Covid-19: Cabinet ministers briefed on latest UK data as Omicron surgeson December 18, 2021 at 2:46 pm

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It comes as London’s mayor warns cases numbers are impacting the city’s emergency services.

Woman on Tube

Image source, Reuters

Cabinet ministers are being briefed on the latest Covid data, the BBC has been told, as the Omicron variant surges across the UK.

The UK’s daily cases record was broken for a third consecutive day on Friday, with another 93,000 reported.

Since then, 10,059 new UK Omicron cases have been found – but the true numbers are likely to be far higher.

The mayor of London has warned he is “incredibly concerned” by the level of Covid infection in the city.

Sadiq Khan said Friday’s 26,000 new cases were having an impact on staff absences in the city’s emergency services.

Latest government data has shown there are 1,534 Covid patients in London hospitals – up 28.6% on last week – with around 200 new admissions per day.

It comes after ministers were warned England’s hospital admissions could reach 3,000 a day without new measures.

Mr Khan said: “The big issue we have is the number of Londoners who have this virus and this is leading to big issues in relation to staff absences and the ability of our public services to run at the optimal levels.

“I’m incredibly concerned about the number of Londoners with this variant but also the impact on our hospitals.

“Hospital admissions are now going up as well.”

Covid hospital admissions chart

The World Health Organization has said the Omicron variant has been identified in at least 89 countries – and is spreading significantly faster than the Delta strain.

It is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, it added.

In England, modelling indicates hospital admissions could peak at at least 3,000 a day without intervention measures beyond the Plan B rules currently in place, advisers from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said in the leaked minutes of a meeting held on Thursday.

The current Plan B rules for England include Covid passes for certain events, face masks in more places and people being urged to work from home if they can.

The other nations of the UK have already brought in similar rules – and Scotland has gone further by asking people to limit social contact to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas. Wales has also ordered nightclubs to close from 27 December.

Omicron is now thought to now be the dominant variant in England and Scotland, replacing Delta.

On Friday, the UK saw another record number of daily Covid cases for the third consecutive day, with more than 93,000 infections announced.

But there were also a record 861,306 booster and third dose jabs announced – the highest daily total so far.

UK Covid data graphic

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Prof Neil Ferguson, who is a government adviser but was not involved in Thursday’s Sage meeting, said the true number of infections was likely to be much higher than those reported – and might be 300,000 a day.

On hospital admissions, he said there had been a significant surge in the London region, which was ahead of the rest of the country in terms of the spread of Omicron.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme in a personal capacity, he also said there were concerns “we’ll be heading into something which has the risk of overwhelming the public health service”.

The Liberal Democrats said the government needed to “come clean with the public about what Omicron means for Christmas”.

The party’s health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “Ministers must act now to protect NHS staff and ensure that urgent NHS services are available to everyone over the Christmas period.

“The government should explain what additional public health protections are needed to bring the NHS back from the brink of collapse, and urgently get support to struggling businesses.”

‘Brutal’

Hannah Essex, co-exec director at the British Chamber of Commerce, told BBC Breakfast that further restrictions would need to come with a package of support for businesses.

She said the last 20 months had been “absolutely brutal” for businesses and doing nothing was not an option.

“They were just starting to see things pick up and this is the point at which we could see them fall over the edge. And that would be such a terrible shame and will inevitably lead to job losses as well,” she added.

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