The rise in Covid hospital admissions is not as bad as January last year but ministers must watch the data carefully, a health boss has said.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospitals were currently “not seeing” the same number of vulnerable people needing urgent care - but stressed it was “too early” to tell whether socialising over Christmas would have an impact.
It comes as Boris Johnson was briefed by scientific advisers on the latest infection and hospitalisation data over the festive period. No new restrictions are expected to be announced despite Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all introducing fresh curbs this week.
“[Hospitals are] not seeing the numbers of older people who’ve got real respiratory problems, needing critical care, needing very large amounts of oxygen support,” Mr Hopson told Sky News.
“We’re just not seeing those numbers at this point that we saw in January 2021.”
However, he warned that hospitals were already operating “at full stretch” and a surge in Covid-related admissions could forced doctors to make “very difficult decisions”.
Mr Hopson also said that it was not yet known how Christmas mixing among younger and older people, many of whom have had a booster vaccination, would impact on hospital demand.
He told Times Radio: “I think we’re all looking at the data really, really carefully.
“The bit that we just simply don’t know yet is that most of the Covid-19 admissions tend to be in people who are younger.
“So what we’re really waiting to see is exactly what is going to happen over the next few days, stroke week, particularly because we know there was a lot of intergenerational mixing at Christmas.”
Mr Hopson said the country needed to be “ready to bring in tighter protections in terms of restrictions on social contact” if admissions continued to rise.
The Government, according to reports, may choose to issue new voluntary guidance on limiting contacts rather than risk another damaging Tory rebellion by recalling Parliament to impose new rules beyond the existing Plan B measures.