UK COVID-19 infections hit 2.3 million before Christmas according to the latest official data – as a new analysis has highlighted the importance of booster injections in the fight against Omicron.
Infection figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an increase of 1.4 million during the week to Dec. 23 – the highest since comparable records began in fall 2020.
At the same time, a study by the UK Health and Safety Agency (UKHSA) found the reduced effect of vaccines as Omicron spreads – with even a double dose of AstraZeneca not having no effect against symptomatic infection of the variant from 20 weeks after the second stroke.
For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the efficacy fell to 10% after the same period.
But the boosters still offered good protection against hospitalization, according to the UKHSA analysis, achieving an 81% reduction in risk after a third jab.
The study also showed that the risk of hospitalization for the now dominant Omicron variant was about one-third that of Delta.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid highlighted part of the analysis showing unvaccinated people were up to eight times more likely to end up in hospital with COVID-19 than people who had recently received a reminder.
The ONS infection survey showed infection rates have increased in all four of the UK countries. He also showed that:
• In London, around one in 15 people was likely to test positive for COVID in the week to December 23, the highest proportion of any region in England. The lowest proportion in England, at 1 in 45, was the North East.
• The overall infection rate for England was one in 25, while it was one in 40 for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The rates for England and Scotland are the highest since the records began.
• In England, infections were highest among two age groups, each dominated by a different variant: those aged two to six – more likely to be Delta cases; and those aged 25 to 34 – more likely to be Omicron.
The ONS figures were released on Friday along with a host of other pandemic data. They showed:
• The number of COVID patients hospitalized in England rose to 11,452 on Thursday, the highest level since February 26.
• On December 28, the proportion of COVID-19 patients in English hospitals who were treated primarily for the virus was 67%, up from 71% a week earlier and 74% in early December.
• The total number of people treated primarily for the coronavirus was still increasing – up 26% from the previous week to 5,578 – but there was a 51% increase in the number of patients with COVID-19 but mainly processed for something else, at 2,743.
• 24,632 staff in NHS hospital trusts were sick with the coronavirus or had to self-isolate on Boxing Day, up 31% from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.
• NHS England said more than three-quarters of eligible adults – 28 million people – had received their booster injection by December 30.
A “perfect storm”
Matthew Taylor, CEO of the NHS Confederation, said the health service was facing a “perfect storm” of increasing hospital admissions and COVID-related illnesses, alongside increasing absences from the staff.
“The NHS plans to strengthen patients again with the new Nightingale surge hubs, additional support from community services and virtual services, but there is no doubt the whole system is on,” he said. he declares.
“While the government appears determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital that we all behave in a way that does not exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”
NHS England National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘The NHS is on a war footing and, while staff remain prepared for the worst, the lack of COVID for NHS staff has nearly doubled in the past. over the past fifteen weeks, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimizing absences will be essential in the coming weeks. “
‘There is hope’
An expert said he hoped a high spike in the number of cases could now mean “relatively few” by the end of January.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told Sky News: ‘We know that any infectious disease that spreads very quickly peaks very early, peaks high, and then usually drops quite a bit. quickly to the other side.
“There is hope that it would peak and drop quickly. I don’t think it’s a lost hope. But I certainly don’t think we can guarantee that it will happen.”
Professor Hunter added that after the current peak the virus appeared to be on the verge of becoming an “endemic infection which will be here forever” but which “will almost certainly not cause, the severity of the disease, the pressure on the beds of hospitals, that we are. seeing “.
In South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified, a midnight to 4 a.m. curfew has been lifted as the government believes the country has passed the peak of its latest wave of infections.
Analysis by Ashish Joshi, Health Correspondent
The absence of staff is the biggest challenge the NHS currently faces as it battles through the winter.
These absences impact hospitals, ambulance services and all community health facilities, including mental health.
This adds to the enormous pressure the NHS is already under.
The workload continues to increase with hospitalizations, emergency visits and attempts to cope with the growing waiting list for planned care.
And all this before taking into account the most ambitious vaccination program in the history of the NHS.
There’s better news with inpatient discharge: more are sent home when medically fit and bed occupancy is stable.
But the next few weeks will be crucial in deciding how this stage of the pandemic unfolds.
We have a record number of infections and these will result in hospitalizations and deaths.
The vaccine will help bring those numbers down, but there will always be an increase.
Plans are in place to deal with an increase, if any, but the beds need staffing.
This is why tonight’s New Years celebrations are raising real concerns and the potential for a new wave of infections.