While the Covid vaccine is primarily responsible for the much improved situation in terms of fatalities and the strain on the NHS, the Omicron variant has made the future much more uncertain than it was just a few weeks ago
Coronavirus cases are much higher now than they were this time last year, as the threat of the Plan B response looms.
Over the past week Covid infections have shot up 12% across the UK, with a further 45,691 cases recorded yesterday alone.
That is three times the number of cases, 14,718, logged on this day last year.
Hospitalisations and deaths are significantly lower now than they were at the beginning of December 2020 however.
On Tuesday 180 people died and 7,317 were in hospital with Covid, compared to 616 deaths and 15,960 patients in hospital a year ago.
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While the Covid vaccine is primarily responsible for this much-improved situation in terms of fatalities and the strain on the NHS, the Omicron variant has made the future much more uncertain than it was just a few weeks ago.
Scientists have warned that the mutant strain could be three times more infectious than other variants.
They predict that 1,000 people in the UK are catching the new variant each day while new cases are doubling every three days.
Although much research into Omicron is yet to be done, there have been some suggestions that it can evade the vaccines to at least a small degree.
At the moment deaths and hospitalisations – while high compared to other European countries – are steady.
However, if they start to rise over the coming weeks, the Government may decide to bring back restrictions designed to stop the coronavirus spread.
Boris Johnson is reportedly considering Plan B for the festive period which could be put in place in the coming days, possibly even as soon as tomorrow.
He may decide to do so if the spread of Omicron is threatening to overwhelm the NHS.
At the moment scientists believe that Omicron cases in the UK are doubling every three days.
Professor Neil Ferguson told the Today programme this morning that the new variant would be the dominant one, overtaking Delta, by Christmas.
The Imperial College London epidemiologist predicted that Omicron cases would peak in January if no additional measures were taken by the Government.
Prof Ferguson said a new year lockdown is ‘possible’, although it depends on how much pressure the NHS faces in the coming weeks.
When pressed about the chance of a lockdown in the new year, he said: “At the moment it’s very difficult to rule out anything we really haven’t got a good enough handle on the threat.
“If the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is going to be overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what it wants to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course.
“It (a lockdown) certainly might be possible at the current time.”
He said a laboratory-based South African study published last night indicated that Omicron can evade antibodies developed against the original strain better than any variant so far.
Professor Ferguson anticipated that case numbers, which are currently doubling every two to three days, will accelerate ‘quite markedly’ within a week or two.
The Government may decide to reintroduce social distancing measures to stop the rise in cases getting out of control.
Its Plan B would mean people being told to work from home to limit the spread of the virus while vaccine passports could be enforced for entering events with crowds including football matches, it is reported.
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If the rules are introduced, many Brits may be left with a feeling of de-ja-vu.
A week before Christmas 2020 a planned relaxation of rules for the festive period were scrapped due to the emergence of the Delta variant.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference on December 20 announcing that Christmas as planned was effectively cancelled.
From midnight that day a new tier four was introduced, banning people from mixing indoors with anyone not from their household.