Daily Covid cases have ALREADY breached 100,000 and one in four local authorities have record infection rates amid Omicron wave — but a quarter of admissions in epicentre London test positive AFTER arriving with a different illness
The UK recorded more than 100,000 Covid cases in a single day for the first time ever last week, new data shows after the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
A total of 102,297 people tested positive for the virus last Wednesday, according to backdated Government figures — marking the first time they have risen above triple digits officially since the start of the pandemic.
The figure looks at positive cases by ‘specimen date’, the day someone took the test, and is different from daily reported cases announced by Government every day, which looks at when someone received their result.
It can take up to five days for the number of positive tests on any single day to be fully counted so more days where Covid cases have breached 100,000 may emerge in the coming days.
But case numbers are still well below the projections of gloomy Government modelling which said there were up to 400,000 infections a day last week and that this could rise to 1million by the peak this winter.
Doubts about No10 scientific projections are believed to be the reason Boris Johnson has pumped the brakes on a Christmas lockdown, with ministers waiting for more concrete data on the variant.
Last Friday, the Department of Health reported 93,045 new Covid cases. Cases have barely moved in four days and a record 1.5million Britons are being tested for the virus every day currently, which suggests the issue is not a lack of tests.
It came as MailOnline’s analysis of hospital data found a quarter of London’s daily Covid hospital admissions in the last week were not primarily for the virus. That was double the proportion in the week before the Omicron variant was first detected in the UK.
London has become a hotbed for the ultra-infectious strain and daily admissions have doubled from 100 to 200 in the past three weeks, which is fuelling fears of a national rise in hospital pressure.
But NHS England figures show that 332 out of 1,349 admissions in London in the week up to December 18 were only picked up after the patients had arrived in hospital (25 per cent) for another ailment.
This was double the proportion in the week before the first Omicron case on November 27, when just 72 out of 638 cases (11 per cent) were ‘incidental’ cases.
ICU rates in the capital have stayed flat in the three weeks since the variant was first spotted in the UK, hovering around 200, but there is a longer lag between infection and intensive care admission.
Experts told MailOnline it was important to distinguish between admissions primarily for Covid so rising numbers do not spook ministers into more social restrictions or scare the public from going to hospital.
South African doctors have insisted for weeks that Omicron is milder since raising the alarm about it on November 24. But there has been ongoing debate over whether it is intrinsically milder or if South Africa is benefitting from very high levels of natural immunity after being battered by Delta just months ago.
Meanwhile, about one in four local authority areas in the UK are recording their highest rate of new Covid cases since mass testing began in summer 2020, new analysis shows.
The areas include two-thirds of authorities in London, more than half in South East England and nearly a half in eastern England. Most of the rest of the country has yet to reach record levels, however, with only a handful of areas in the north and west seeing rates at an all-time high.
The above graph shows Covid cases recorded in the UK by specimen date, which is the date that a test was carried out. It reveals 100,000 people who took swabs last Wednesday tested positive for the virus
Graph shows London’s daily Covid cases by date reported. It reveals they initially shot up when Omicron first emerged, but may now be stabalising despite predictions that infections are doubling every two to three days
Dr Raghib Ali, a Cambridge University clinical epidemiologist, said: ‘If you’ve got very high prevalence of Omicron in the community then there is a higher chance anyone who comes to hospital for any reason, even people with broken legs, will have Covid.
‘It’s just feature of having so much Omicron in the community. It is essential to distinguish between admissions that are primarily for Covid and those that are not.
‘It’s not only helpful but in many ways essential to know the primary diagnosis and to know how many daily admissions there are for every condition — that would give us an indication of the true pressure on the NHS.’
Lockdown on a knife-edge as Boris and ministers brace for crucial Omicron data
Boris Johnson is struggling to manage infighting among ministers and top scientists today as the government braces for more key Omicron evidence – after holding off imposing extra Covid curbs before Christmas.
The PM is monitoring data ‘hour by hour’ after declaring last that there will be no more restrictions yet despite massive pressure from experts who warn the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed by the mutant strain.
Mr Johnson admitted the decision was ‘finely balanced’ – with speculation that the government could still need to act with a ‘circuit breaker’ before New Year if new crucial evidence due today and tomorrow show the situation deteriorating quickly. They include an assessment from an Imperial College team on the severity of Omicron.
However, it now looks too late to bring in any legal restrictions before December 25, with the premier having vowed to give restive MPs a say in advance.
The holding line came after a long and ‘fractious’ Cabinet meeting, where ministers including Rishi Sunak demanded more solid proof on the threat from the Omicron variant before signing off on further measures.
There has been heavy criticism of the claim from SAGE modellers that deaths could reach 6,000 a day in the worst scenario, and although daily cases have been rising sharply and topped 100,000 on December 15 they are still short of the levels feared.
Leading statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter has also pointed out that around half of new Covid admissions in Omicron hotspot London only tested positive after arriving at hospital, possibly for a different ailment – although he stressed they would still add to pressure on the health service.
Official figures out today reveal that Covid was mentioned on 764 death certificates registered in England and Wales in the week to December 10 – 4 per cent down from the previous week and the lowest level since October.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg is understood to have urged the government to ‘trust people’ to respond to the alarm about the rapid spread of the new strain, rather than bringing back draconian laws.
Mr Johnson is said to have cautioned that explanation will not wash if the NHS is at serious risk of being underwhelmed, but eventually went with the majority view among his team.
There are 1,819 Covid patients in hospitals across the capital at present, up 65 per cent on a fortnight ago when 1,102 patients suffering from the disease were on wards.
Nationally, hospitalisation and death rates are yet to move but it can take from three weeks to more than a month for these to again start trending upwards.
London’s seven-day average for daily Covid cases has risen more than 150 per cent in a week amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The capital was recording 21,700 infections a day yesterday, compared to just 8,715 a week ago.
But there are now early signs that infections may be slowing down despite predictions they are doubling every two to three days.
There were 22,750 infections recorded yesterday, which was up slightly from the day before but dropped below the highs of 26,0000 from this weekend.
Lambeth has the highest infection rate in the capital (2,104 cases per 100,000 people), followed by Wandsworth (2,024) and Southwark (1,802).
On the other end of the scale, Harrow has the lowest infection rate (826.7), followed by Hounslow (848.5) and Redbridge (921.6).
For hospitalisations, data for London shows more patients are being admitted to Covid wards who tested positive for the virus after entering hospital to be treated for a separate condition.
Breaking down the figures by day showed as many as three in ten patients — or 49 of 169 — put into Covid wards on December 13 only tested positive after being admitted.
Nationally, 17 per cent of Covid patients were first admitted for a separate condition in the latest week to December 18.
For comparison, at the start of the month it was 13 per cent of patients.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, an eminent statistician at Cambridge University, told MailOnline: ‘It looks like there is an increasing number of people being admitted to hospital who turn out to have Covid, presumably the Omicron variant.
‘This is perhaps inevitable with a fast-spreading variant in which the majority do not experience symptoms.
‘But it means there is an extra burden on the hospitals in caring for infected patients.’
Meanwhile, Government specimen date data shows the second biggest day of infections was on December 14, when there were 94,551.
December 16 is already in third place with 91,312, even before it has completed its full data.
The only day in top five of the most Covid cases in the UK that has not occurred in the past few weeks is December 29 2020, when 81,481 cases were recorded.
At this time many parts of the UK had limits on what shops could open and how many people from different households could meet indoors, if at all.
This is still not as bad as Government modelling has suggested, which has led to fury from experts and MPs over the reliability of the data.
A row erupted yesterday over modelling that had appeared to raise the threat of Christmas being ‘cancelled’ for a second year.
In forecasts leaked over the weekend, the SAGE expert committee warned that without rapid action daily deaths could hit 6,000 in the worst case — and hospital admissions 10,000.
But with huge uncertainty over the severity of Omicron, ministers, MPs and experts rejected the ‘implausible’ predictions.
Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith referred to SAGE modeller Graham Medley as ‘Graham Meddler’ during an interview BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, although it was not clear if it was a slip of the tongue.
Criticising blood-curdling claims of up to 6,000 deaths a day if there are no addition restrictions, Mr Duncan Smith said the government should only make a decision based on a ‘wider range of information on the effect of lockdown’.
‘We need to understand the effect of lockdown is dramatic across so many areas of people’s lives, which equates to the same as people going into hospital,’ he said.
In South Africa, their Omicron wave appears to now be flattening off about a month after the Omicron variant first sent cases in the country skyrocketing.
Data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows just 8,515 people tested positive yesterday, down from 13,992 last Monday. The 40 per cent drop is the biggest since the Omicron outbreak hit the country.
In another sign the wave is fading, hospitalisations fell by a fifth in the nation yesterday with just 323 people admitted. It was the second day they’ve fallen after they dropped 53 per cent yesterday.
But the figures may be down to a big dip in testing, with 28,000 carried out yesterday compared to 45,000 the same time a week ago.
The test positive rate has also slightly dropped on last week, however, suggesting that the outbreak could be waning.
It comes as about one in four local authorities in England are now recording their highest ever Covid infection rates since mass tests were rolled out in summer 2020.
The areas include two-thirds of authorities in London, more than half in south-east England and nearly a half in eastern England.
Most of the rest of the country has yet to reach record levels, however, with only a handful of areas in the north and west seeing rates at an all-time high.
In the South East 47 of 64 authorities are now seeing record rates, with the highest levels in Elmbridge (1,384.7), Reigate and Banstead (1,317.3) and Epsom and Ewell (!,271.6).
In the East of England 21 of 45 local authorities are now recording their highest ever rates, while in the East Midlands 12 of 40 have seen infections break previous records.