British scientific advisers and health officials have welcomed preliminary signs that the rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant has begun to subside in London, raising hopes that the NHS can withstand the Omicron wave without the need for additional restrictions.
By Tuesday, the number of new coronavirus cases in the capital had dropped by about a fifth from a daily high of nearly 28,000 on December 22, aided by a marked decline in social mixing over the festive season. London was the first part of the UK to be hit by a wave of Omicron since it was identified in South Africa in late November.
Neil Ferguson, professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that infection rates among people between the ages of 18 and 50 in London were “plateau”. But he said it was “too early to say” whether infections were falling in the capital.
Cases among people aged 20 to 34, which caused the initial spread in London, have fallen by more than a third since the peak on 20 December, according to official data.
“With an epidemic spreading so fast and reaching such high numbers, it can not sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to decline… They may already be coming down in London,” he said. he told the BBC Today program.
He warned that Omicron “did not have time. . . to really spread to the older age groups, who run a much greater risk of serious outcomes and hospitalization ”. Rates among those over 80 have risen more than 10 times from a low base of just 11 daily cases per 100,000 in early December.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said the decline in infections in London “made sense” given similar trends in South Africa. He added that the “fear factor” over increasing pre-Christmas infections contributed to the reversal, as it led to more cautious behavior.
“The rapid fall in London is faster than anything we’ve seen with Delta,” Spector said. “I do not see it bouncing back immediately if people remain cautious after returning to work and school.”
Hospitalization rates in the capital over the past week reflect the easing of the boom. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, who represent healthcare leaders across the country, said the daily growth rate of hospital admissions in London had dropped to low single figures in recent days.
“There’s a definite sense that the rate of admissions was to stay at that level that London could handle,” Hopson said.
In London, the number of admissions rose by 18 per cent in the week to January 2, compared with an increase of 85 per cent in the rest of England, with growth rates the highest in the north-east. “Hospitalizations are generally still rising across the country and we may see high levels for a few weeks,” Ferguson warned.
A senior Whitehall official told the Financial Times there is particular “concern” about the “extent of translating elevated cases in over-60s into hospitalizations”.
The weekly growth rate in the number of Covid patients in the capital’s hospital peaked at 66 percent on December 30, but slowed to 32 percent by January 3. There are almost 4,000 Covid patients in London hospitals.
In terms of virulence, there is increasing evidence from the capital that Omicron is milder than previous variants. A Covid patient usually develops serious illness within 15 days of infection. There are currently 245 patients with the virus on ventilators in London, which is roughly equivalent to 1 per cent of the total cases two weeks earlier. At the same stage of last winter’s wave, that figure was 814, or 10 percent.
Figures published last week showed that 60 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care in England were not vaccinated.
But Hopson warned that London is not yet “completely out of the woods”, adding: “There is still a risk that due to Christmas, New Year’s Eve and schools going backwards, we could see London hospitals a new boom of hospitalizations in the face. ”