Omicron Covid cases could soon exceed one million a day, says Sajid Javid

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  • Sajid Javid
    British politician (born 1969)
Sajid Javid informs the Commons about the projection showing surging cases of the omicron variant
Sajid Javid informs the Commons about the projection showing surging cases of the omicron variant

Omicron cases could exceed one million a day by the end of this month, on the current trajectory, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said the actual number of infections of the variant already in this country was likely to be close to 10,000 - a figure 20 times higher than that which has been confirmed.

He told the Commons: "Although there are only 568 confirmed Omicron cases in the UK we know that the actual number of infections will be significantly higher.

"The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates that the number of infections are approximately 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, and so the current number of infections is probably closer to 10,000.

"UKHSA also estimate that at the current observed doubling rate of between two and a half and three days, by the end of this month, infections could exceed 1 million."

On Wednesday officials said they expected the variant to be dominant by Christmas based on current trends.

Spread of omicron 'likely' to lead to increased hospital admissions

Meanwhile, minutes from a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Tuesday warn that the rapid spread of omicron is very likely to lead to a rise in hospital admissions.

At the moment, around 769 patients per day are being admitted to hospital in the UK.

The Sage minutes say the peak is “highly likely to be higher than 1,000 to 2,000 Omicron hospital admissions per day without intervention to slow the speed of increasing infections”.

They go on to warn that even with interventions made, hospital admissions could still rise as much as 16-fold in coming weeks - which would mean more than 11,000 admissions.

The minutes say the proportion of omicron infections that result in hospital admission is not yet known.

But they suggest that even if there was a "modest reduction in severity" of illness compared to the Delta variant, this "would not avert high numbers of hospitalisations if growth rates remained very high".

"With lags of the order of two or more weeks, and doubling times of the order of three days, it is likely that, once hospitalisations begin to increase at a rate similar to that of cases, four doublings (a 16-fold increase) or more could already be 'in the system' before interventions that slow infections are reflected in hospitalisations," Sage said.

The scientists also suggested that finding and isolating cases through contact tracing may become less effective if people are becoming infectious sooner.

Possible greater role for airborne transmission

Evidence from so-called "super-spreader" events also "suggest a greater role for airborne transmission than has previously been the case," Sage said.

It added: "This means that measures to reduce airborne spread such as ventilation, well-fitting masks and distancing or reduced density of people in indoor environments may be even more important."

In an assessment prepared for Sage, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) said that "any significant wave of infection, almost irrespective of immune escape, will spill over into hospitalisations.

"If initial estimates of transmission advantage and immune escape from South Africa are applicable to the UK population, there is the potential for a peak of infections much larger than that experienced in January 2021.

"Even if severity of Omicron were half that of Delta, the sheer number of infections could lead to significantly more pressures on health and care settings; currently there is no strong evidence that Omicron infections are either more or less severe than Delta infections."

The group said that if omicron's immune escape reduces vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation from, say, 96 per cent to 92 per cent, "that would effectively double the number of vaccinated individuals who are not protected from hospitalisation."

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