Health chiefs say UK is ‘riding out’ Omicron as daily cases fall and rules are relaxed

Coronavirus will become an 'endemic' predicts WHO expert

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The number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases has fallen from 194,747 to 129,587 over the past seven days. That represents a drop of one-third and suggests the UK may have reached the peak of its latest wave already, with health chiefs claiming we may be close to “riding out” the worst of the Omicron strain.

Wednesday marked the seventh day straight that saw cases fall, which bosses view as an optimistic sign. However, they also warn these figures are only the result of the people who got tested.

As cases rose to record numbers, there were reports of people with difficulties accessing tests.

The figures also exclude — apart from in Wales — those positive cases who are re-infected, something that has become less and less rare with the high transmissibility of Omicron.

On a positive and important note, though, Government data shows far fewer positive cases are ending up in hospital now than last winter.

The current number of admissions stands at just above 2,200 a day in the UK, about half as during the peak a year ago.

Thursday’s data shows there were 109,133 coronavirus cases and 335 Covid-related deaths within 28 days of a positive test reported in the latest 24-hour period.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Unless things change unexpectedly, we are close to the national peak of Covid patients in hospital.

“This is a significant moment but it’s crucial we recognise that this will not be uniform – some parts of UK are still seeing rising patient numbers alongside staff absence.”

Meanwhile, Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, said: “The number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and it may even be starting to plateau.

“I will admit that I thought things might be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong.

“It’s looking increasingly likely that we may be able to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave after all.”

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, last month publicly dismissed South African doctors’ claims that Omicron was mild and urged the British public to be “realistic” and remain cautious.

He said: “Don’t mix with people you have to for either work or the family things that really matter to you.

“There is more immunity in South Africa now than there was in their last wave. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible, but I just think there’s a danger people have over-interpreted this to say ‘what are we worrying about?’

“I’m afraid to say this is going to be a problem.”

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Yet the UK seems to be on a similar one to South Africa’s, where cases collapsed in little over a month.

A new South African study in fact hints the critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic might be nearing its end.

The wave moved with “unprecedented speed” and did cause much milder illness than earlier variants.

Researchers from the South African Medical Research Council said: “If this pattern continues and is repeated globally, we are likely to see a complete decoupling of case and death rates.”

That suggests “Omicron may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the Covid pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase”.

The shift in coronavirus guidelines indicates optimism among leaders, too.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Thursday the minimum self-isolation period in England for those who test positive for Covid is being cut from seven days to five days on Monday.

The move, he said, comes as the UK Health Security Agency shows around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five.

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