Britain’s top public health officials have informed ministers that “strict national measures” must be imposed by December 18 to prevent Covid hospitalizations from exceeding last winter’s peak, leaked documents show at the Guardian.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, received a presentation from the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) on Tuesday warning that although the new Omicron variant results in less severe disease than Delta, it risks overwhelming the NHS with 5,000 people admitted to hospital one day.
In an interview with the Guardian, epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said the total could be double that number.
Number 10 insisted there were no imminent plans to introduce more measures after the Plan B measures were announced for England this week, but Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, who has chaired a Cobra meeting on Friday, said the government had received “very difficult information”. on the speed of propagation.
The Guardian has seen UKHSA notices leaked for Javid marked ‘official, sensitive’: Even with doubling times reaching around 5 days, tough action is likely still needed in December. “
He adds: “The rapid spread of Omicron means that action to limit pressures on the healthcare system may need to come sooner than intuition suggests.” His calculations suggest that even if Omicron causes a less severe hospitalization rate of 1% or 0.5% compared to Delta’s 1.5%, then “strict national measures” would be needed by December 18 at the latest.
On the current path of 2.5 days of doubling the weather, and without any other restrictions, the document warns that Omicron cases could reach 248,000 cases per day by December 19. He also points out that the numbers are not a projection but an estimate of the prevalence of Omicron and doubling times seen in the UK so far.
The document does not detail what the necessary restrictions would be but defines “strict national measures” as those which reduce the R number (reproduction) below 1.
Boris Johnson triggered Plan B this week, including more extensive mask warrants, requiring people to work from home and Covid passports for large sites, but a senior Whitehall source said few inside the ‘UKHSA believe this will have a big effect on slowing the spread of the variant.
Other measures, now referred to as Plan C, could include stricter isolation requirements for contacts of Covid cases, masks in pubs, complete hospitality shutdown, more restrictions for visitors to homes of care and hospitals or even the return of restrictions on social contact.
As ministers call a Cobra meeting to discuss Omicron, the level of concern about the variant is growing among its science and public health advisers. As of Friday, there were more than 58,000 new confirmed daily cases of Covid in the UK – the highest level since January – with 120 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Cobra, which involved the four nations of the UK, was chaired by Gove, the upgrade secretary, as Johnson spent time with his family following the birth of his second child with his wife, Carrie Johnson.
He warned that evidence suggests Omicron is “more likely” than older variants of Covid-19 to “potentially” lead to hospitalizations among fully vaccinated people.
Sturgeon warned of a “potential tsunami” of infections at Omicron because the new variant brings “the fastest exponential growth we’ve seen in this pandemic so far.” In an unscheduled Covid TV update on Friday, the Prime Minister said ‘frankness’ with the public was needed as the Scottish government released an evidence document suggesting Omicron ‘is increasing exponentially’ .
It came as the Welsh government hinted at new restrictions on people’s visits to care homes and hospitals to counter the impact of Omicron. Prime Minister Mark Drakeford also suggested it would be wise for businesses and public sector leaders to foresee the possibility of further crackdowns and even a new foreclosure.
He said: “We will be issuing new guidelines for visits to nursing homes and hospitals. We want to do everything possible to support visits where it is safe to do so, but if we see a new wave of cases, strengthened measures to protect patients and residents may be needed. “
A government spokesperson said: “No further restrictions are planned. Plan B is the proportionate approach given what we know at this point about the Omicron variant.
“The government will continue to take a close look at all emerging data and we will keep our measures under review as we learn more about this variant.”