Covid-related deaths could rise as infections continue to hit record highs, experts warn

Cases have been consistently high for weeks, as ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan explains

Covid-related deaths and hospital admissions could continue to rise as the number of infections increase, experts have warned.

Case rates in England are the highest they have ever been with around 20,000 people currently in hospital.

Data suggests that the two variants of Omicron – BA.1 and BA.2 – have caused twin peaks in the pandemic – one in January and another in March.

The prevalence of the two variants is mostly increasing in the oldest age groups – those most likely to suffer from severe illness due to Covid-19.

Results from Imperial College London’s latest React-1 study suggest that hospital admissions in England have also increased.

However, while the numbers of people in hospital are higher than they have been in some time, they are still only around half of that seen during the peak of the second wave in early 2021.

High vaccination rates also mean that less people are becoming seriously ill and dying with Covid, many of those in hospital with coronavirus test positive while receiving treatment for another issue, meaning they have not been hospitalised due to their Covid.

According to the study: “The high and increasing prevalence in older adults may increase hospitalisations and deaths despite high levels of vaccination.”

Professor Christl Donnelly from the Jameel Institute, Imperial College London and Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, said: “It’s still the case that if you see more infection, you would expect, even if it’s a very small proportion of those, to see more of the severe outcomes.

“So we don’t yet know when we’ll see a peak in the oldest age group – the 55 plus – and because those people are at higher risk of severe outcomes, that is a particular worry.

“It is possible if the prevalence continues to go up, that you will see further increases in the severe outcome rates.”

The study, which has been published as a preprint, said: “We observed Omicron ‘twin peaks’ as BA.1 replaced Delta and BA.2 replaced BA.1."

While the study was ongoing, society opened up with all legal restrictions related to Covid-19 in England lifted as part of its ‘Living with Covid-19’ strategy.

It observed that there are "worrying signs of increasing hospitalisations and deaths due to Covid-19 in England during March 2022".

The deaths themselves may reflect the very high and increasing infection rates, particularly in older people, according to the study.

Experts warn that ongoing surveillance is needed to monitor severe outcomes from the disease and track new variants.

Covid jabs have been at the centre of the government's plan to live with coronavirus. Credit: PA

Responding to the record number of people infected with Covid, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Nearly 20,000 people are now in hospital with Covid in England and the NHS, and its exhausted staff are once again really struggling to cope with increasing admissions and bed occupancy.

“NHS leaders and their teams are increasing their Covid services and reopening coronavirus wards, but the government must take heed, combined with chronic staff shortages, and a waiting list backlog that now tops 6.1 million, we really need a realistic conversation about the current situation in the health service.”

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