UK Covid live news: Omicron studies hailed as ‘good news’ but UK still in ‘danger zone’, expert warns

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK Covid live news: Omicron studies hailed as ‘good news’ but UK still in ‘danger zone’, expert warns” was written by Tom Ambrose (now) and Matthew Weaver (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 23rd December 2021 10.02 UTC

The NHS is preparing to expand capacity in case a “surge” of healthcare is needed, but will be able to manage increased hospital cases.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said:

What we’re trying to do is at the moment is just what we always do in the NHS, which is to prioritise care based on medical need

We will and we are identifying places that would be needed if we really really needed to surge.

Hopson added that the NHS had handled around 40,000 simultaneous Covid hospital cases last January and would be capable of handling the current rise in admissions, which stands at around 7,000 nationally.

“We can do this, but the issue is, we’re in incredible pressure right the way across the health system,” he said.

New figures from NHS England show 3,874 NHS staff at acute hospital trusts in London were absent due to Covid on 19 December.

This is more than double the number a week earlier (1,540) and more than three times the number at the start of the month (1,174).

The total includes staff who were ill with Covid-19 or who were having to self-isolate.

Across England as a whole, 18,829 NHS staff at acute trusts were absent due to Covid-19 reasons on December 19, up 54% from 12,240 a week earlier and up 51% from 12,508 at the start of the month.

Updated

Nightclubs in Scotland to close

Nightclubs in Scotland are to close from 27 December for a three-week period, the deputy first minister John Swinney has announced.

It follows similar moves in Wales and Northern Ireland. The nightclub measure in Scotland is in addition to further hospitality guidance announced on Tuesday.

This included the reintroduced of table service in venues serving alcohol and one metre distancing between groups.

Speaking to Holyrood’s Covid Recovery Committee on Thursday, Swinney said that, having engaged with the sector, the opinion was “closure…combined with financial support may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period before they are able to operate normally again”.

A decision on whether all children aged five to 11 might get the jab “is still under very active consideration”, a member of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said.

On Wednesday the committee recommended vaccinations for about 330,000 vulnerable younger children.

But Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at University of Bristol, said the panel had yet to decide about jabbing all younger children.

He told LBC Radio:

There are a number of moving parts to that decision.

We see very, very few severe cases in this young age group, happily, so there is not much serious disease to be prevented.

The factor that persuaded the government to introduce vaccination for older children was the disruption of their education and the ability of vaccines to reduce … transmission of infection among children as well as between children and adults.

With the Omicron variant, in particular, the ability of the vaccines to do that will be reduced.

Many of these children will now already have had the infection. We just need to weigh up all of those things and make sure that a decision to move forward would benefit those children and actually do some good.

Finn also said it is possible that people may need to get a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine. He said:

I think there will be people probably who will receive a fourth jab – whether that will be everyone, I think, is still very much in doubt.

We do need to see how things go through this wave and beyond. I think there may well be people who received their boosters early who are in the older more vulnerable age groups who may need a further jab – that has not been decided yet.

It is still under review and discussion, and we will be providing recommendations on that at some point in the new year.

Dr Nick Davies, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the government’s Spi-M modelling group that advises Sage, warns against misinterpreting the new studies on Omicron.

In a Twitter thread he says the data shows “Omicron wave will tend to infect *relatively* more vulnerable older people than the Delta wave.”

‘IHR’ referred to in his tweets, stands for infection hospitalisation ratio.

The NHS could still be under huge pressure despite the possibility that the Omicron variant may cause milder disease, another scientist has said.

Prof Paul Elliott, director of the React-1 programme and chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London, said “there are many many cases and sadly some of those people may get severe illness and end up in hospital”.

Speaking to Sky News, he said:

From the beginning of December we saw this very dramatic rise in prevalence across the country, but particularly across London with the R number now substantially above one.

This exponential increase in infections is absolutely being driven by the Omicron variant.

Prof Elliott described it as “encouraging news” that perhaps the infection when you get it might be less severe in terms of hospital cases, but he added:

Of course, with this very very rapid rise and increase in cases – and we have seen the national cases go above 100,000 – then more cases means more pressure (on the health service).

Even though a smaller proportion (of people) might get severe disease or go into hospital, that could still result in many cases and, of course, that could give pressure on the health service.

Updated

Welcome to our UK politics live blog.

New research suggesting that that those with the highly-infectious Omicron variant are at lower risk of being admitted to hospital than those with previous variants has been welcomed in the press.

“Ho, Ho, Hope,” says front page of the Sun over a picture of Boris Johnson giving a thumbs up sign.

The Times say the new studies offer support for Johnson’s decision to pause further restrictions in England. The Daily Mail goes as far as saying they “vindicate” the prime minister’s decision to “hold fire” on more restrictions.

The Telegraph reckons cabinet ministers say the research weakens the need for more restrictions. It quotes one saying: “If hospital numbers don’t grow, it could represent a killer blow against those in government who support more rules.”

But Prof Andrew Hayward, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare and a member of Nervtag, is more cautious about the research.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s he said:

It’s undeniably good news, but I think we’re definitely not out of the danger zone – I think perhaps we can downgrade this from a hurricane to a very severe storm …

I think it does make the public health messaging tricky – I think some of the things that we need to remember is that if you’ve got a halving of severity but in the context of case numbers of Omicron doubling every two or three days, that doesn’t buy you much extra time, you know, maybe less than a week in terms of relieving the pressure on the NHS, if you like.

I think the other thing is to kind of explain (that) even if your personal risk is low, then you can still do a lot to protect the most vulnerable, the elderly, those with chronic diseases – you can do a lot to protect the NHS, and you can do a lot to protect services by being much more cautious in terms of the amount of close contact we have.

Prof Hayward said events such as “mass parties” that might take place on new year’s eve would “provide a big further boost” to the Omicron variant.

He added:

We still need to be cautious about Christmas – I think in many ways the best present you could provide an elderly relative this year is the negative lateral flow before you go, so we need to still think about protecting the vulnerable, we need to think about protecting the NHS and that will require some sacrifices.

Updated

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