UK faces ‘double epidemic’ as ‘phenomenal’ Omicron surge leads to record daily cases



An explosion of Covid cases and rising hospitalisations have caused alarm – with England’s chief medic warning new records will be set in coming weeks.

Latest data shows the number of confirmed Omicron cases has soared by more than 2,000 per cent in a week.

An anxious Prof Chris Whitty said the Omicron strain was spreading at a “phenomenal” rate, adding: “All the things we do know are bad.”

So far the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed 10,017 cases of the mutation, up from just 437 a week ago.

The first two cases were announced on November 27, with at least one person known to have died after contracting the variant.

But experts believe the real Omicron figure is far higher, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid previously estimating it at 200,000 per day.

The UK is currently facing “two epidemics”, Prof Whitty said, with cases of the Delta mutant strain flat, but Omicron doubling every two days.

On Wednesday 78,610 daily infections were confirmed by the Department of Health, the highest figure of the pandemic so far.

Prof Whitty said: “This is a record number of cases, we’ve got to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as rates go up.”

There has been a massive spike in new Covid cases, latest data shows

How many Covid cases are being recorded, and how many are Omicron?

In the past week 404,869 people have tested positive for Covid-19 – an alarming 19.1 per cent higher than the previous week, Department of Health figures show.

This is undoubtedly being fuelled by the new variant, with Omicron now estimated to be the dominant strain in London.

So far there have been 10,017 fully confirmed cases of the mutant strain, with 4,671 announced by the UK Health Security Agency yesterday.

But full genomic testing is a slow process, with a quick test – known as the S Gene Failure – revealing numbers are rising steeply in all regions, Prof Whitty said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on Monday that the real number of Omicron infections could be as high as 200,000 a day.

The number of Omicron cases are rising at an alarming rate

Where are the Omicron hotspots?

London is currently bearing the brunt of the Omicron outbreak, with 1,628 cases confirmed yesterday alone.

But all regions recorded a significant rise in confirmed infections in 24 hours, figures from the UK Health Security Agency show.

South East England and the East Midlands have each had more than 1,000 infections identified, with the real number expected to be dramatically higher.

According to the agency, the number of confirmed cases in each region is:

  • East Midlands -1,033 cases (up 550 in 24 hours)
  • East of England – 919 cases (up 340 in 24 hours)
  • London – 3,714 cases (up 1,628 in 24 hours)
  • North East – 261 cases (up 159 in 24 hours)
  • North West – 365 cases (up 97 in 24 hours)
  • South East – 2,032 cases (up 958 in 24 hours)
  • South West – 627 cases (up 375 in 24 hours)
  • West Midlands – 152 cases (up 67 in 24 hours)
  • Yorkshire and Humber – 110 cases (up 52 in 24 hours)

The vast majority of confirmed Omicron cases up to this point are in England, latest data shows.

England has seen 9,243 known cases, Scotland 561, Wales 62 and Northern Ireland 151.

As highlighted above though, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is not unsurprising that the five UK areas to see the highest rise in Covid cases are in London.

As reported last night, the places to have seen the sharpest increase are:

  • Southwark (up from 463.1 cases per 100,000 people to 818.4)
  • Lambeth (495.0 to 828.7)
  • Hackney & City of London (405.0 to 733.5)
  • Islington (405.5 to 720.6)
  • Lewisham (497.2 to 767.7)

Last night Prof Whitty showed slides revealing ‘S Gene Failure’ cases, which he described as a faster means of identifying Omicron.

Data showed that cases are on the rise in all regions in England, while the top medic said the same is true in Scotland.

All regions in England are recording a rise in Omicron cases

What is happening with hospitalisations?

Worryingly admissions are on their way up, Department of Health figures show.

On Tuesday 774 people were admitted to hospitals across the UK with Covid-19, bringing the seven-day figure to 5,984.

This is a 10.4 per cent rise compared to the week before.

On Tuesday there were 7,673 people being treated for the virus in hospital, of which 896 were in ventilator beds.

Prof Whitty said that hospitalisations are rising in some parts of the country, particularly in London – where Omicron is believed to have become the dominant strain.

“Going into Christmas I would expect most cases going into hospital to be Omicron,” said Prof Whitty.

The number of people in hospital with Covid is rising sharply
(

Image:

Bloomberg via Getty Images)

How many people are dying from Covid?

The Department of Health announced on Wednesday that a further 165 people had died within 28 days of contracting the virus.

We don’t yet know whether this figure includes anyone with the Omicron variant, but it will be some time before the necessary data is available to confirm how deadly the strain is.

The Covid death toll in the past seven days stands at 805, a five per cent drop compared to the previous week.

Death figures appear to have dropped, but it is too early to determine the impact of Omicron

Prof Whitty warned against reading too much into the fall, saying it is too early to tell how much of an impact Omicron has.

If cases skyrocket, it will inevitably put more strain on health services, he siad.

Prof Whitty said: “These are going down very slightly but this doesn’t reflect anything regarding Omicron because the emergence of Omicron is too recent.”

People queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Science Museum yesterday

How is the booster drive going?

At the weekend the Prime Minister warned that the UK was facing a “tidal wave of Omicron” and said that two jabs no longer appear to be enough to protect people.

A massive booster jab drive would see every adult offered a third or booster dose by the end of 2021 he said.

At last night’s briefing he urged people to get their booster vaccine to prevent Omicron piling on more misery.

Yesterday’s Department of Health data showed that 656,711 booster jabs had been given in 24 hours.

It means more than 24.7 million people have had three jabs – 43 per cent of the UK’s population over the age of 12.

More than 24.7 million people have been given a booster jab so far

How severe is Omicron?

It is too early to tell, said Professor Whitty – and even if it is, as hoped, milder than previous strains, an explosion in cases could still overwhelm health services.

The chief medical officer urged caution against interpreting data from South Africa, which suggests the strain is more transmissible but causes less severe illness.

Prof Whitty said there should be “really serious caution” over reports that a reduction in hospitalisations was being seen in cases of Omicron in South Africa.

He said: “The first caution on this is simply a numerical one – if the rate of hospitalisation were to halve but you’re doubling every two days, in two days you’re back to where you were before you actually had the hospitalisation.

“If the peak of this is twice as great, then halving of the size of the hospitalisation rate, you still end up in the same place. And this peak is going very fast.”

He added: “The second point I wanted to make, which I’m not sure it’s fully been absorbed by everybody, is that the amount of immunity in South Africa for this wave – because of a prior Delta wave and vaccination – is far higher than it was for their last wave. And therefore the fact that there is a lower hospitalisation rate is unsurprising.”

Prof Whitty said: “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible. But I just think there’s a danger people have over-interpreted this to say, this is not a problem and what are we worrying about?

“I want to be clear, I’m afraid this is going to be a problem. Exact proportions of it, of course, South African scientists and UK scientists and scientists globally are trying to determine at the moment.”

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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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