‘Storm, not hurricane’- Omicron 50-70% less likely to result in hospitalisation than Delta

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Professor Andrew Hayward’s comments came as it emerged those infected with the latest Covid variant are 50-70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital than with Delta. A report from the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), showed yesterday that Omicron causes less severe disease, tallying with the findings of two other studies published a day earlier. 

But Prof Hayward, of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) warned “we’re definitely not out of the danger zone” because experts need to see how many older people are being infected. However, he said: “I think perhaps we can downgrade this from a hurricane to a very severe storm.”

Announcing the latest “very encouraging” data from the agency, Government scientists also said Omicron patients were 31-45 per cent less likely than Delta cases to attend hospital A&E units. And in a “Jingle Jab” campaign to ramp up protection against Omicron, NHS England is even offering people a Christmas Day booster vaccination.

Experts have found that while boosters helped ward off severe illness, protection against the strain started to wane by 15-25 per cent after 10 weeks – which may mean a fourth jab will be needed. But the priority remains still getting the nation boosted and encouraging the unvaccinated eight-to-nine per cent of the population to have the jab.

Despite the news Omicron is causing milder symptoms, scientists expressed caution, saying most of those in the UK with the variant are generally younger people.

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “Our latest analysis shows an encouraging early signal that people who contract the Omicron variant may be at a relatively lower risk of hospitalisation than those who contract other variants. However, it should be noted that this is early data and more research is required to confirm these findings.

“Cases are currently very high in the UK, and even a relatively low proportion requiring hospitalisation could result in a significant number of people becoming seriously ill.” She added: “The best way that you can protect yourself is to come forward for your first two doses of vaccine or your booster jab and do everything you can to stop onward transmission of the infection.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also warned that hospital admissions were increasing and said “we cannot risk the NHS being over- whelmed”.The UKHSA report said that as of December 20, 132 people with confirmed Omicron had been admitted to or transferred from emergency departments. More than 40 per cent of admissions were in London.

Of those admitted, 17 had received a booster jab, 74 had two doses and 27 people were not vaccinated. The jab status was unknown for six people, while eight had received a single dose. Some 14 people aged 52-96 were reported to have died within 28 days of an Omicron diagnosis.

UKHSA said there had been 16,817 additional confirmed UK Omicron cases, bringing the total to 90,906. Meanwhile, a further 119,789 lab-confirmed Covid cases were recorded in the UK yesterday, marking another record for daily reported cases. The Government said 147 more people had died within 28 days of testing positive.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show there have been 173,000 fatalities registered in the UK with Covid mentioned on the death certificate.

Government scientists say the UKHSA analysis is still early and highly uncertain because of the small number of Omicron hospital cases, inability to measure all previous infections effectively and the variant’s limited spread into older age groups. 

The new report tallies with analysis published on Wednesday by Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh. But UKHSA found the rate of people becoming infected with Omicron after having previously contracted Covid has increased sharply.

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So far, 9.5 per cent had already had Covid, which is likely to be a substantial underestimate of the proportion of reinfections. There are also not enough severe Omicron cases to analyse vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation, but the report said this was more likely to be sustained, particularly after a booster.

Meanwhile, NHS England said the booster rollout would continue today, tomorrow and Boxing Day. About 200,000 third jab appointments have been made available over the festive period. NHS staff and volunteers will give doses at scores of sites including town halls and pharmacies.

Booking in advance is advised, but there are options in some areas for people without appointments, including Eastbourne in East Sussex, Hartlepool, Co Durham, Croydon in south London, and Dewsbury, West Yorks. Dr Emily Lawson, head of the NHS Covid vaccination programme, said: “We’ve seen record after record broken in the run-up to the festive season.

Incredible “I want to thank every NHS staff member and volunteer whose goodwill and determination to protect their communities will keep the booster rollout going this Christmas weekend.”

Mr Javid praised the Jingle Jab teams yesterday, telling them: “You continue to be the very best of us. You achieve phenomenal things and I’m proud to call you colleagues.” NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS is nothing without its incredible staff.”

A total of 51,617,091 first doses of Covid vaccine had been delivered in the UK by December 22, according to official figures – a rise of 39,309 on the previous day. Some 47,210,053 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 53,154. A combined total of 31,684,926 booster and third doses have also been given – a day-on-day rise of 840,038.

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