119,789 new COVID-19 have been recorded in the UK in the latest 24-hour period – the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. Furthermore, another 16,817 cases of the Omicron strain of the virus have been detected, with the total number of Omicron cases found in Britain now at 90,906.
UK medics have issued a plea to citizens to keep Christmas celebrations small and exercise caution amid fears that National Health Service (NHS) staff might become overwhelmed, reported The Guardian.
Professor Stephen H. Powis, national medical director for England in the National Health Service (NHS) voiced concern over the “worrying, high and rising” number of hospital staff absent from work because of the coronavirus.
New official figures show 24,855 days of NHS staff absences due to COVID-19 in the week ending 19 December.
“The NHS is on a war footing and staff are taking the fight to Omicron, by boosting hundreds of thousands of people each day, treating thousands of seriously ill Covid patients and delivering urgent care for other conditions, all while seeing a worrying, high and rising increase in absence due to Covid,” Powis was cited as saying.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, was quoted as warning that the medical service was facing “a double emergency” amid soaring numbers of staff calling in sick and hospitalisations increasing due to infections surging.
A further 119,789 COVID-19 cases were recorded in the UK on 23 December, setting another new daily record. Furthermore, a total of 90,906 Omicron cases have by now been identified in the country.
Despite early scientific evidence suggesting that the Omicron strain of COVID-19 is milder, albeit possibly more transmittable, than Delta, this alone may not stop a surge in hospitalizations.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) released a study showing that people infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are between 31% and 45% less likely to go to Accident &Emergency as compared with those having contracted the Delta strain. They are also 50% to 70% less likely to require admission to hospital.
Meanwhile, according to minutes from a 20 December meeting of the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) published on Thursday, the Omicron variant would have to be about 90% less severe for hospital admissions not to surge to previously recorded peak levels.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that whatever early studies might suggest regarding Omicron, the NHS could still find itself come under serious pressure amid the festive season.
“We still don’t have conclusive data in terms of what impact Omicron could have in terms of level of hospitalisations. We have some very early studies, but it’s a bit like trying to predict the result of a football game when you’re only a third of the way through,” Hopson said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He added that the coming days would “present a huge test for the NHS on many fronts – coping with Covid-19, handling emergencies, working on the backlog where possible, and delivering boosters.”
Cited data shows that 81,880 out of 89,991 adult beds in NHS hospitals were full in England on 19 December.
Imperial College epidemiologist Prof Neil Fergusonhailed the new research as “clearly good news to a degree.” However, he cautioned that the speed with which Omicron was spreading could translate into hospitalisations “in numbers that could put the NHS in a difficult position”.
According to the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, while the UKHSA findings are “promising”, coronavirus cases were rising at an “extraordinary rate”, rendering it still “too early to determine next steps”.
UK’s ‘Finely Balanced’ Situation
This comes as the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already set in place a so-called Plan B encouraging people to work from home whenever possible and imposing mandatory face coverings on public transport, in shops and other indoor spaces.
In addition, a COVID-19 pass confirming vaccination is now mandatory for visiting crowded places across the UK, with daily testing required for those who may have come into contact with carriers of the coronavirus.
Johnson had faced the largest Tory revolt of his time in office on 15 December when a total of 99 Conservatives voted against his “Plan B” on tougher COVID-19 rules for England. On Tuesday, the PM said that no new measures to curb the spread of the virus will be announced before Christmas Day.
In a video message, Boris Johnson said that the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”.
When the UK Health Secretary was asked for “clarity” regarding potential rule changes, Sajid Javid replied: “We do have clarity, the government has taken action already – the so-called Plan B. We’re clear that there’s no need for any kind of further restrictions of any type before Christmas but of course we will keep the situation under review.”