Covid: Omicron wave could kill at least 25,000 people if measures beyond Plan B not taken

ITV News Reporter Ellie Pitt has the latest as people worry another Christmas could be lost to Covid

Tougher Covid restrictions may be needed to prevent Omicron causing 25,000 deaths in England over the next five months, according to scientists.

Experts predict that, even under the most optimistic scenario, a wave of infection could lead to a peak of more than 2,000 daily hospital admissions (175,000 total hospital admissions) and 24,700 deaths between now and April.

This is if no additional control measures are implemented over and above the current Plan B introduced by the government in England - which the Prime Minister faces a rebellion getting through the Commons. The team said mask-wearing, working from home and booster jabs may not be enough, and predict a peak of daily hospital admissions of 2,400 in January.

Researchers from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who also sit on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) or the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), put the findings together.

Which rules have been imposed under Plan B?

  • Covid-status certificates will be mandatory in some indoor and larger outdoor venues from December 15

  • Face coverings are required in shops, cinemas, theatres, places of worship and on public transport

  • People should work from home if they can from December 13

  • Read the changes in full here.

Latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency show a total of 1,898 confirmed cases of Omicron across the UK - 618 confirmed cases in England, 11 in Scotland, two in Wales and two in Northern Ireland.

It findings comes as daily Covid-19 cases reached their highest level in almost a year and the UKHSA predicted that, if current trends continue, the UK will exceed one million infections by the end of the month.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove warned of a “deeply concerning situation” after holding a Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the latest data and the co-ordinated response across the four nations.

Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Gove said the Omicron variant is doubling every two to three days in England “and possibly even faster in Scotland”.

He added that 30% of reported cases in London are the new variant, and warned that evidence suggests Omicron is “more likely” than past Covid variants to “potentially” lead to hospital admissions among the fully vaccinated.

Officials in Scotland have indicated tougher Covid restrictions could come in there next weel.

Deputy First Minster John Swinney told BBC Breakfast ministers are spending the weekend “wrestling with the challenge of what are the right rules to have in place”.

But he said he does not think that Scots will face a restricted Christmas.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had already warned of the possibility of a “tsunami of infections” from the new variant – and said she could not rule out more restrictions north of the border as a result.

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What do we know about the effectiveness of the vaccine against Omicron?

Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron compared to Delta.

But the preliminary data, which looked at 581 people with confirmed Omicron, suggested effectiveness seemed to “increase considerably” in the early period after a booster dose, giving around 70 to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said while their early data should be treated with caution, it indicates that “a few months after the second jab, there is a greater risk of catching the Omicron variant compared to Delta strain”.

She added: “The data suggest this risk is significantly reduced following a booster vaccine, so I urge everyone to take up their booster when eligible.”

No 10 has maintained that there are“no plans” to go further with measures in England, amid reports that proposals are being drawn up for a Plan C, featuring even tougher rules.

Mr Gove said the current approach being taken is “proportionate”, but acknowledged that “we absolutely do need to keep everything under review”.

He said: “Action is absolutely required and, as new data comes in, we will consider what action we do require to take in the face of that data.”

The Guardian reported that Health Secretary Sajid Javid had been given a presentation from the UKHSA earlier this week warning that even if Omicron leads to less serious disease than Delta, it still risks overwhelming the NHS with 5,000 people admitted to hospital a day.

It said the leaked advice said “stringent action” would be needed on or before December 18 if the variant’s doubling time stays at 2.5 days, although the newspaper added that what such restrictions might entail were not set out other than to say measures that would bring the R number – representing the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect – below 1.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said the government's current restrictions are likely to be insufficient when it comes to controlling the spread of Omicron.She told ITV News: "When you have a doubling time of this new variant of around two to three days - which is really quite astonishing - we’re looking at large numbers of infection and in a few weeks, a very serious strain on the health service."

New guidance expected to come into force from Wednesday will see care home residents allowed only three visitors and one essential care worker, as part of new measures to protect the sector from the spread of the new variant.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the move was “in order to balance the current Covid-19 risk and the need to keep people safe in line with clinical advice”.

From Friday, in England the legal requirement to wear masks was extended to more indoor spaces including museums, galleries and community centres.

There will be a return to working from home guidance from Monday, and mandatory Covid passports for large venues from Wednesday.

The new regulations will be put to a debate and vote in the Commons next week – and with Labour’s support they are certain to be approved despite the prospect of a large Conservative revolt.