Britain’s daily Covid cases soar to ANOTHER record high: Huge Omicron-drive spike sees 88,376 daily infections in 74% weekly jump as Chris Whitty tells MPs peak could more NHS admissions than ever before
- Today’s cases mark a 74 per cent rise in a week and is 12 per cent higher than the case count yesterday
- Chris Whitty has warned that ‘records will be broken a lot’ by ultra-infectious Omicron variant this winter
- He claimed it’s spreading so quickly it could send daily hospital admissions above previous high of 4,500
Daily Covid cases in Britain rocketed to another record high today as the Omicron Covid variant engulfs the country, with more than 88,000 people diagnosed in the last 24 hours.
Today’s count marks a 74 per cent rise in a week and is 12 per cent higher than the toll yesterday, which eclipsed the previous record of 68,000 during the second wave in January.
Chris Whitty has warned that ‘records will be broken a lot’ by the ultra-infectious Omicron variant, which is believed to be doubling every two days and spreading faster than testing can keep up.
A third of today’s 88,376 Covid cases were in London which has rapidly become the country’s Omicron epicentre, with infections now rising in every age group except young children.
Boris Johnson today insisted that the Government does not ‘want to cancel stuff’ or ‘lock stuff down’, with Britons instead urged to ‘prioritise’ social events, get a booster jab and do a lateral flow test before meeting people.
But fears about the variant are already creating a de facto lockdown in London, where tens of thousands of workers stayed at home today to avoid isolating over Christmas.
Professor Whitty told MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee today that Omicron is spreading so quickly it could send daily hospital admissions above the previous high of 4,500.
However, he admitted there were still several key questions about Omicron such as how severe it is and how effective vaccines neutralise it.
The above graph shows the infection rate in age groups compared to the same time a week ago. It reveals that cases are now more than doubling week-on-week among adults in their 20s, and rising in all over-15s
The above graph shows the % change in Covid infection rates in England week-on-week. It reveals that nationally cases are now also surging among adults in their 20s and beginning to rise in other age groups
LONDON — Westminster Bridge looks very quiet during the morning rush hour in London today as Britons stay at home
A quiet Farringdon station during rush hour in Central London this morning as people get off an Underground train
The above graph is from the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly report. It shows that the infection rate in London has skyrocketed after the super-transmissible Omicron variant took hold
This graph shows the infection rate in London for the under-60s and the over-60s. It reveals that while cases are surging in under-60s, there now appears to be an uptick for over-60s as well. Experts hope the boosters will stop this rising sharply but Professor Chris Whitty said today these could rise very fast along with hospitalisations in the coming days
The above map shows the proportion of Covid cases being triggered by Omicron across England’s regions. It is now dominant in London, where 60 per cent of cases are now thought to be triggered by the variant
This shows the cumulative number of Omicron cases confirmed in the UK, broken down by nations
Covid cases are now rising in every age group except young children in Omicron-hotspot London, according to official figures that lay bare the threat the NHS faces in the coming weeks.
The super-mutant variant, which is already dominant in the capital, has effectively sent the city of 10million into its own lockdown, with tens of thousands of workers staying at home today to avoid isolating over Christmas.
Department of Health data shows London is now seeing just as many cases as last January, when it was battered by the Alpha variant and put under harsher measures than the rest of the country.
London’s spiralling crisis was initially driven by teenagers and adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who were seeing an uptick in cases two weeks before the ultra-infectious strain was first detected. Infections started to rise in the over-60s days after Omicron was confirmed to be in Britain, according to MailOnline analysis.
In another warning sign for the country, UK Health Security Agency data published today revealed the capital now has the 25 areas with the fastest growing outbreaks in England.
The capital had 25 of the areas with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks last week, official data shows.
It comes as the Omicron variant takes hold in the capital, and may be an early warning sign for the rest of the country.
The figures were revealed in the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly Covid surveillance report
Covid case rate
% rise in a week
Experts have admitted the capital’s crisis will inevitably slow down because the virus will simply run out of room, and people adhere to dire warnings from Boris Johnson and Professor Chris Whitty’s plea to ‘prioritise’ the most important social events in the coming days.
And they said the astronomical spike in cases being seen in younger adults won’t necessarily occur in over-60s, who are most vulnerable to the virus. Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘This is partly because other age groups don’t socialise as much.’
He also said Britain’s booster vaccine drive — which prioritised older adults — should help to thwart the virus’s spread, even though three jabs won’t protect thousands from catching the virus and getting ill.
Scientist hopes it means the rapid increase in cases won’t necessarily translate into monumental pressure on the NHS. Data also shows two vaccines can still drastically slash the risk of severe illness, with Chris Whitty today hinting three jabs against Omicron may be even better than two against Delta.
Hospitalisations in the capital are going up faster than in other regions, concerning official data shows. But on average 153 people are being admitted with the virus every day, barely an eighth of the peak last January when it hit 800.
Up-to-date Government statistics breaking down infection rates by age group only go up until December 10, so the true trajectory of London’s outbreak will be even bleaker now.
And the same trend of cases rising in older adults has yet to be seen across the other regions of England, which have yet to be struck as badly by Omicron. Experts say the capital is more vulnerable to the variant because it is an international hub and had lower vaccination rates than other regions when the variant began to spread.
Department of Health statistics showed the infection rate for people in their late 20s in the capital has doubled in a week from 420.7 to 972.4 cases per 100,000 people. And among the early 20s it has jumped from 372.3 to 865.8.
There is also an uptick among older people who are more vulnerable to the virus, with rates among over-60s rising almost 40 per cent in a week from 115.7 to 158.8.
The only age group where cases are pointing down is five to 14-year-olds, where they are dropping by about five per cent week-on-week.
A total of 80 per cent of over-60s have already received a booster in England, NHS figures show.
Despite Covid cases rising astronomically, London today woke up to a lockdown by stealth with millions staying home rather than running the gauntlet of catching the virus.
Many want to avoid catching the virus before Christmas Day, for fear of being ordered to self-isolate and missing spending the festive season with their loved ones.
Last year Britons were told not to mix with people outside their household, keeping many families apart.
Roads in London were the quietest they have been during the morning rush-hour on any term-time weekday since the summer today, sat-nav apps showed.
The city centre was also left deserted, with pubs empty as people shunned heading into the office.
Professor Whitty said that the fall in social mixing suggests some of the worst predictions on hospitalisations and deaths may not come true.
It means that the worst case scenarios estimated by modellers are now unlikely to happen. In one paper they suggested admissions could peak at 4,500 a day in the current wave — more than last January.
Covid hospitalisations in the capital are creeping up, with admissions rising 38 per cent from 111 to 153 a day over the week to December 13.
The number of Covid patients on wards has also risen 15 per cent, from 1,095 to 1,267.
And the numbers needing mechanical ventilators is up six per cent to 198 patients.
Deaths are still flatlining in the capital at around 10 a day, but these are lagging indicators because of the time taken for someone infected with the virus to become seriously ill.
Professor Whitty estimated yesterday that a further rise in admissions was ‘baked in’ because of the high levels of infection in the country.
He warned there may be fewer patients in intensive care in South Africa than when Delta hit because more patients have immunity now.
Some 61 per cent of Londoners are double-jabbed, and 26.7 per cent have got a booster.
But this is the lowest rate in England, which experts say likely left the capital more vulnerable to the variant than other regions.
For comparison, across England 72 per cent of people are double-jabbed and 38 per cent have been boosted.
The highest vaccine uptake is in the South West where 79 per cent of people have already had two doses and nearly 44 per cent have got their third dose.
It is too early to say how well two doses or boosters will protect against hospital admission or death from Omicron but early data from the UK suggests two jabs will be significantly weaker.
The South African Government claims two doses of Pfizer’s jab provides more than 70 per cent protection against severe illness even with waning immunity.
Data on boosters will take longer to collect because South Africa is not rolling them out widely yet, and UK scientists say they need 250 Omicron patients in hospital before they can make vaccine efficacy estimates.
Officially, there are currently only 15 patients with the mutant strain in UK hospitals.
But the true number is thought to be higher because of the time taken to analyse samples and detect those who are infected with the mutant strain.
It comes as the UKHSA’s weekly report on Covid cases shows London now has 25 of the areas with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks in England.
Cases spiralled fastest in Hackney, where they doubled in a week to 832 infections per 100,000 people. It was followed by Southwark, up 88 per cent in a week to 902.1, and Islington, also up 88 per cent in a week to 800.4.
Infections rose in every borough of the capital, but on the other end of the scale outbreaks grew slowest in Sutton, up 7 per cent to 776.6, and Richmond, up eight per cent to 743.9.
Nationally, infections rose in 87 of 149 local authorities — or 58 per cent — with London now having the biggest outbreak of the virus.
Cases in the capital have risen almost by half in a week, up from 475.8 to 702.8 per 100,000.
This graph shows Covid hospitalisations in London. They are now ticking up 40 per cent week-on-week in the capital after Omicron sent cases spiralling
Covid deaths are still flat in the capital, but this is a lagging indicator because of the time taken for someone to fall seriously ill with the virus and be hospitalised
Millions of Brits CANCEL pre-Xmas plans, pubs CLOSE and West End falls silent
Millions of Britons have axed their festive plans so they can see family on Christmas Day after Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty triggered a ‘tsunamis of cancellations’ for pubs and restaurants by urging the country only to socialise if necessary — and not in large groups or with strangers.
People have started voluntarily self-isolating in a bid to avoid having to isolate on December 25 if they test positive for Covid.
Professor Whitty said that a rise in Omicron hospitalisations is ‘nailed on’ after cases hit a record high yesterday.
He told a televised No 10 press briefing: ‘I think that what most people are doing is — and I would think this seems very sensible — is prioritising the social interactions that really matter to them and, to project those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them.’
And after weeks of refusing to admit Christmas plans could be under threat, Mr Johnson told the country to cut back on Christmas partying and ‘think carefully’ before going out during the festive season
The Independent SAGE group of scientists and medics has called for an immediate 10-day ‘circuit-breaker’ shutdown, with bans on households mixing and the closure of hospitality firms.
They accused the Prime Minister of ‘delaying’ from imposing tighter controls and said the time for ’emergency action’ had now come.
And doubling down on the Prime Minister’s inference that people must be cut back on socialising to avoid catching Covid over Christmas week, Health Minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘Everybody is urging caution. Most of us will know somebody now who’s positive with Covid, and that means if you’ve tested positive, then you’ll be in isolation over Christmas. So that’s bound to make people a bit more cautious.’
Professor Hunter, an infectious diseases expert from the University of East Anglia, said the rapid rise in Covid cases among adults in their 20s in London was unlikely to be replicated in older age groups.
He told MailOnline: ‘If it’s spreading rapidly in this age group [adults in their 20s] it doesn’t mean it is going to spread as rapidly as in other age groups.
‘This is partly because other age groups don’t socialise as much, and partly because many of the older age groups have actually got already got quite high booster levels.’
Professor Hunter also predicted that cases in the capital and across the country would peak in a ‘matter of days’ because the virus will run out of people to infect.
He said: ‘If it carries on at the rate it’s going then by the end of the year — and given also that we only detect about 40 per cent of infections — we would have pretty much all of the UK population being infected. This is absolutely impossible.’
Instead, he said the country was likely to see a ‘very short, sharp peak’ in infections — likening it to a sombrero.
This will be followed by a surge in hospitalisations, but it is ‘very unlikely’ they will reach levels recorded last January.
SAGE modelling predicts they may hit 2,000 a day nationally, about half the previous peak.
Professor Tim Spector, a top epidemiologist, also predicted that cases in the capital would begin to slow before the New Year.
He said: ‘In London cases have been rising rapidly.
‘But this will likely slow down soon, as people change their behaviour, such as wearing face masks again, cancelling parties and working from home more.
‘These are the changes that will slow the spread of the virus.
‘It’s my hope that the rest of the country is doing the same to avoid big outbreaks outside of London, especially in big cities.’
It comes as separate data from his Covid symptom study — based on 52,000 Covid swabs — found infections rose four per cent last week.
The study — also run by health data science company ZOE — estimated 87,131 people were now catching Covid every day up from 83,658 in the previous week.
But it picked up a surge in cases among 19 to 35-year-olds, although said infections remained low in older age groups who are more at risk from the virus.
It added that those infected with Omicron tended to suffer symptoms including a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat similar to Delta infections.
The UK yesterday reported a record 78,610 Covid cases yesterday detected over the last 24 hours.
It came amid the rapid spread of Omicron, which was now behind 34 per cent of cases in England and a staggering 60 per cent in the capital.
In South Africa’s epicentre Gauteng average infections now appear to be levelling off after the variant emerged a month ago, but hospitalisations are still rising.
South Africa did not bring in any further restrictions, but did ramp up its vaccination drive which had previously reached only 25 per cent of adults. It already had face masks in place in most public areas.
Experts warn it is difficult to make a comparison between the two countries because the population in South Africa has far more young people than in the UK.
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