Home Breaking News Worried Whitty tells people to pick the events they attend ‘carefully’

Worried Whitty tells people to pick the events they attend ‘carefully’

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England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told people to scale back their Christmas events and warned that Omicron ‘is going to be a problem’ after daily Covid cases rocketed to their highest ever level and Government scientists called for further restrictions. 

More than 78,000 people tested positive for Covid in the past 24 hours – a 50 per cent jump on last week, and eclipsing the previous record of 68,053 during the second wave in January. 

Just minutes after the surge was announced, Prof Whitty told a Downing Street press conference that ‘records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks’ by the new variant, which is now dominant in London. He also warned that thousands of people will be hospitalised this winter.

Omicron already makes up a third of cases, but grim Government modelling predicts that up to 400,000 people are getting infected by the strain every day. 

Public health chiefs are now calling for ‘Plan C’ curbs as they warn there could be 1million daily cases by next month and 4,000 hospital admissions – levels similar to those seen during the January shutdown. However, the projections are heavily disputed. 

Prof Whitty also appear to dismiss the only major real-world study of Omicron conducted in South Africa, which found that the variant causes a third fewer hospital admissions than the Delta strain. He said what is lacking currently is ‘clear data on some of the really key questions’ and that even if the new variant is milder, its ability to spread faster means there could still be an issue. 

He told the 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, deprioritising ones that matter much less to them.’

Asked about work Christmas parties, England’s chief medical officer said: ‘The risk of someone getting infected at something that doesn’t really matter to them and then not being able to do the things that do matter to them obviously goes up.’

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to refuse his own experts’s pleas for curbs beyond Plan B, telling reporters: ‘We think… this is the right approach to take, the right mixture of approaches, to do these two things at once.’

He added: ‘We’re not cancelling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix. What we are saying is think carefully before you go.’

Mr Johnson also hailed the Government’s booster drive, which saw 611,000 jabs dished out in the UK on Tuesday amid scenes of chaos and reports of people queueing outside vaccine clinics for five hours – and then only to be turned away. 

It comes as UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries warned the strain is ‘probably the most significant threat’ since the start of the pandemic as she said cases would be ‘staggering’ compared to what has gone before. 

And NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard doubled down on claims that Omicron could cause even more hospitalisations than previous waves.

In the latest twist and turn of the Covid crisis:

  • Prof Chris Whitty called for ‘serious caution’ over a raft of promising data which suggests Omicron may cause milder disease;
  • Boris Johnson angrily defended staff accused of hosting law-breaking parties in Downing Street during lockdown last year;
  • The Prime Minister announced that children aged 12 to 15 will be offered their second jab from Monday to tackle a ‘tidal wave of Omicron’;
  • But Ministers refused to guarantee that schools will reopen after Christmas, amid fears of a return to mass remote learning in January;
  • More than a quarter of Covid ‘patients’ currently occupying hospital beds are actually being treated for another condition, according to official data;
  • Britain’s booster jab campaign is off to a storming start with a record 611,000 Covid jabs being given out in a single day yesterday;
  • Public health chiefs and Royal Mail bosses announced plans to double the amount of lateral flow and PCR test deliveries in a bid to tackle the Covid test supply crisis.

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty attending a Downing Street press conference

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty attending a Downing Street press conference

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The above graph shows the proportion of cases suspected to be Omicron because they do not have an S-gene (purple). PCR tests look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them

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The above graph shows the proportion of cases suspected to be Omicron because they do not have an S-gene (purple). PCR tests look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them

51837953 0 image a 23 1639594568101 Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to refuse his own experts's pleas for curbs beyond Plan B

Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to refuse his own experts’s pleas for curbs beyond Plan B

Keir Starmer slams Boris over 100-strong Tory Covid curbs revolt in brutal PMQs clashes with fears rebel MPs would OUST him if he tried to impose lockdown over Omicron threat 

Keir Starmer slammed Boris Johnson over the mass Tory Covid revolt today amid fears he could be ousted if he tries to impose lockdown to combat the Omicron threat.

The Labour leader demanded Mr Johnson ‘gets his house in order’ and branded him ‘weak’ and the ‘worst PM at the worst possible time’ during brutal clashes at PMQs.

But Mr Johnson insisted the government is taking a ‘balanced and proportionate approach’, arguing that the Plan B measures were passed with ‘Conservatives votes’ – even though 100 of his own MPs opposed Covid passes.

The bitter exchanges came as Tories turned the screw on the premier, ordering him to ‘change’ amid open warnings that he could face a leadership challenge next year.

Although the measure went through thanks to Labour bailing Mr Johnson out, there are now serious questions about whether he has the political strength to crack down further.

Mr Johnson confirmed that he has bowed to demands that Parliament must be recalled for a vote before any further restrictions are brought in, saying the Commons will get a ‘further say’ if ‘further measures are needed’.

During the pandemic most curbs have been introduced by ministers and then only approved by MPs retrospectively, something that has added to the fury of sceptics.

One Cabinet source warned that the only way Tory MPs would support a tightening now was after ‘very clear evidence that Omicron is leading to hospitalisations and deaths’.

Daily coronavirus hospital admissions and deaths — both of which are lagging indicators — were up only slightly compared to last week, with 115 deaths (up 2.5 per cent) and 774 admissions (6 per cent). 

The UK Health Security Agency today announced another 4,671 lab-confirmed Omicron cases, bringing the official count to 10,017. This number is much lower than the real toll because only a small number of positive tests are analysed for variants.  

Asked about whether No10’s Plan B goes far enough, Professor Whitty said: ‘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 protect those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them.

He said people needed to ‘prioritise what matters’ in the run-up to Christmas and therefore ‘deprioritise other things’, adding: ‘You don’t need a medical degree to realise that is a sensible thing to do with an incredibly infectious virus.’ 

Professor Whitty said he would ‘strongly encourage’ people to take tests before visiting vulnerable people and to meet in areas of good ventilation or outdoors if possible. 

The CMO — a practicing NHS physician — admitted his own Christmas plans with family will be interrupted. 

He said: ‘Realistically, I think there’s a high chance that my original Christmas plans with family are going to be interrupted. I hope it’s not completely but we shall see.’

The country will also likely to lead to lots of people, including healthcare workers, being ill at the same time and forced off work, he warned. He said: ‘We may end up with quite substantial gaps in rotas at short notice.’

‘Given how much difficulty my health and social care colleagues have had over the last two years, saying that is pretty depressing, because they have really, really had to stand up and go back again and again.

‘The reality is this speed of onset is going to lead to lots of people getting ill simultaneously and we have to be realistic about that.’

Professor Whitty also warned against overinterpreting data from South Africa, where daily hospital admissions are running at just 370 per day and data suggests two-thirds fewer patients have severe illness.

He said: ‘The first caution on this is simply a numerical one – if the rate of hospitalisation were to halve but you’re doubling every two days, in two days you’re back to where you were before you actually had the hospitalisation.

‘If the peak of this is twice as great, then halving of the size of the hospitalisation rate, you still end up in the same place. And this peak is going very fast.’

He added: ‘The second point I wanted to make, which I’m not sure it’s fully been absorbed by everybody, is that the amount of immunity in South Africa for this wave – because of a prior Delta wave and vaccination – is far higher than it was for their last wave. And therefore the fact that there is a lower hospitalisation rate is unsurprising.’

Prof Whitty said: ‘That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible. But I just think there’s a danger people have over-interpreted this to say, this is not a problem and what are we worrying about?

‘I want to be clear, I’m afraid this is going to be a problem. Exact proportions of it, of course, South African scientists and UK scientists and scientists globally are trying to determine at the moment.’

Earlier, Dr Harries, chief exec at the UKHSA, warned that Omicron posed ‘probably the most significant threat we have had since the start of the pandemic’.

Despite modelling by her agency being widely disputed among scientists, she told MPs: ‘I am sure for example that the numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we have seen in cases for previous variants.

‘The real potential risk here and I would underline that because we are still learning a lot about the variant is in relation to its severity, clinical severity, and therefore whether those cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths.

‘We are still at too early a stage for that, in fact the world probably is still at too early a stage to be clear.

‘The difficulty is that the growth of this virus has a doubling time, doubling days, at the moment which is shortening, i.e. it is doubling faster, growing faster and in most regions in the UK it is now under two days.

‘When it started we were estimating about four or five. So if you think of that growth rate right across the UK and we are starting to see it and to feel it now in London particularly but yesterday particularly around Manchester and we are very sure there are levels growing across most communities in the UK now, although there is quite a lot of regional variation still.’ 

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She made the shocking claim that Omicron was doubling every 1.9 days — much faster than Delta at its peak, which was doubling every seven days.

Dr Harries said: ‘I think we now have so many cases across the community that that is less relevant and as I say in most areas it is now settling to somewhere around 1.9 days.

‘It is difficult to predict where it will go, it is a very unusual variant.’

It came after Professor Medley, who chairs the SPI-M modelling group that feeds into SAGE and has been heavily criticised in the past for over-egging Covid waves, said it was possible the NHS could be overwhelmed next month with the current curbs that are in place. 

Speaking in a personal capacity, Professor Medley told BBC Radio 4 it is ‘very hard to predict in real time exactly what’s happening on any day, but it’s certainly true that the numbers of infections primarily with Omicron is increasing, and has been increasing quite dramatically’.

He added: ‘We’re probably now at the level that we have been at the past, sort of back in January, and it does look as though it’s going to continue beyond that and go over it.’

Professor Medley said there is not currently any good information on the severity of Omicron but added: ‘We are a population in a very different position to this time last year, in the sense that the majority of people have been vaccinated and there has been much infection since then, so there is much more immunity…

‘The fact that we are much more immune than we were generally means that the virus will appear to be much less severe.

‘So, individually, we have a much lower risk but the numbers of infections means that even though individually we’re at less risk, at a population level (the) number of people ending up in hospital could get very large.’

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast the wave of Omicron is just taking off across the country.

Is London taking ITSELF into lockdown? 

Parts of London’s West End were effectively in lockdown today as theatre shows were suspended and pubs and restaurant suffered a wave of cancellations triggered by mounting fears over the new Covid variant sweeping the capital.

Big-budget productions from The Lion King at the Lyceum to Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre halted performances due to virus outbreaks among their cast and crew – a decision which is costing producers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Comedy Of Errors at the Barbican and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in Wembley were also cancelled, while the National Theatre postponed a preview of Hex after a lead actor caught the virus.

Others which have been suspended include The Rhythmics at Southwark Playhouse, Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse and Fair Play at the Bush Theatre. Moulin Rouge at Piccadilly Theatre also suspended shows but has now restarted.

Restaurants and pubs in the West End have been left ‘devastated’ by people cancelling bookings due to fears over the spread of the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant, which has become the dominant Covid strain in London.

He said: ‘The wave is coming very fast and in fact alarmingly fast – if anything faster than ever. So it really is a race at the moment.

‘The more immunity that we’ve all got the less of a problem this is going to be, but I’m afraid it is going to be a serious problem either way.’

Professor Finn said it is not up to him to say what regulations should be put on the population, but added: ‘I think I can certainly encourage people to do everything they can to minimise spread of the virus during this critical period and, of course, a lot of that can be done voluntarily without anyone imposing rules on people.

‘We all know now what the things are that we can do. We can avoid social contact, we can minimise contact at work, we can wear masks and really importantly, do lateral flow tests and check that you aren’t showing signs of infection on a test before you go into a crowded place where you might infect other people.’

Professor Finn said he is ‘very concerned’ about the current number of daily infections, adding that we are ‘going to see the numbers of people becoming ill and needing hospital care beginning to rise steadily now over the next week and maybe over Christmas as well’. 

But he said boosters take effect in the body quickly, adding: ‘It does come through very fast because you’ve got immunological memory, you’ve seen the antigen before from your previous doses, so the level of protection goes up pretty quick.’ 

Despite pressure from within his own scientific ranks, Mr Johnson is not expected to announce new Covid curbs tonight after he defended the current Plan B restrictions as ‘proportionate’ in the Commons this afternoon at Prime Minister’s Questions.

There are questions about whether the PM would even be able to push through more stringent curbs, given that nearly 100 Tories rebelled against Plan B in a stinging blow to his authority.   

‘I respect and understand the legitimate anxieties that colleagues have about restrictions on …liberties,’ Johnson told parliament during its weekly prime minister’s questions session.

‘But I believe that the approach that we are taking is balanced and proportionate and right for this country,’ he said, adding that he would continue to ‘get on with the job’ when asked if he would resign. 

Ms Sturgeon has said the backbench rebellion by Tory MPs was ‘dangerous’ as it could undermine Boris Johnson’s ability to make tough decisions on the pandemic.

The First Minister questioned whether Mr Johnson had the authority from his own party to pass measures to tackle coronavirus. 

Scotland has had mandatory masks in most indoor settings for months and on Tuesday Ms Sturgeon advised people to limit socialising to just three households.

The Welsh Government has also warned it could announce some further Covid restrictions for the Christmas period due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

There is also growing pressure on Mr Johnson to enforce local lockdown curbs in London, which has quickly become England’s Omicron capital.  

Professor Tim Spector said infections in London were now rising at their fastest rate since the first wave. The above graph shows the app's estimates for cases in the city, and reveals they are ticking up at about the same rate as when Delta emerged

Professor Tim Spector said infections in London were now rising at their fastest rate since the first wave. The above graph shows the app’s estimates for cases in the city, and reveals they are ticking up at about the same rate as when Delta emerged

This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England's regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions

This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England’s regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions

The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase

The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase 

Covid cases in London are surging upwards amid the spread of the Omicron variant which now makes up more than 50 per cent of daily infections in the city. Case numbers are the highest they have been since January

Covid cases in London are surging upwards amid the spread of the Omicron variant which now makes up more than 50 per cent of daily infections in the city. Case numbers are the highest they have been since January

Patient hospital admissions with Covid in London are also beginning to rise, but this is a lagging indicator because of the time taken for someone who has caught the virus to fall seriously ill

Patient hospital admissions with Covid in London are also beginning to rise, but this is a lagging indicator because of the time taken for someone who has caught the virus to fall seriously ill

Covid deaths in the capital are still flat. But these are also lagging indicators

Covid deaths in the capital are still flat. But these are also lagging indicators

Transport Secretary warns it is ‘inevitable’ that people will need three jabs to go on holiday 

Britons wanting to holiday abroad next year will ‘inevitably’ require a third Covid jab to be allowed into destination countries, Grant Shapps revealed today.

The Transport Secretary said nations including G7 members like the US, France and Italy, all popular with millions of UK tourists, were likely to make it an entry requirement in 2022.

The booster jab is also likely to become a domestic requirement to be classed as fully vaccinated within Britain, with ministers saying rules will be updated as soon as people have had a reasonable chance to get it.

Mr Shapps told Sky News this morning: ‘I speak to my opposite numbers in other countries – transport secretaries from around the world – particularly from the G7 this year, which we are hosting.

‘They are saying ”look we are going to switch to requiring people to have that third jab” before they are able to come into their countries so eventually it becomes inevitable because other countries will require it for us.

‘I don’t know what that time will be – not this year.’

Meanwhile travellers currently detained in quarantine hotels in the UK will be told later today when they will be released.

Jonathan Mogford, the senior responsible officer for the managed quarantine service at the UK Health Security Agency, was questioned about reports some people were fleeing the hotels after the red list was scrapped in England at 4am.

Mr Mogford told the Commons Transport Committee: ‘The standard practice has been that if you have started hotel quarantine you need to complete it.

‘For this de-listing, where Omicron has moved unexpectedly fast, we want to release people early.

‘We are sorting out the arrangements for that as quickly as possible, we need to make sure we are not releasing Covid or Omicron-positive guests immediately.’

A spokesman for the London mayor suggested yesterday that they would support more restrictions for the capital, saying it is better to ‘act now’. But Tories called on ministers to rely on the ‘vaccine shield’.

Hospitalisations in London have also started to tick upwards, rising 50 per cent in a fortnight. But the raw numbers still stand at around 150 a day, compared to nearly 1,000 during the darkest days of the capital’s second wave in January. Deaths remain flat at around 10 a day.

These are lagging indicators, however, because of the time taken for someone who catches the virus to fall seriously ill and be admitted to hospital, meaning the worst of the rapid spread — which has yet to show any signs of slowing down — won’t be felt until the New Year. 

Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who runs the country’s largest Covid symptom study, claimed that hospitalisations in London are now surging at their fastest rate since the end of the first wave of the pandemic.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we look at our regional charts, we see London really accelerating more than we have really seen it anytime since the first wave.’

But figures from his own Covid Symptom Study, which has more than a million daily contributors, suggest Covid cases in the capital are not rising faster than last winter when the Alpha variant took hold.

During the first month of the Omicron wave cases in the capital have risen by almost a third, the study says, from 7,626 to 9,856 estimated daily infections.

But during the first month of the Alpha wave last winter Covid infections surged by 71 per cent from 7,694 to 13,228 daily infections. When Delta emerged the app estimates cases also rose by a third from 6,483 to 8,380. 

Separate data from the Department of Health’s Covid dashboard also shows cases in the capital are not rising faster than when Delta or Alpha took hold.

It suggests cases in the capital have doubled since the Omicron wave began, with the seven-day average for cases rising from 3,024 to 6,119.6 daily infections.

But when Alpha took hold it shows infections quadrupled over the same period from 1,985 to 10,725. And when the Delta wave began they rose three-fold from 243 to 954. 

The beginning of the waves was set as the low-point in infections before they spiralled. 

For the ZOE Symptom Study app, this was November 11 for the Omicron wave, June 13 for Delta and December 2 last year for Alpha. And for the Department of Health figures this was November 4 for Omicron, May 14 for Delta and November 23 last year for Alpha. 

Covid infections are rising from a higher base now than when Alpha took hold, which may explain why the new variant is not causing cases to spiral as quickly.

More Britons also have immunity against the virus now than when Delta and Alpha emerged through either vaccination or past infection, which may also be helping to slow the spread of the virus.   

Doctors on the frontlines in South Africa had suggested Omicron was triggering more mild disease among patients.

Britain out of lateral flow tests: Grant Shapps blames ‘distribution issues’ as website says there are ‘no delivery slots’ left and pharmacies are told they can’t have extra swabs despite entire cities running out 

Grant Shapps today blamed ‘distribution issues’ on the lack of lateral flow tests as the Government website revealed delivery slots had run out and pharmacies were told they couldn’t have extra swabs despite entire cities running out.

In an uncomfortable interview with Sky News, the Transport Secretary today claimed there are enough lateral flow tests to go around – despite the Government’s own website yesterday saying there were ‘no tests available to order for home delivery’.

Instead he said the issue had been getting the tests out to people. Mr Shapps said health chiefs were working with Royal Mail, Amazon and other delivery firms to get tests out to homes and pharmacies.

Squirming as he answered a question from Sky New’s Kay Burley, he said: ‘Just on lateral flow tests, which actually, uniquely, in that as far as I can see there aren’t other countries that have been supplying these free of charge to their citizens, major economies haven’t generally been doing this, and we have in this country, you are right, particularly since the new measures, the booster programme, asking people to be testing, came in, it can be difficult at different times of day to get those.

Official figures from the country showed that although hospitalisations rose at a similar level to when Delta took hold, there were fewer people on ventilators and in the emergency units.

But it is yet to be clear whether the variant is more mild because more people now have immunity against the virus than when Delta took hold. 

South Africa has a lower vaccination rate than the UK with 25 per cent of people double-jabbed, but most have already caught the virus there. Experts warn it is difficult to make comparisons between the two countries because in South Africa most people are young, whereas the UK has a much older population.

Professor Spector said: ‘Omicron is the predominant variant already [in the capital] and will be at 100 per cent very soon, that’s happened in just a matter of days really and that’s why so many people are going down with infections.’

He added: ‘We’re also tracking non-Covid viruses and currently across the country it is about one in four. 

‘[But] in London where Covid is increasing rapidly it is far more likely to be Covid than it is to be a cold.’ 

On Omicron’s symptoms, Professor Spector said: ‘The majority of symptoms are just like a common cold, so we’re talking about headaches, sore throat , runy nose, fatigue, and things like sneezing. 

‘Things like fever and cough and loss of smell are actually now in the minority of symptoms that we’re seeing.’

He said there were ‘no real differences’ between Covid symptoms currently being reported in London now and those from a month ago before Omicron took hold.

Asked whether the virus was triggering more severe disease, he said: ‘We are not seeing any severe disease, we are not seeing any unusual symptoms that people have reported in South Africa.

‘It’s looking very similar, it’s looking very respiratory. It’s looking mild at the moment and it’ll be a while before we know exactly how mild because most of the cases are still in the young.

‘But we are getting breakthrough infections in people who are having two or three vaccinations, and that’s more than we saw before.

‘When we look at regions with high and low Omicron we are seeing more breakthrough infections in London where there is high Omicron.’ 

London could soon face more restrictions, reports suggest, as ministers mull over ‘Plan C’ measures introducing more curbs on people’s daily lives. 

A spokesman for the mayor Sadiq Khan said yesterday: ‘Cases of Omicron are rising sharply in London and with so much at stake, it is better that we act now to safeguard the public and help reduce pressures on NHS services.

‘Londoners will see vaccine centres working around the clock, more local pop-up sites coming online near them, and [the Mayor] will use all of our resources at City Hall to ensure that all of London’s communities are encouraged to take up this lifesaving vaccine. 

‘I’ve never been more concerned about the pandemic than I am tonight’: WHO Covid-19 envoy warns of ‘unprecedented’ spread of Omicron after Britain records highest ever daily cases tally since the pandemic began

A senior official in the World Health Organisation has warned he has ‘never been more concerned about Covid-19 than I am tonight’.

Special envoy on Covid-19 to the WHO Dr David Nabarro said the spread of the Omicron variant was ‘unprecedented’ and presents ‘ serious’ issue for not only the UK but ‘Europe and the World’.

He called on ‘every single human being’ to do ‘everything they can’ to minimise social contacts, wear facemasks and practice good hygiene to prevent transmission of the super-mutant strain.

It comes after Britain today announced its highest ever daily Covid cases since the pandemic began with 78,610 people testing positive in the past 24 hours.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Professor Chris Whitty this evening delivered a stark warning over the need to think twice before attending Christmas parties, warning Omicron already makes up a third of cases and that Government modelling predicts up to 400,000 people are getting the mutant virus every day.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Nabarro echoed Professor Whitty’s warning about Christmas parties and urged ‘every single human being’ to ‘minimise [social] contact to what is absolutely essential… only do what is vital.’

Dr Nabarro said the Omicron variant is spreading ‘superfast’ and that the strain has ‘a doubling time of numbers of cases every two to three days’.

‘That means that [Omicron] will be eight times more serious in one week. Forty times more serious in two weeks. Three hundred or four hundred times more serious in three weeks. Over a thousand times more serious in four weeks.’

He warned the escalating caseload, including many people who have had both vaccinations, will add stress to already overworked health systems worldwide.

‘If we are lucky then we won’t have high death rates but we will still get a very heavy load on health services and therefore on hospitals,’ he said.

Dr Nabarro said he could not predict the potential case or death toll from the latest variant and added it would not be ‘helpful’ to speculate.

He described any prediction as ‘just me expressing my hopes to you’ and warned ‘nobody has’ the information to predict how many people will get Omicron in the coming weeks.

Wuhan lab leak ‘is now the most likely origin of Covid because Beijing tried to cover it up’ and it is ‘reasonable to believe virus was engineered in China’, Harvard scientist tells MPs

The Wuhan lab leak is now the most likely origin of the coronavirus pandemic because Beijing tried to cover it up, MPs were told today.

Harvard scientist Dr Alina Chan told the Science and Technology Select Committee that it is ‘reasonable’ to believe that Covid was genetically engineered in China.

She also said that the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up of the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago and attempts to sabotage the World Health Organisation’s inquiry into the origins of the pandemic made the lab-leak theory likely.

Tory peer Lord Ridley, who has co-authored a book on the origin of the virus with Dr Chan, said the fact that experts have still not found the animal host that would support a natural origin despite two years of research supports claim that Covid came from a lab. 

Recent revelations of China’s attempted cover-up have forced British and US intelligence officials to take seriously the lab-leak hypothesis, once dismissed as a crank conspiracy theory. 

However, the bombshell allegations are likely to heap pressure on the UK Government to challenge Beijing’s assurances that the virus came from the natural world. They are also likely to raise further questions about the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the WHO, which last year was accused of publishing a whitewash report into the outbreak. 

Virologist Shi Zheng-li works with her colleague in the P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei province

Virologist Shi Zheng-li works with her colleague in the P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei province

A May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three scientists from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the outbreak

A May 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal cited an undisclosed intelligence report detailing how three scientists from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the outbreak

Dr Chan told MPs: ‘I think the lab origin is more likely than not. Right now, it’s not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward. 

‘But we live in an era where there is so much information being stored that it will eventually come out. We have heard from many top virologists that a genetically-engineered origin is reasonable, and that includes virologists who made modifications to the first SARS virus.’ 

During the same session, the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton was forced to explain why he allowed the publication of a letter denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy, despite its lead author having financial affiliations to the WIV. 

Mr Horton said he found out about Dr Peter Daszak’s link ‘very quickly’ after the Lancet published the letter in February last year.

Dr Daszak persuaded 26 other scientists to sign off on the letter he had written claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise creates ‘fear, rumours, and prejudice’. 

But the EcoHealth Alliance boss was revealed to have been funneling US tax-payer funds into the Wuhan lab, which investigated and modified coronaviruses before the pandemic.

The Lancet published an addendum to the letter in June this year – 16 months after it was initially published – acknowledging Dr Dazak’s competing interests.

NHS is urged to STOP counting thousands of Covid ‘patients’ who are actually being treated for other illnesses: Data shows a QUARTER of infected Brits in hospital were admitted for different conditions such as road accidents

More than a quarter of Covid ‘patients’ currently occupying hospital beds are actually being treated for another condition, according to official data that has prompted calls for the NHS to change how it counts admissions in the face of Omicron.

Health service statistics show there were 5,697 beds taken up by people who had tested positive for the virus on December 7, the latest date available.

But 4,214 of them (74 per cent) were primarily being treated for the virus, with the remaining suffering from other illnesses or injuries. These could include a fall, broken leg, or even new mothers who tested positive after giving birth.

And older people, who are more at risk from the virus, made up a smaller proportion of the patients in hospitals because of the success of the country’s vaccination drive, figures also showed.

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The above graph shows the number of Covid patients being treated in hospital (yellow line) and the proportion of these patients for whom their primary reason for admission was Covid (red line). It reveals a quarter of Covid patients are actually receiving treatment for something else, such as a fall

Campaigners today called on the NHS to stop inflating Covid admissions by including patients who were initially brought in for something else such as an accident, saying they should ‘obviously’ be removed from the figures so that they can’t be skewed upwards.

Hospital numbers are a key metric weighed up by ministers to determine if tougher Covid curbs are needed, now that vaccines have taken most of the emphasis away from crude infection numbers.

Grim SAGE modelling presented to the Government has already warned hospitalisations could hit levels not seen since the darkest depths of the second wave last January. NHS England’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard today told MPs that early signs show the incoming Omicron wave could be ‘bigger’.

No10 has already caved in to demands for Plan B restrictions, which saw work from home guidance reintroduced, face masks reimposed and the tightening up of self-isolation rules for close contacts of Covid cases.

Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a record high after 78,610 people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours, the most ever in a single day. Hospitalisations rose seven per cent after 774 more admissions were reported.

Covid Pass fail! Sports fans say stadium staff are BARELY checking new compulsory vaccine status codes or negative test results – as they are waved through to their seats despite supposed crackdown

Sports fans have claimed there were ‘no real checks’ being made on their vaccination status or negative lateral flow tests as the Government’s mandatory Covid passes rule for large events and nightclubs came into force today.

Thousands of spectators have been descending upon the nations’ sporting venues in their droves tonight to watch Arsenal play West Ham at London’s Emirates Stadium and Crystal Palace face Southampton at Selhurst Park Stadium, in Croydon.

Long queues were also seen snaking around The American Express Community Stadium in Brighton as fans arrived for the Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers football game.

But have some sporting fans have now claimed their Covid passes were ‘barely’ checked despite the supposed crackdown.

Sporting fans were seen gathering outside Selhurst Park Stadium to watch Crystal Palace face Southampton

Sporting fans were seen gathering outside Selhurst Park Stadium to watch Crystal Palace face Southampton

Supporters show their Covid passes to a steward as they arrive to watch  Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers at The American Express Community Stadium

Supporters show their Covid passes to a steward as they arrive to watch  Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers at The American Express Community Stadium

The large gatherings tonight come after MPs approved approved mandatory Covid passes at sporting events with more than 10,000 fans under new ‘Plan B’ guidelines to tackle the rise in the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

Under the new rules, adults in England will have to prove they are fully jabbed or have had a recent negative Covid test before they can go to venues where large crowds gather.

Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme.

A negative PCR or rapid lateral flow test, or exemption from vaccination, will also be sufficient under the requirement.

Venues could be fined up to £10,000 for failing to check passes, while the faking of a pass could also attract the same penalty.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10312029/Omicron-hotspot-London-seeing-Covid-cases-rise-faster-wave.html