The latest figures on UK cases, hospitalisations and deaths- released for 1 January – make sobering reading for all of us; but appear not to be giving pause to the Secretary of State for Health, who is doubling down on arguing that we have to “live with” the virus (forever) and the select breed of scientists in his camp, who argue that Omicron is a step towards COVID evolving into a “mostly harmless” “endemic” infection like the common cold.
The figures are stark – and do not support either that hypothesis or the government’s policies. The Omicron variant is now considered as infectious as measles, and it is capable of infecting people who have been vaccinated or who have contracted it before. And “endemic” does not mean “harmless”.
In the week up to 1 January there were an average of 162,000 verified new cases every day for England alone. This was a 47.9% increase on the previous week and is rising sharply.
Hospitalisations similarly rose by 49.9%, with an average of 1,915 new admissions a day, again on a sharply rising curve.
Deaths, a lagging indicator, were up by 31.1%, with an average of 151 people dying every day – again on a rising curve.
It is important to bear in mind that these new cases, which have baked in a following wave of hospitalisations and deaths, were picked up during the Xmas week after a significant additional wave of people getting their third vaccination.
- Relatively few people have been at work.
- No schools or colleges are open.
- Relatively few journeys will have been taken on public transport.
- There has also been an 8% decline in the number of tests that have been carried out during this week – largely due to shortages of kit.
Projecting forward we can sketch out the likely impact in two weeks time. If 2% of identified cases end up in hospital, we’ll be looking at 3,251 daily admissions in England by mid January, just from the cases already identified (2% of 162,000).
With a sharp increase in social interactions coming from a large scale return to work from Tuesday, and schools beginning to reopen, with no further safeguards put in place, we should expect the upward spike to jag even more sharply upwards.
On 31 December there were 154 deaths and 1,915 admissions, giving a deaths to admission ratio of 1:12. Extrapolating this to the 3,251 admissions expected by mid January gives a death rate of around 270 a day (or 1,890 a week); and rising.
There is an expectation that this wave will decline again once it has infected all the people that it can. But, as it seems able to infect vaccinated people, and people who have recovered from previous variants, it has a very large pool of potential victims.
By February we will know if this wave has receded, and to what extent, or if it keeps on going.
Allowing a virus like this to become endemic and not stamping it out is a catastrophic strategic choice that means that, so far, the UK has suffered 30 times the number of deaths as Zero Covid China in absolute terms, and 629 times as many people per capita – and will suffer many more, with no prospect of an end to it.
The argument a week ago was that Ministers wanted “more evidence” before taking further safety precautions. The evidence seems to be in. How much more do they need?