Health officials have advised “stringent national measures” are needed by next weekend to avoid Covid hospitalisations surpassing last winter’s peak, according to a leaked document.
Health secretary Sajid Javid was warned by the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) on Tuesday that the new Omicron variant risks overwhelming the NHS even if it leads to less serious disease than Delta, The Guardian is reporting.
The paper has seen leaked advice from UKHSA for Mr Javid marked “official, sensitive”.
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It states: “The key point is that under a range of plausible scenarios, stringent action is needed on or before 18 December 2021 if doubling times stay at 2.5 days. Even if doubling times rise to around 5 days, stringent action is likely still needed in December.”
It adds: “The rapid spread of Omicron means that action to limit pressures on the health system might have to come earlier than intuition suggests.”
The calculations suggest that even if Omicron causes a less severe hospitalisation rate of 1% or 0.5% compared with Delta’s 1.5%, then “stringent national measures’” would be needed by 18 December at the latest, The Guardian reports.
The figures are said to be an estimate of Omicron prevalence and doubling times seen in the UK so far.
Number 10 has told The Guardian there are no imminent plans to bring in more measures.
But it comes on the same day as reports indicate Boris Johnson is now ‘considering bringing in new Plan C coronavirus restrictions’.
Although the specifics of ‘Plan C’ have not been laid out, it is understood that measures will go further with the reintroduction of having to check in with the NHS Covid app in pubs and restaurants.
One report in The Telegraph also suggested that measures could also include a return to table service in pubs and restaurants.
A review of the ‘Plan B’ measures is expected to take place on January 5.
And Michael Gove today said the UK faces a “deeply concerning situation” and the government has been presented with some “very challenging” information.
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The Communities Secretary chaired a Cobra meeting with UK leaders on Friday and warned that evidence suggests Omicron is “more likely” than past Covid-19 variants to “potentially” lead to hospital admissions among the fully vaccinated.
“We know that we have the highest number of Covid infections across the UK recorded today since January 9,” he later told broadcasters.
“We know the Omicron variant is doubling every two to three days in England, and possibly even faster in Scotland.
“We know that 30% of reported cases in London are the Omicron variant and of course we only identified Omicron in this country a fortnight ago.”
The Communities Secretary was asked about an expected Tory rebellion when the Plan B measures are put to a vote in the Commons next week.
He said he thought MPs would be balancing civil liberties considerations alongside the need to address that Omicron is “especially spreading in a way that means even those who are double vaccinated are more likely to succumb to this virus and find themselves ill, infected and potentially in hospital”.
He added: “Those facts mean that we do need to take action, and that’s why we’re bringing forward proposals to the House of Commons on Tuesday.
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“And I’m confident that people will examine these proposals seriously, soberly and thoughtfully, and I’m also confident people will conclude that, on balance, it is right to act.”
Speaking after chairing a Cobra meeting, Mr Gove said the current measures “absolutely” needed to be kept “under review”, but that he felt the approach taken was “proportionate”.
“We recognise the importance of balancing people’s ability to get on with their lives with the need to protect them from this virus,” he added.
Experts have warned the Omicron variant could become the dominant strain in the UK by mid-December.
Analysis of Omicron by the UKHSA also found two doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against Omicron when compared with the Delta variant.
But they said preliminary data showed vaccine effectiveness “considerably increased” in the early period after a booster dose, providing around 70% to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.
There had been a further 58,194 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, as of 9am on Friday.
An additional 448 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been reported, bringing the total number to 1,265.