The U.K. Health Security Agency, the successor organisation to Public Health England, is about to publish its first detailed analysis of Omicron which suggests it causes milder disease than the Delta variant. This will be helpful to those of us trying to persuade the Prime Minister not to impose any further restrictions, including half the Cabinet. The Telegraph has more.
The omicron coronavirus variant is causing a milder disease than the delta strain in most Britons, government scientists are expected to say today.
The U.K. Health Security Agency is set to publish real-world data on the severity of the disease, which is expected to say that more people are likely to have a mild illness with less serious symptoms.
The political site Politico reported the findings this morning. It says that while omicron seems milder overall, the UKHSA has found it is not necessarily mild enough to avoid large numbers of hospitalisations. The experts have found evidence that for those who do become severely ill, there is still a high chance of hospitalisation and death.
Given that the transmissibility of omicron is very high, there is the chance that even though it is milder, infections could soar to the point that large numbers end up in hospital .
On Wednesday, the health minister Gillian Keegan said there were 129 people in hospital with omicron and there had been 14 deaths. Asked on Sky News whether a circuit breaker lockdown could happen after Christmas, she said: “We are waiting for data on the severity, we’ll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can’t really say, you know.
“What we’ve said is up to Christmas we’re fine looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment, but, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data.”
Boris and his health ministers have consistently said they’ll be guided by the evidence about Omicron and won’t make a decision about whether to impose tighter rules after Christmas until they have more data. Well, now they have, and it suggests the SAGE modellers have got their predictions wrong – again. You can follow updates on the Telegraph’s live blog and read the scoop in Politico here.
MailOnline has also written about the forthcoming UKHSA report and points out that official figures yesterday revealed that Covid was mentioned on 764 death certificates registered in England and Wales in the week to December 10th – 4% down from the previous week and the lowest level since October. It also has an interview with a medical professor who says it looks like Omicron daily infections are flatlining.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that Mr. Johnson had made the right decision as he slammed the modelling.
He said: “It’s not all doom and gloom, it does look like Omicron has stopped growing. The numbers over the last few days seem to have plateaued and maybe even be falling.
“It’s a bit too soon to be absolutely sure about that, but if it is the case Boris Johnson will breathe a sigh of relief. We have to be a little bit careful because it’s only a few days.
“And because we’re getting closer to Christmas there is nervousness that people may not come forward for testing because they don’t want to test positive and miss out on meeting relatives.
“Omicron overtook the other variants around December 14 so most of any changes from there on would be down to Omicron. So if it was still doubling every two days that would have shown and we should have been at 200,000 cases yesterday and certainly more than 200,000 cases today.
“But the fact it has been around 91,000 raises the point that it might actually have peaked. But it will probably take until at least Wednesday to get an idea of a day that is not affected by the weekend. But I am more optimistic than I was a few days ago.
There were 1.49million tests conducted today which is down from 1.56 million last Wednesday, but Professor Hunter said the “relatively small drop” in testing would not hide a virus truly doubling every two days.
Latest hospital figures show there were 847 Covid admissions on December 17, up only 7% on the previous week. There were a further 172 Covid deaths today, up 14%.
In epicentre London the wave also appears to be slowing after 20,491 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, down slightly on yesterday’s tally of 22,750. It also marked the sixth day in a row cases have been above 20,000.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: The self-isolation period has been cut from 10 to seven days, yet more evidence that the authorities know Omicron is milder than previous variants. The Telegraph has more.
Stop Press: A new study by the Scotland-wide Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 suggests people who catch Omicron have a two-thirds lower risk of hospitalisation compared to people who catch Delta. The Telegraph has more.