New Year restrictions on knife edge amid rising Covid hospital admissions

A decision on whether to impose post-Christmas Covid restrictions is on a knife edge after figures showed rising hospital admissions in London.

Latest NHS data shows there were 386 new admissions for the virus in the capital on December 22 – a 92% rise on the figure last week.

That is still a far cry from the peak in the January first wave – but admissions are doubling every 10 days.

Boris Johnson is due to review the latest data on Monday and will have to decide within 24 hours whether to push ahead with further Covid restrictions for New Year’s Eve.

Because of the requirement to re-call Parliament, Tuesday is the latest date legal measures can be implemented in time for NYE, The Times reports. 

It means the PM will have to make a call on restrictions without knowing the extent to which social mixing over Christmas will fuel the Omicron wave.

While studies have confirmed that the Omicron variant is milder than previous strains of Covid-19, experts fear the sheer number of cases will translate into a large enough minority of severe cases to heap pressure on intensive care wards.

Across England, 1,246 admissions were recorded on December 22, up 55% week-on-week and the highest number for a single day since February 16.

But this is still well below the second wave peak of 4,134 admissions reported on January 12.

Government scientists believe people infected with the infectious new strain are up to 70% less likely to need hospital treatment.

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, said that the study offered a ‘glimmer of Christmas hope’.

 But she said it did not necessarily mean new year celebrations could go ahead as normal, as the agency still did not have enough data on how Omicron affected older, more vulnerable people and that the government would need to take account other pressures on the NHS, such as staff shortages.

On Friday the Office for National Statistics published ‘sobering’ figures showing that an estimated 1.7 million people in the UK had Covid in the week ending December 19.

The figure – the highest since the survey began in May 2020- suggests that about one in 35 households in England had Covid, up from one in 45 the week before.

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There are fears the huge number of people self-isolating will grind public services such as the NHS and transport to a halt.

The head of the Royal College of Nursing said today that nurses were in ‘despair’ and working 14-hour shifts because of a ‘very depleted workforce’ as she called on ministers to impose restrictions.

She said the NHS was facing a worse Christmas than last year because of the sheer number of staff forced to isolate and warned that the government may have left it ‘too late’ to protect the health service.

‘The despair that nurses are facing and the fear and the sheer struggle they’re facing every day will continue over the Christmas period, because this Christmas, of course, will not be normal,’ she said.

‘It will be similar to last year, if not worse, is what they’re telling us.’

A national two-week circuit breaker lockdown has been mooted if the NHS comes under ‘unsustainable’ pressure.

Reports suggest this could be a return to phase two of Covid restrictions from earlier this year, which limited pubs and restaurants to outdoor service only and banned indoor mixing between households.

But another scenario being mulled over by ministers would see Brits urged to do things in line with a circuit breaker lockdown – but nothing would be set in law.

A Whitehall source told the Financial Times that any new measures that come in after Christmas could instead be guidance.

This would mean Brits would be urged to limit social contact with multiple households and work from home if they can, but fines wouldn’t be issued if ignored.

Ministers have refused to rule anything out, though they said earlier this week that no measures would be announced before Christmas Day.

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The government has used the run-up to Christmas to push Brits to get their booster jabs, seen as the best line of defence against Omicron.

Millions of people will receive a text from on Boxing Day urging them to get the top-up dose.

The message will read: ‘Get boosted now.

‘Every adult needs a Covid-19 booster vaccine to protect against Omicron.

‘Get your Covid-19 vaccine or booster.

‘See NHS website for details.’

eHalth Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We are texting this Boxing Day for all eligible adults to get boosted now.

‘It has never been as important to get protected with the booster, so whether it is in between turkey sandwiches or before the Boxing Day fixtures, whatever your traditions make the booster a part of them this year.

‘Millions of vaccine slots are available through the festive calendar so if you’re not boosted and you get this text, take up the offer and get vaccinated.’

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