Covid hospital admissions plunge below 1,000 for first time since before Christmas


Fewer than 1,000 people are now being hospitalised with Covid every day as Britain’s wave continues to recede naturally.

It marks the lowest daily admission count since December 11 — before Omicron started to take hold, according to the UK Health Security Agency. 

NHS counts (798 new virus-infected patients) were down by a third on the previous week while deaths fell by 25.3 per cent, despite the country no longer having any restrictions in place.

Today’s figures also show just 16,611 new positive tests were recorded over the last 24 hours, down 3.6 per cent on the 17,224 seen last Wednesday.

But case numbers logged by the central testing scheme are becoming increasingly unreliable now that free swabs have been stopped for the vast majority of Britons. Experts and Tory MPs have called for the Government to ditch the daily updates as the final part of the ‘living with Covid’ strategy.

In a sign that the constant virus updates may finally be on the way out, officials today confirmed vaccine figures will no longer be published daily. Instead, counts will be published every Monday.

Covid cases surge in South Africa again — but experts say there’s no reason to panic 

Experts have urged people not to panic as South Africa once again becomes a focal point of the pandemic amid a fresh Covid surge of new subvariants.

The world watched in horror last November as the super-infectious Omicron strain (BA.1) spread through South Africa at unprecedented speed — which turned out to be mild.

But now the country finds itself at the cusp of a fresh explosion in infections, this time due to sub-strains that appear even more transmissible and resistant to antibodies.

Covid cases have nearly quadrupled in a month nationally and hospital admissions are ticking up in Gauteng province, the former epicentre of the original Omicron wave.

Researchers on the ground in South Africa say the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants can evade immunity and cause symptoms in people who were infected with their parent strain just months ago.

What is still unclear is whether the new wave will create milder or more severe illness — but experts tell MailOnline the former is more likely, for the UK at least.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said Britain’s second Omicron wave, triggered by the BA.2 subvariant, will have given Britons an extra layer of immunity against severe illness.

Today’s death figures were lower than expected due to a ‘technical issue’, the UK Health Security Agency said.

However, fatalities — which are based on deaths logged within 28 days of a positive test, and not necessarily patients who have died directly from the virus — have been falling for several weeks.

NHS admissions have also been consistently heading downwards since infections soared to pandemic-highs last month. 

The hospital figures also don’t reflect patients who are genuinely ill with the virus, and can include thousands of ‘incidental’ cases.

With scientists warning the daily figures are now almost close to meaningless, pressure is mounting on the UK to scrap its updates. 

Ireland’s Department of Health last week confirmed it would ‘no longer’ publish daily stats. Instead, outbreak figures will be ‘updated regularly’ on the country’s Covid dashboard. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist based at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘I think at some point the UK will be doing that [ditching daily numbers] as well and that’s quite proportionate.

‘As the disease becomes an epidemic and gets to equilibrium it’s quite right that we start to treat Covid as we treat influenza, which we do weekly figures for.’

But the UKHSA has no plans to completely ditch the daily updates yet, despite sacking off daily vaccination updates in favour of a weekly tally.

A spokesperson told MailOnline last week: ‘As we move forward in the pandemic, changes to reporting across the four nations means Covid metrics will be updated on different dates and schedules.

‘Variations in reporting schedules should be considered when looking at reported Covid figures and day-to-day comparisons may therefore be misleading.

‘There are currently no plans to cease reporting Covid data on the UKHSA dashboard.’

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and universities minister Michelle Donelan are said to have told NHS trusts and higher education providers to get back to normal after the relaxation of Covid restrictions or face Government action.

Mr Javid is threatening to out any hospitals which are refusing to relax measures that were watered down last month, The Telegraph reports.

Isolation for NHS patients was cut from 10 days to seven with two negative tests in March and the need to isolate asymptomatic patients who are contacts of someone with the virus was also lifted.

The changes are seen as crucial in freeing up more NHS capacity to tackle the pandemic-fuelled backlogs for treatment, with a record 6.2million people in England waiting for routine operations.

Some hospitals are still enforcing visitor limits and social distancing in waiting rooms, which were also loosened a month ago. 

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust is one trust still suspending almost all visitors to its wards except for in special circumstances, like end of life care — which MPs have slammed as ‘illegal’ and a breach of human rights.

Meanwhile, universities are also under pressure to return to normality, with Ms Donelan telling The Telegraph she has been ‘personally’ phoning university bosses and telling them to get back to normal.

She has promised to ‘put boots on the ground’ to investigate institutions where students have complained about a lack of face-to-face teaching, and issue fines to those failing to comply with the new Covid strategy.

It comes amid a Government-wide crackdown on institutions still clinging onto old pandemic guidance. Jacob Rees Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities, this week hit out at civil servants still working from home.

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