Omicron hospitalisation 90% less likely after three jabs, Javid says, but 'rocky few weeks ahead'

Three doses of the Covid-19 vaccine provide "almost 90%" effectiveness against hospitalisation for people infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant, the health secretary has said, but he warned there will be a "rocky few weeks ahead".

Sajid Javid said there are some "encouraging signs" in the data about the Omicron variant, telling broadcasters that despite it being much more transmissible, it is also "much less severe".

"Three doses of the vaccine provide around 90% effectiveness against hospitalisation for Omicron," a Department for Health and Social Care source said.

But the health secretary added that "people should remain cautious" because "we also know that it's highly, highly infectious".

About one in 15 people in London had coronavirus last week, according to the Office for National Statistics - "we haven't seen infection rates like that with Covid before", he said.

"With this high infection rate, despite the low severity, we are seeing hospitalisations," he warned.

But Mr Javid said the government would be "sticking with" Plan B measures in England "for now", despite accepting the new surge of coronavirus is putting the NHS under pressure by sending tens of thousands of its staff members into isolation.

NHS hospital trusts across the country have been declaring critical incidents this week in response to huge staff absences caused by coronavirus.

A major incident was declared across all of Northamptonshire's health services on Friday, with around 900 staff off work for Covid-related reasons.

And the latest NHS figures show there were 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England who were absent for Covid-related reasons on January 2, up 59% from 24,632 the previous week and more than three times the 12,508 at the start of December. 

A similar situation is playing out in other regions of the UK, with hospitals in Wales caring for 994 Covid patients, the highest number since March last year and a 43% rise on the previous week's figures.

"Omicron is putting significant pressure on the NHS at the busiest time of the year - not just from rising hospital admissions but through staff absences," Mr Javid said.

"Our NHS workforce, which has worked so hard throughout the pandemic, is not immune to coronavirus.

"The latest figures suggest staff absences from illness and isolation across the NHS is 8.3% but it is as high as 16.5% in some NHS organisations."

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But Mr Javid said the UK is "in a stronger position than we were last year thanks to the vaccinations".

He added: "The best thing anyone can do if they haven't already is get boosted or get your first or second jab if you haven't had one."

During the visit he said the intensive care unit for Covid patients had an estimated 70% of patients unvaccinated and that this was a "reminder to us all" of the importance of vaccination.