Some 12,395 Covid patients were in hospitals across England on Friday, an increase of 73 per cent since Christmas Day and the highest tally since February
The number of people hospitalised by Covid soared again last night as revellers across England headed out onto the streets to enjoy new year celebrations.
The latest NHS figures show there were 12,395 Covid patients in hospitals across England on Friday, an increase of 73 per cent since Christmas Day and the highest tally since February, while an estimated 2.3 million were infected with the virus last week.
Despite the substantial rise, Boris Johnson insisted that the country was in an “incomparably better” place than a year ago as he urged people to get their booster vaccine.
Having promised no new restrictions in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, he is now under pressure to make a decision on whether to introduce fresh rules.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned the NHS was falling under “unsustainable” pressure after the number of Covid patients across hospitals in England increased ten-fold in one week. Almost 5,000 people were hospitalised with the disease in the five days after Christmas, compared to an increase of 478 in the five days prior.
And as forewarned by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), daily hospital admissions for the UK are now approaching the 2,000 mark. Some 1,915 people were hospitalised with Covid on 27 December.
Boris Johnson said this week there would be no new restrictions introduced in England “before the new year”, but as 2021 ends, he faces intense pressure to say whether he will go beyond the current Plan B curbs, which involve mandatory face masks, Covid passes for mass-audience events and guidance to work from home.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland introduced tougher controls after Christmas, and many medics believe waiting until after the new year will mean any new restrictions in England will come too late to rein in the growing surge in Omicron hospital admissions.
“With Omicron now spreading so rapidly in the community – and daily cases nearing 200,000 – the pressure this is placing on the NHS, through staff absences and rising hospitalisations, is becoming unsustainable,” the BMA said on Friday morning. “The BMA is clear that further public health measures are needed urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed.”
Downing Street said there were currently no plans for meetings of the government’s Cobra emergency committee or the Covid-O committee which oversees pandemic response over the bank holiday weekend.
But a No 10 source said: “We look at the data multiple times a day and there are regular meetings. That monitoring will continue through the New Year weekend, we will be looking at the latest analysis of case numbers and hospitalisations and, as the prime minister has said, we will not hesitate to act if necessary.”
The source downplayed reports that Boris Johnson had been waiting for an informal threshold of 10,000 patients nationwide or 400 in Omicron hotspot London before increasing action.
“We have never, ever had any trigger points or thresholds,” said the source. “There are so many variables within the figures. We look at a range of factors and the details behind them.”
NHS leaders have yet to formally call for new restrictions but some hospital chiefs have said it would only be a matter of time before hospitals are inundated with patients. One senior NHS source at a trust in the east of England said: “We are waiting for the impact of the tsunami of infections.”
Right now the NHS also faces record levels of staff absences, with 24,632 workers off sick due to Covid, while ambulance services have reported increased pressure post-Christmas.
London Ambulance Service triggered its highest surge level on Thursday, while West Midlands Ambulance Service warned it had seen a 19 per cent increase in 999 calls between 24 and 28 December this year, compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, new analysis from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has shown unvaccinated people with Omicron are eight times more likely to end up in hospital than those who are boosted. Those infected with the variant are also a third less likely to be admitted to hospital compared to Delta, the UKHSA said.
For people who have received just two doses of AstraZeneca, there is no protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron from 20 weeks after the second dose, the research showed.
But the UKHSA said one dose of any vaccine was associated with a 35 per cent reduced risk of hospital admission after catching the virus.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said the analysis on Omicron was encouraging but warned the NHS could still struggle given the country’s high infection rates, with cases now rising among older people.
“It remains too early to draw any definitive conclusions on hospital severity, and the increased transmissibility of Omicron and the rising cases in the over-60s population in England means it remains highly likely that there will be significant pressure on the NHS in coming weeks,” she said.
Separate data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that infections hit record levels in all parts of the UK in the run-up to Christmas.
An estimated 2.3 million people were infected in the seven days to 23 December, up from 1.4 million the previous week and the highest number since figures for the UK began in autumn 2020.
In London, one in 15 people had Covid-19 during this time frame – the highest proportion for any region in England.