year there were thousands of patients being admitted to hospital every day, sparking fears of a disaster for the NHS.

In its peak there were 4,582 new patients admitted with Covid on January 12 while the total number of patients reached a height of 39,254 on January 18.

Over the last three weeks these high numbers have fluctuated from about 700 patients a day to 800, after its most recent peak of 1,010 on November 8.

Throughout the last three months October 27 saw the biggest number of new patients admitted while the highest number of patients in hospital was recorded on November 1 with 9,670 patients.

People have been told to work from home if they can under Plan B
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These figures pale in comparison to those in January that saw a hospital population in the tens of thousands as well as thousands of new patients every day.

It is problematic to compare the two figures because people with Covid can be hospitalised weeks after diagnosis.

But it may suggest that while cases are high there isn’t the same previous trend that saw simultaneously high hospitalisations, which could be a result of the vaccination drive.

Hospitalisation numbers for early December are below: (patients admitted/patients in hospital)

  • Monday December 6 – 839 / 7,361
  • Sunday December 5 – 816 / 7,258
  • Saturday December 4 – 737 / 7,161
  • Friday December 3 – 721 / 7,312
  • Thursday December 2 – 822 / 7,406
  • Wednesday December 1 – 809 / 7,340

Another threat to a ‘new normal’ Christmas this year is the new Omicron variant that has seen rises across the UK and is expected to become the dominant UK variant by next week.

The UK Health Security Agency has given a stark warning that vaccines are less effective against it than Delta.

Covid cases across the other UK nations have also seen rises
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Government health officials warned cases of the new strain are now rising much faster than Delta in England and the double jabbed are still at risk.

In a briefing on Friday, the UKHSA said if current trends continue unchanged, the UK will exceed one million Omicron infections by the end of the month.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against Omicron when compared with the Delta variant in a study of 581 people.

Boris Johnson announced the implementation of Plan B at a press conference
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And those who had their second vaccine dose several months ago are at higher risk of catching Omicron compared to Delta, experts claim.

But the UKHSA said vaccines show “considerably increased” effectiveness soon after a booster dose, giving around 70 to 75 per cent protection against symptomatic infection.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also warned of a possible “tsunami” of infections ahead of a four-nations Cobra emergency meeting chaired by Cabinet Minister Michael Gove on Friday.

Currently, there are a total of 1,265 Omicron infections in the UK according to latest figures after a further 488 were reported on Friday.

All of this has led to the possibility that we could all be leading towards tougher Covid restrictions, such as a speculated ‘Plan C.’

Downing Street say there is no official Plan C amid reports officials are drawing up a contingency blueprint with more restrictions.

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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Friday there were “no plans to go beyond what we’ve set out already” when asked if there was going to be a published Plan C.

But he added: “Obviously we need to keep the characteristics of this variant under review, and we would act if necessary, but there’s no plans to go beyond what we set out.”

Asked if there was a Plan C document, he said: “Not that I’m aware of. As a responsible Government, of course, you would expect us to… we have an array, already, of options available to us in terms of what measures we can take to mitigate a growth of any variant or virus.

“But there are no plans to go beyond that currently.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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