More than 2million people in England had Covid just before Christmas, official surveillance data suggested today amid warning signs that infections are now rising quickest in over-65s.
The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) weekly report estimated one in 25 people had the virus on December 23, marking a 70 per cent surge in a week and the highest toll seen throughout the entire pandemic.
Covid most prevalent in Omicron epicentre London, where one in 15 people were estimated to be infected over the festive period, followed by the South East and East of England at one in 30.
The ONS analysis is based on random swab testing of tens of thousands of people across Britain and the results are inspected closely by ministers. But it only offers a glimpse of how widespread the virus is, meaning it won’t reveal whether cases have truly peaked in London, like official data suggests, for another few weeks.
Separate Government statistics showed infections are now rising fastest and doubling every week among over-65s — the age group most vulnerable to the virus.
Experts today warned this would ‘directly feed’ into hospitalisations over the coming weeks and that a spike was ‘certain’. But they added that the booster drive, which has already reached 90 per cent of older adults, will give millions an extra layer of protection and help the NHS this winter.
The number of Covid-infected patients occupying beds in English hospitals is already above 11,000 for the first time since early February, illustrating the pressure the health service is already facing. And in London daily virus admissions have breached the 400-a-day threshold that could prompt No10 to adopt nationwide restrictions.
NHS bosses today warned that the Government ‘needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed’.
Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, said fresh curbs ‘may be needed at pace if the evidence warrants it’ as he said medics ‘still don’t know’ if there will be a surge in elderly hospitalisations, which could trigger Mr Johnson to act. But he admitted the threshold for taking action ‘hasn’t been crossed yet’.
Despite admissions spiking to 11-month highs, the number of critically ill Covid patients remains flat.
Office for National Statistics random swabbing suggested 2million people in England had the virus last week — equivalent to one in 25. This was a 70 per cent surge in seven days, and the highest number on record
The ONS carries out weekly surveillance testing to estimate the prevalence of the virus across the home nations, not just England.
Their study is seen as the gold-standard for tracking the outbreak by ministers because it shows the true spread of the virus. Daily Covid infection numbers, which yesterday reached a record-high of almost 190,000, are reliant on people getting tested, and up to half of infected people don’t get swabbed.
Across the four nations, cases were estimated to be rising fastest in Scotland, where they surged 70 per cent in a week from 76,200 to 135,400 people estimated to be infected on December 23.
This was followed by England and then Wales, where infections rose 40 per cent in a week to 76,500. In Northern Ireland they rose 26 per cent to 47,500 cases.
Have you REALLY hit your booster jab target, Boris?
Millions of eligible people in England have not had their Covid booster dose, official figures show – despite the Prime Minister insisting No10’s third dose target has been met.
Boris Johnson today bragged that the Government had achieved its goal of offering a top-up vaccine to all adults by the New Year.
But vaccination figures show 9.5million people who were double-jabbed by the end of September – and therefore now eligible for their third dose – have yet to get their booster.
Mr Johnson told the nation in a televised broadcast earlier this month that all eligible adults in England ‘will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year’.
No10 and the NHS subsequently clarified their goal was to invite eligible Britons for a vaccine before the end of the year, rather than deliver those doses.
ONS estimates of cases by age groups showed they were rising in all age groups, and ticking up fastest among 25 to 35-year-olds.
Statisticians said this matched testing data showing the virus was spreading fastest in this age group.
Separate figures from the Department of Health, which is based on people coming forward for tests, showed that rates are now rising quickest in over-65s, who are most vulnerable to the virus.
It publishes the infection rate for age groups broken down by five-year bands.
Cases were rising fastest in 75-79 year olds, surging 143 per cent in a week from 137.9 to 334.9 cases per 100,000 people.
But they doubled in size in all other over-65 age-bands, the same data showed.
Cases were also rising in every age group except 10 to 14-year-olds.
Scientists have said high levels of immunity in this age group from previous infections should keep the virus at bay, although a lack of testing because of the school holidays could also be behind the figures.
The surge in infections in older age groups raise questions over whether the NHS could soon face an influx of admissions.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said it was ‘certain’ that there would be a spike in hospitalisations.
He told MailOnline: ‘The implications are clear that if infection rates continue to increase so quickly in the older age groups this will directly feed into higher hospitalisation rates from this age group.
‘But around 90 per cent of the over-65s have already had their booster dose so how high this increase will go is quite uncertain.’
He added: ‘I think it is absolutely certain that hospital admissions will spike. But the big questions are when will admissions peak and how high will they have got when they do.’
Latest data for hospitals in England shows there were more than 2,000 admissions on December 28, the latest available. This is the most since early February, and double the figure from a week before.
Ministers have turbo-charged their booster drive and prioritised older groups in a bid to keep Omicron at bay, with scientists saying the jabs will provide an extra layer of protection.
And Boris Johnson claimed earlier this week that 90 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care had not received their booster jabs.
However, no figures have been published to back up this claim. Ministers today faced calls from Tory MPs to be transparent with their data.
Statistics from King’s College London scientists published yesterday estimated almost 200,000 people were now catching Covid every day in the UK, and that the country will break through the milestone in the next few days
Covid cases are highest among 18 to 35-year-olds (orange line), they said, but are rising in all age groups. There is also an uptick among 55 to 75-year-olds (red line) and over-75s (purple line) who are more at risk from the virus
Across England’s regions the number of infections is still highest in London. But as Omicron spreads across the country cases are now rising in all other regions
The Government publishes daily figures on Omicron hospitalisations, but this is only broken down by whether people admitted have or have not received a Covid jab.
Official figures show some 33million Britons have now got their booster jabs, or 58 per cent of over-12s. Among over-65s 9.5million out of 10.7million have got their booster jabs — about 90 per cent.
Some 47million are double-jabbed, or 82 per cent of people over the age of 12.
Saying there was no need for new restrictions at present, Mr Hopson told The Times: ‘Although the numbers are going up and going up increasingly rapidly, the absence of large numbers of seriously ill older people is providing significant reassurance.
‘But they are aware that this may change after the Christmas period.
‘Trust CEOs know that the government has a high threshold to cross before it will introduce extra restrictions and can see why, in the absence of that surge of severely ill older people, that threshold hasn’t been crossed yet.’
It comes after one of the country’s largest surveillance study’s warned yesterday that almost 200,000 people in Britain are catching Covid every day.
King’s College London experts – who monitor the outbreak using a symptom-tracking app – estimate infections jumped 33 per cent in a week to around 192,000 per day.
But the team hailed promising signs that the exponential growth phase of the Omicron outbreak has ‘stopped’. Dr Claire Steves, one of the experts behind the app, said the rise is now ‘more steady’ and cautioned that up to three-quarters of people with cold-like symptoms probably have Covid.
Dr Steves said her team’s data shows that cases are still on the rise in 55-75 year olds, adding: ‘Unfortunately, it’s likely that this will translate into more hospital admissions in the New Year.’
It fits with data suggesting the wave may have already peaked in London, which was the first region to be battered by the ultra-infectious variant which evidence shows is causing milder disease than previous strains.
However, hospitals in the capital have already breached the key 400-a-day admissions threshold that could trigger the Government to make a nationwide intervention.
Boris is urged to convene COBRA to save NHS from ‘devastating’ staffing crisis as absences DOUBLE in a fortnight and Covid admissions spike to 11-month high (so, how many staff are off sick at YOUR hospital?)
By Emily Craig, Health Reporter for MailOnline
Boris Johnson has been urged to call a Cobra meeting as the number of NHS workers in England absent due to Covid doubled in two weeks and the number of infected patients in hospital reached an 11-month high.
Nearly 25,000 staff were ill with the virus or self-isolating on Boxing Day, twice as high as the more than 12,000 stuck at home a fortnight earlier, NHS England statistics show.
And almost 28,000 Covid absences were recorded on December 23, the highest figure seen since NHS began publishing the data last month.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said the figures confirm ‘hospital and ambulance services are stretched to breaking point’. She urged Boris Johnson to call a Cobra meeting ‘without delay to thrash out a comprehensive rescue plan’.
The Prime Minister has so far resisted calls for new curbs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve but rising Covid case numbers are fuelling fears that new measures could be on the horizon.
UK Health Security Agency data yesterday showed more than 11,4000 Covid patients were in hospitals across England, the highest level since February. Daily infections skyrocketed to 189,213, however the figure was inflated by two days worth of data from Wales, and deaths fell by a third to 57.
However, just two-thirds the Covid patients in hospital on December 28 were under NHS care because they were unwell with the virus, while the remaining third just happened to test positive while in hospital, NHS England data shows.
British Medical Association chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned ongoing struggles to secure Covid tests was exacerbating the situation, with thousands of medics unable to turn up for shifts because they cannot get tested ‘at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures’.
And Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of rising Covid hospital admissions and illness alongside increasing numbers of frontline workers being off sick.
NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said it is ‘essential’ that frontline staff are kept in work over the next few weeks, as the health service sets up Nightingale surge hubs in case hospitalisations continue to surge.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recorded the highest number and proportion of Covid absences, with one in 16 staff members (1,144, 6.4 per cent) missing work due to the virus on December 26. Manchester University trust (835), Nottingham University Hospital trust (791), and Guy’s and St Thomas’ trust (568) recorded the next-highest number of Covid absences
NHS England data shows a total of 68,082 staff were off sick on Boxing Day, the latest date figures are available for.
More than a third of the absences (24,632) were because of Covid, up 31 per cent on the 18,829 who missed work because of the virus one week earlier.
Covid absences have more than doubled in a fortnight, with just 12,240 off because they were infected or isolating two weeks earlier on December 12.
Covid testing shortage could have a ‘devastating’ impact on patient care, doctors warn
Britain’s shortage of Covid swabs could have a ‘devastating’ impact on patient care in hospitals, leading doctors have warned.
Thousands of people are struggling to access lateral flow tests, which ran out again yesterday. Supply issues are expected to continue for another fortnight, with the problem having a knock-on effect on NHS staff and other vital parts of the economy.
The British Medical Association’s chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, warned the current system for ensuring doctors and medics receive the vital kits was ‘not working’.
He warned thousands of medics were unable to turn up for shifts because they could not get tested ‘at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures’. He called on ministers to prioritise NHS employees for access to the swabs.
Demand for Covid swabs has spiralled amid record-breaking cases, calls to take swabs before heading out for New Year’s Eve celebrations and after the Government changed self-isolation rules to allow Britons to leave three days early if they test negative on days six and seven.
Sajid Javid warned in a letter to MPs that supplies would likely be ‘constrained’ for another fortnight because of the ‘huge demand’ for tests.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recorded the highest number and proportion of Covid absences, with one in 16 staff members (1,144, 6.4 per cent) missing work due to the virus on December 26.
Manchester University trust (835), Nottingham University Hospital trust (791), and Guy’s and St Thomas’ trust (568) recorded the next-highest number of Covid absences.
But after Sheffield, Homerton University Hospital trust (5.7 per cent), Royal Papworth Hospital trust (5.1 per cent) and North Middlesex University Hospital trust (4.8 per cent) saw the highest proportion of their workforce stuck at home with the virus – around one in 20.
Lib Dem MP Ms Cooper said: ‘Today’s figures confirm the worst: hospital and ambulance services are stretched to breaking point under the weight of devastating Covid staff absences, just as the Government was warned.
‘The failure of ministers to act on these warnings means that hospitals are now creating surge hubs without having the staff to man them, whilst the Government is relying on a testing regime to control the virus without any tests.
‘It really is now or never for the Government to get a handle on a crisis that is quickly spiralling beyond their control.
‘Boris Johnson must call a Cobra meeting without delay to thrash out a comprehensive rescue plan.
‘People will be rightly angry with Johnson’s Government if they try to access urgent care or advice, only to be turned away or face waiting hours for an ambulance.
‘Our NHS is in desperate need of support. The Government must give this crisis the attention it deserves.’
Mr Johnson said opted not to impose new curbs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve but rising Covid case numbers are fuelling fears that new measures could be on the horizon.
He is expected to make a decision in the first week of the New Year on whether to restrict mixing indoors in England, according to The Times.
Adding to NHS staffing problems, demand for Covid swabs has spiralled amid record-breaking cases, calls to take swabs before heading out for New Year’s Eve celebrations and after the Government changed self-isolation rules to allow Britons to leave three days early if they test negative on days six and seven.
Thousands of people have been left struggling to access lateral flow tests. Supply issues are expected to continue for another fortnight, with the problem having a knock-on effect on staff and other vital parts of the economy.
BMA chair Dr Nagpaul warned the current system for ensuring doctors and medics receive the vital kits was ‘not working’.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.
‘For example, if a key worker is isolating and needs to have a negative PCR or lateral flow test on day six and seven, and cannot get access to them, they will not be able to return to work.’
Mr Taylor said the health service is setting up new Nightingale surge hubs and leaning on extra support from community services and virtual wards. ‘But there is no doubt the whole system is running hot,’ he said.
Mr Taylor added: ‘While the Government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation.’
NHS England boss Professor Powis said the NHS is also recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists to cope with the Omicron wave.
He added: ‘We don’t yet know the full scale of rising Omicron cases and how this will affect people needing NHS treatment but, having hit a 10-month high for the number of patients in hospital with Covid while wrestling with sharply increasing staff absences, we are doing everything possible to free up beds and get people home to their loved ones – and in the last week hundreds more beds were freed up each day compared to the week before.
‘The NHS is on a war footing, and, while staff remain braced for the worst, with Covid absence for NHS staff almost doubling in the past fortnight, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimising absence, will be essential in the next few weeks.’
Meanwhile, ministers have been warned they must be ready to apply restrictions ‘at pace’ as the NHS puts itself on an emergency footing to deal with a possible surge in Covid patients.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said trust leaders recognise that the UK Government’s threshold for introducing extra measures in England ‘hasn’t been crossed yet’ but that additional capacity is being created in case hospital pressures increase.
Government data shows the number of coronavirus patients in UK hospitals jumped by 44% week on week to 11,898 on Wednesday, the highest number since March 2.
In Scotland and Wales, nightclubs are closed to New Year’s Eve partygoers, and restrictions have been placed on hospitality.
But in England, ministers have opted to forgo measures beyond the UK Government’s Plan B, which includes mandatory Covid passes for large events, increased mask-wearing in public places and work from home guidance.
Mr Hopson, chief executive of the group which represents health trusts in England, said even if extra restrictions are put in place to control the Omicron variant, it will take two weeks to reduce the hospital admission rate.
He 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 into 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.
‘So, in terms of restrictions, I think we are in exactly the same place we’ve been for the past fortnight, which is the Government needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed.’
So-called Nightingale hubs are being established at some hospitals to deal with a ‘super-surge’ in Covid patients in a move that Mr Hopson said would require the NHS to ‘go into an emergency mode’ amid staff shortages, partly due to high coronavirus infections.
He said recently retired health workers and volunteers would be asked to staff the hubs, which would be used for patients ‘who are effectively over the worst’ and being readied for discharge.
It came as a leading scientist said it is likely that the NHS will be overwhelmed by the spread of Omicron.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think we haven’t quite reached the threshold that was set by Government in terms of the NHS being overwhelmed, but 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. How are they going to cope?’