Revealed: England's 10 Omicron hotspots as cases 'double every 2-3 days'

A commuter seen walking past a Wear Face Covering poster at Stratford Station. Face coverings in England have become compulsory again in public transport, in fear of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron. (Photo by Thomas Krych / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
England will enter 'Plan B' restrictions next week. (PA)

West Northamptonshire has been revealed as the area with the most confirmed cases of Omicron in England as the country prepares to enter 'Plan B' amid fears of a surge in COVID cases.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced England would be entering stricter restrictions as new data revealed the speed of the spread of Omicron.

The new rules will see the return of work from home advice, COVID passports for large events as well as the further rules for masks.

Analysis published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) outlined the 10 Omicron hotspots as of 6 December.

Watch: Covid Plan B: What is it and will it work?

Read more: Omicron: Post-Christmas lockdown 'can't be ruled out', says No 10

The government has two ways of identifying Omicron cases, the first is through a full sequencing of the test which can take a significant amount of time.

The second is through identifying 'S gene target failure' or SGTF.

The ten places with the highest Omicron cases were:

  1. West Northamptonshire 27 confirmed, 56 SGTF

  2. Newham 8 confirmed, 14 SGTF

  3. Lambeth 8 confirmed, 8 SGTF

  4. Hackney 8 confirmed, 6 SGTF

  5. Croydon 8 confirmed, 2 SGTF

  6. Lewisham 7 confirmed, 19 SGTF

  7. Buckinghamshire 7 confirmed, 15 SGTF

  8. Greenwich 7 confirmed 9 SGTF

  9. Brent 7 confirmed, 7 SGTF

  10. Wandsworth 6 confirmed, 7 SGTF

The Omicron variant lacks the S gene that is found in the other variants of COVID - something that can be picked up by some PCR tests.

SGTF cases are not always guaranteed Omicron cases because the S gene can also fail in the Delta variant - but this is extremely rare, making up less than 0.1% of all Delta cases.

The UKHSA said that from around 23 November - around the time Omicron was discovered - the number of SGTF cases being detected rose significantly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during at a press conference in London's Downing Street after ministers met to consider imposing new restrictions in response to rising cases and the spread of the Omicron variant. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021.
Boris Johnson announced the new rules on Wednesday. (PA)

Read more: What is a COVID-19 variant and how do they form?

Besides West Northamptonshire in the East Midlands, which has by far the most number of Omicron cases in England, all of the top hotspots are either in or near London.

Although detected cases of Omicron are low scientists have been warning the true figure could be much higher and growing rapidly.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE COVID Study app, said on Tuesday there could be as many as 2,000 cases of the new coronavirus variant in the UK.

He said that only about 35 to 40% of PCR tests are processed at labs that can pick up the Omicron variant.

He added the UK could have more cases of Omicron than some countries on its own travel red list in about 10 days.

Watch: Omicron cases so far appear 'mostly mild' says EU agency

“The official estimates are about 350-odd Omicron cases, and because the current testing is missing a lot of those, it’s probably at least 1,000 to 2,000 I would guess at the moment,” he told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday.

A senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned the UK is going to see a “really rather large wave of Omicron” on Thursday.

Asked about the trajectory of the COVID pandemic, Professor John Edmunds, told a Royal Society of Medicine briefing that “we’re certainly not out of the woods”, adding that sequencing suggested Omicron had been around since mid-October.

He added: “I think over the next two months, we’re going to see a really rather large wave of Omicron, we’re getting large numbers of cases and that will result in a large number of hospitalisations and, unfortunately, it will result in a large number of deaths, I’m pretty sure of that.

Despite the rise in cases the decision to implement 'Plan B' has been met with anger by members of the Conservative Party.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged the decisions will have a “real impact on our liberties” but insisted that taking action now is the only way to avoid having to impose tougher measures later.

He faced a barrage of Tory criticism when he announced the measures in the Commons at the same time as Johnson addressed the nation on Wednesday.

Conservative anger has been fuelled by suspicions the new measures were introduced as an attempt to distract from the Prime Minister’s troubles over an alleged staff party in Downing Street during last December’s lockdown.