Covid-19 hospital admissions among adults in England have begun to fall, according to official NHS data, raising hopes that the health service has weathered the wave of Omicron variant infections, despite the government resisting calls for further restrictions.
The rolling seven-day average of Covid admissions has fallen in seven of England’s eight NHS regions in recent days, with only the north-east and Yorkshire continuing to climb, albeit at a slowing rate. There has been an average of 2,016 new Covid patients in England’s hospitals over the past week, down from a peak of 2,041 on January 4.
Case numbers are falling steeply across England, with the seven-day average down 12 per cent from its Omicron peak of 157,097 on January 4, to 138,029. All age groups aged 20 and above are recording falling case rates, although rates are ticking up among children.
The improving trends are reflected in a growing mood of optimism among Whitehall officials. On Monday, one government insider told the Financial Times that “everything seems to be going in the right direction”, adding that Plan B measures, including the work-from-home order and vaccine passports for large event venues, may not have to be renewed on January 26.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said data suggested that Covid-related hospital pressures “could look much better in a couple of weeks”.
However, he added: “We seem to know a little about the peak but we don’t know a great deal about the other side of the mountain”, whether it “will be a sharp decline or a slow decline”.
“Clearly the slower the decline, the harder it’s going to be for the NHS to do what it wants to do, which is to focus on getting into that backlog which has built up over the past two years,” he added.
London hospitals have seen the steepest fall in Covid admissions. The current average of 334 admissions per day is down 20 per cent from the peak of 416 on New Year’s Eve.
Although hospital numbers are stabilising, Covid deaths have risen in recent weeks, with the seven-day average across England climbing to 144 as of January 6, up more than 50 per cent in the past fortnight but still far short of the record 1,169 reached in January 2021.
“I’m not sure we’re necessarily at the peak of hospitalisations right yet . . . but I don’t think it’s going to get a huge amount worse,” said John Edmunds, professor of infectious modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
However, he cautioned that getting rid of plan B measures, with people going back to work, and schools and universities returning, could have an “inflationary impact on the epidemic”.
“We could have a complicated peak that bumps around for a bit, which we saw with Delta,” explained Edmunds. “[The Omicron wave] could drag out a little bit longer than we are expecting as I think spread among children may drag it out longer. We had six months of Delta because of a huge number of infections in schools.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Prof David Heymann, the former chair of Public Health England and a distinguished fellow at Chatham House’s Centre on Global Health Security, told an event organised by the think-tank that the UK “has one of the highest levels of population immunity” of any country, with over 95 per cent antibody prevalence, and as a result “is probably among the closest to having the virus as endemic”.