New Covid warning as Omicron subvariants set to fuel sharp rise in hospitalisations


HOSPITAL cases with Covid are expected to peak higher than the Omicron waves in early 2022, a health chief fears.

As the virus has made a return, Dame Jenny Harries urged people to “go about their normal lives” but in a “precautionary way”.

The UK Health Security Agency chief executive told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “It doesn’t look as though that wave has finished yet, so we would anticipate that hospital cases will rise. 

“And it’s possible, quite likely, that they will actually peak over the previous BA.2 wave.

“But I think the overall impact, we won’t know. It’s easy to say in retrospect, it’s not so easy to model forward.”

While a recent study found that the new Omicron subvariants are more ‘stealthy’ when it comes to immunity, the jabs still protect against severe disease and death, and as with other Omicron strains, the new subvariants appear to cause less severe illness.

In the first Omicron wave – caused by the BA.1 strain – starting December 2021, hospital admissions reached up to 2,000 per day.

After a dip in case load thanks to booster jabs, then came the BA.2 wave in spring, which led to highs of 2,300 a day in April.

Currently, 1,300 people are admitted each day in the UK due to this virus.

The most people admitted to hospital with Covid on any one day was almost 4,000 in January 2021, when the Alpha (Kent) variant took hold.

Dame Harries said the majority of cases in the UK now are BA.4 and BA.5.

The latter is “really pushing and driving this current wave”, she said. 

The latest figures showed Covid-19 infections in the UK had jumped by more than half a million in a week (32 per cent).

A total of 2.3 million people across the UK tested positive last week compared with 1.7 million a week earlier, according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still some way below the record of 4.9 million at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.

The ONS estimates one in every 30 Brits is now infected.

Dame Harries added that people should “go about their normal lives but in that precautionary way”, highlighting handwashing, mask-wearing and keeping distance where possible.

She said she has not been routinely wearing a face mask, but carries one to wear on the Tube and with anyone anxious about Covid virus

Asked if it matters that a lot of people are getting infected with Covid, she said it “matters on a national basis”.

“Whilst we have an armament now of vaccines and antiviral treatments, we do have, as you’ve just highlighted, a rise in hospital admissions and occupancy,” she said.

“And that means it’s not just Covid that we’re concerned about, but it’s actually our ability to treat other illnesses as well.”

And Omicron has so far caused a milder illness, especially in the fully jabbed.

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