Around 1 in 10 people in London were likely infected with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to new official estimates that underlined the relentless advance of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Daily modelled estimates produced by the Office for National Statistics showed around 9.5% of Londoners had COVID-19 as of Sunday, within a 95% confidence interval of 8.43% to 10.69%.
The figures came a day after Britain recorded a record number of new coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant swept across the country, with the daily tally reaching 119,789 from 106,122 a day earlier.
The ONS report also showed a record 1 in 35 people in England had COVID-19 between Dec. 13 and Dec. 19 – compared with a previous estimate published on Thursday of 1 in 45 in the week to Dec. 16.
Many industries and transport networks are struggling with staff shortages as sick workers self-isolate, while hospitals in Britain have warned of the risk of an impact on patient safety.
Omicron’s rapid advance has driven a surge in cases in Britain over the last seven days, with the total rising by 678,165, government data showed on Thursday.
As the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggles to limit the economic impact of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, it said on Wednesday it was reducing the legal self-isolation period in England to seven days from 10.
Omicron’s rapid spread and its ability to initially reduce antibody protection in many vaccines led many countries to launch accelerated booster campaigns. The U.K. alone reported more than 100,000 new Covid cases Wednesday for the first time, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has resisted imposing further restrictions before Christmas.
However, early studies out of South Africa, Scotland and England show the highly mutated Omicron variant appears less likely to land patients in the hospital than the Delta strain. The findings raise hopes there will be fewer cases of severe disease, yet Omicron’s greater infectiousness means it could still severely affect health services, fueling the need for boosters.
NICD Public Health Specialist Waasila Jassat highlighted how the current fourth wave, largely driven by the omicron virus, was not as severe as the previous waves. “In wave four, we had a huge number of cases in the first four weeks, over 366,000 compared to (the previous waves).” Jassat said only six per cent of the cases in wave four were admitted to hospitals, while previous waves had seen up to 16 per cent of cases being admitted.
“In terms of the number of (hospital) admissions, in wave four, it was around 21,000, whereas in wave two, about 19,000 and in wave three, about 16,000. So that huge increase in cases did not really translate into a huge increase in admissions. The percentage of cases that are admitted is much lower than in previous waves,” Jassat said.
The percentage of patients with serious infections had also halved from previous admissions. Six per cent of patients in the current wave had died of Covid complications, while around 22 per cent had died in the preceding wave which was largely driven by the delta variant.
The average length of a hospital stay had also halved to about three days, Jassat said.
“The lower proportion of severe diseases we are seeing in the fourth wave could be due to a number of factors, including the level of prior immunity from people who have already got vaccinated, or it could also be due to the lower virulence of omicron, but we need more studies to be able to unpack these things,” Jassat said.
NICD Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response Michelle Groome believed that the province of Gauteng, the economic hub of South Africa had passed the peak of the fourth wave