Covid cases in Omicron hotspot London are now only going up in over-60s, official figures show amid warnings that the outbreak may not have peaked in the capital.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) statistics showing that infections in the city began to fall before Christmas sparked hopes that the worst was over.
But rates are only tumbling in under-60s currently, according to the same dataset which doesn’t yet reflect New Year’s Eve celebrations. Cases in over-60s, who are more vulnerable to the virus, have yet to slow down since the extremely-infectious variant took off.
Sir Chris Whitty last night said it was too early to say London’s crisis had peaked because hospital pressures were likely to worsen over the coming weeks because of the trajectory.
However, other experts expect the trend in over-60s to follow that of younger adults and begin falling in the next week or so, mirroring the trend in South Africa — the first country in the world to fall victim to the variant, where infections now appear to be in freefall.
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that infection numbers are ‘bumpy’ over the festive period because of reporting delays and fewer testes being carried out.
He said: ‘Nonetheless, the rate is the under-60s does look to have peaked and be falling convincingly.
‘This pattern of a short sharp peak is what you would expect from Omicron’s increased transmissibility [and] it also tallies with South African experience.’
Growth rates already suggest that the infection rate in older people is slowing down. Professor Livermore added: ‘I would expect a similar peak and drop off, within a week or thereabouts, among the over 60s.’
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show Covid cases in Omicron hotspot London are now only going up in people aged 60 and above. Graph shows: The case rate per 100,000 in people aged 60 and above (yellow line) and under-60 (red line). Cases have started to drop in under-60s, though the rate still remains above the more vulnerable older age groups
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show confirmed infections have fallen week-on-week on seven of the eight days leading up to December 30 – the latest date regional data is available for – in people aged 59 or below. Graph shows: The week-on-week rate of growth in average cases in under-60s (red line) and people aged 60 and above (yellow line). Cases are falling in under-60s and the rate of growth is slowing in over-60s
Graph shows: Covid cases across the capital from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Official testing data shows there was a drop in the run-up to Christmas
HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS: The number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid dipped 7.22 per cent from 374 on December 26 to 347 on January 2, the latest date data is available for
HOSPITAL PATIENTS: The number of patients in hospital with Covid is still increasing, jumping 32 per cent to 3,993 yesterday
PATIENTS ON MECHANICAL VENTILATOR BEDS: The number of patients requiring critical care has remained relatively stable since September, remaining unaffected by increased in admissions and cases caused by Omicron so far
DEATHS: The number of people dying within 28 days of a positive Covid test is also remaining flat in the capital, rising nine per cent in a week from 21 to 23 on December 30
Even NHS chiefs back cutting self-isolation period to five days amid staffing crisis
An NHS leader today revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations.
Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the situation was ‘desperate’ and any way of getting staff back into work was a ‘good thing’.
But he said it would be ‘completely counterproductive’ to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.
Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.
One in ten NHS employees are currently thought to be off sick or self-isolating, and Boris Johnson yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to call in the Army if the crisis continues to worsen.
One ambulance trust began asking patients with life-threatening heart attacks and strokes to get a lift to hospital because it did not have enough paramedics.
Overall, cases in London fell 10 per cent from 27,820 on December 23 to 25,038, the latest date official statistics are available for.
Government data showed the number of positive tests had dropped in the run up to Christmas, with a slight blip in the days immediately following festivities, before the trend resumed.
And MailOnline yesterday revealed cases were now falling in two-thirds of London’s neighbourhoods.
It prompted ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — an influential No10 adviser whose grim death projections spooked ministers into adopting draconian restrictions back in spring 2020 — to say he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the capital’s cases were plateauing, and could fall nationally within as little as a week.
But the raw case numbers are unreliable because fewer tests are being carried out and the positivity rate shows no signs of slowing down yet.
However, separate figures show hospitalisation rates are already falling in London.
Ministers are believed to be watching admissions in the capital closely, with 400-a-day thought to be a tipping point that requires nationwide intervention, given that London has acted as the canary in the coalmine for the UK’s Omicron crisis.
Latest data shows daily hospital admissions are falling in the capital, dipping 7.22 per cent from 374 on December 26 to 347 on January 2, the latest date data is available for. They were only above 400 for four days.
Meanwhile, the number of infected patients in hospital rose by nearly a third over the course of a week to 3,993 yesterday, roughly half the level seen during the darkest days of the second wave.
Critics argue the figures are over-inflated because they include ‘incidental’ cases, meaning people who’ve been admitted for unrelated problems like a broken leg.
Critical care bed occupancy — which paints a clearer picture about the true state of the Omicron outbreak — has barely risen over the same time-frame, according to statistics proving the fight against Covid is significantly different to last year.
The number of patients on mechanical ventilator beds remains low, rising 13 per cent to 245 yesterday, compared to highs of more than 1,200 last January.
But there are fears this could increase now that cases are only going up in over-60s, even if there are overall fewer cases being detected currently.
The above map shows the Covid infection rates across London’s almost 1,000 neighbourhoods for the week ending December 22 (left) and December 29 (right). Areas coloured black have an infection rate of more than 1,600 cases per 100,000 people, while areas coloured dark purple have an infection rate between 800 and 1,599. The areas coloured purple have an infection rate between 400 and 799.
This shows the percentage drop in Covid cases across 20 London MSOAs out of almost 1,000. Some 25 per cent of these areas saw their cases drop by more than a third
Data from the ZOE Covid Symptom study — pictured above — also suggests that Covid cases are falling in London. This relies on daily reports from almost a million Britons on whether they are unwell and if they have tested positive for Covid
Number of Covid patients on intensive care wards is HALF its peak level 12 months ago, data shows
Intensive care admissions are half the levels of previous peaks – with Boris Johnson insisting this means he is ‘confident’ the NHS will not be overwhelmed.
Despite record cases and soaring admissions, the number of patients in intensive care units has remained flat since Omicron arrived in the UK.
Just five per cent of patients in hospital with Covid-19 are on mechanical ventilators, compared with 11 per cent at the peak of the pandemic last January.
The Prime Minister said Omicron is ‘milder than previous variants’ and ‘keeps people in hospital for a shorter period’.
He told a Downing Street press conference yesterday: ‘While hospital admissions are rising quickly, this is not yet thankfully translating into the same numbers needing intensive care that we saw in previous waves.’
Hospitals in the capital are already in crisis mode amid fears up to one in 10 staff are off sick. Non-urgent operations are being cancelled across the country to cope with staff absences and Boris Johnson last night revealed plans to call in the Army if the situation escalates further.
The Government data shows the weekly case rate per 100,000 people in under-60s fell from a peak of 2,279 on December 21 to 1,842 on December 30.
For comparison, the rate increased from 701 to 1,212 in people aged 60 and over the same period.
Covid cases have fallen week-on-week for seven out of the last eight days in under-60s.
This compares to record week-on-week increases of more than 200 per cent in the middle of December, when the mutant strain took off in the capital.
Confirmed infections are still rising in over-60s, but their average rate of growth fell consistently from December 17.
Cases were rising by 191 per cent week-on-week on that date but now were only increasing by 40 per cent on December 27, suggesting growth may be slowing.
Data is not available over the last week so it is not possible to discern the current trends.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘Every epidemic has to peak eventually as you would run out of people to infect.
‘The question is always when will it peak and how high will the peak be.
‘Although infections are still increasing in the over 60s in London it does look like this is starting to slow already — but of course there is a problem with Christmas affecting reporting so we can’t be certain.
‘It will be next week before the Christmas effect gets removed from the recent data.’
The number of people dying within 28 days of getting a positive Covid test is also remaining flat in the capital, hovering at around 20.
Professor Livermore said: ‘A major point to highlight is that we’re now 21 days from when the rate in the over 60s took off on December 14 to 15.
‘That’s longer than the typical period — around 19 days — between infection and death for those who are going to succumb. Yet there’s no significant uptick in deaths.
‘This supports the view that Omicron is less able to cause severe disease, or that its severity has been blunted by widespread vaccination and prior infection. I think we’re now at the beginning of the end.’