11,452 people are currently in hospital with the disease, latest figures show
A total of 2,082 people in England were admitted on 28 December – a 90 per cent increase week-on-week and the highest figure since February. Across the UK, 11,452 individuals are in hospital with the disease.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the threshold set by Downing Street for the NHS being overwhelmed hadn’t yet been reached, but warned “it looks like that will be reached quite quickly”.
“What I’m very concerned about is our NHS staff, my dear colleagues who have worked so, so hard all through the repeated waves of this infection,” he told BBC Breakfast. “How are they going to cope?
Scientists are “very concerned” about the demographic of older, unvaccinated people catching Omicron, said Prof Openshaw.
“The latest figures show extraordinary rises in infection rates and this is before we’ve had time to see the full effect of what’s happened over Christmas,” he said.
“The people currently who are very sadly dying of Covid were probably infected on average about 35 days ago, so this was really before Omicron really started to transmit.
“It’s therefore too early to say what the impact of Omicron is going to be on more severe disease.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council at the British Medical Association, said there was concern over a “significant increase” of people in hospital with coronavirus.
“In fact, as of yesterday, the number of people admitted and also the number of patients in hospital is at a level as high as during the lockdown earlier this year in spring, in February/March.
“Now that is a significant number and it is increasing, so while the proportion of people who end up in hospital as a result of Omicron is smaller, we are definitely seeing significant increases.”
Dr Nagpaul said 25,000 patients were admitted with Covid-19 in a four-week period before Christmas and argued that those fresh admissions were preventing the six million people on the NHS waiting list from being treated.
Asked whether these individuals had been hospitalised because of the disease, rather than for other health reasons and “happened to have Covid”, he replied: “That’s a very good question and in fact, that’s data I don’t have and data it is really important is made available, because I absolutely agree, we need to differentiate between the two.”
Meanwhile, new figures show that a total of 4,580 NHS staff at hospital trusts in London were absent for Covid-19 reasons on 26 December, up 18 per cent on the previous week and nearly four times the number at the start of the month.
Across England as a whole, 24,632 NHS staff at hospital trusts were absent due to Covid-19 reasons, up 31 per cent from 18,829 a week earlier.
The head of NHS Providers said even if extra restrictions are put in place to control the Omicron variant of coronavirus, it will take two weeks to reduce the hospital admission rate, with trusts preparing for a possible surge.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the group which represents health trusts in England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is the government who sets the rules on restrictions, not the NHS, and we know that the government has set a high threshold on introducing new restrictions.
“So, on that basis, trust leaders can see why the government is arguing that, in the absence of a surge of seriously ill older patients coming in to hospital, that threshold hasn’t yet been crossed.
“But we still don’t know if a surge will come, and indeed we are exactly talking about the preparations we are making for that surge right now.”
At the peak of the second wave, on 18 January, a total of 34,336 people were in hospital with Covid, with a far higher proportion of patients requiring intensive care compared to now. Daily admissions reached a high of 4,134.