London, Jan 3 (PTI) Omicron is producing a more hopeful pattern to the previously dominant Delta variant of COVID-19 in terms of numbers of people needing ventilators and length of time spent in intensive care units (ICUs), a senior UK Cabinet minister said on Monday.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the government is closely monitoring the hospitalisation data as more over-50s are now among those being infected by the Omicron variant. However, this group is also among those almost 90 per cent boosted with top-up third vaccine doses, which should protect against severe disease.
“On the whole, we are not seeing the same pattern as with Delta, where we had much greater numbers of people on ventilators,” said Zahawi.
“And there seems to be a shorter period of time with people in ICU as well, and those who are being admitted with COVID rather than for COVID is also about a third of that number,” he said.
The minister echoed some of his other Cabinet colleagues in expressing the hope that further lockdown restrictions may not be required even though COVID-19 infections remain high, as the Omicron spread in England showed some signs of slowing down with 137,583 infections recorded on Sunday, lower than Saturday’s 162,572.
“The number of people in hospital with coronavirus have begun to rise in the over-50s, which we are concerned about, but on the whole, actually the number of people in ICU (intensive care) has come down, which is good news,” Zahawi told ‘Sky News’.
“If we see more leakage of infection in the over-50s – because most of the surge in infections from the Omicron variant has been in the under-50s – then that is more likely that those people end up with severe infection and hospitalisation. But the good news is obviously that 90 per cent of those people over 50 have had the booster jab – that is the real protection against severe infection and hospitalisation,” he said.
“So, at the moment there’s nothing in the data to suggest we need to go further but of course, we will look at the Wednesday review and then beyond that keep monitoring the data very carefully,” he added.
The education minister also vowed that the move towards compulsory face masks in secondary schools as term begins later this week will not be in place “for a day longer than we need it”. It was announced over the weekend that pupils returning to school after Christmas break will be required to wear face masks in class and also undergo on-site rapid antigen lateral flow tests.
“What we’re saying is, look, with Omicron, because it’s so infectious, we want to make sure that we give you as many tools to be able to make sure that education is open,” he said.
The government is set to review the data in full on Wednesday to evaluate any changes to the current Plan B measures, which require compulsory face coverings, work from home and COVID vaccination passes for large venues, echoes the views of other Cabinet ministers in recent days. The devolved regions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all following similar restrictions but in most cases have gone even further than England and imposed restrictions on crowd sizes and banned nightclubs.
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers behind staffing levels at the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), said that the number of hospitalisations has “dropped significantly” in London – the first region to be hit hard by Omicron as its epicentre. That could mean the number of hospitalisations in the British capital is now matching an earlier peak in cases, with regions beyond London now beginning to feel the pressure.
“Rest of country now under pressure. Some trusts declaring critical incidents to manage staff absences. Recent London data, fact that London/NHS currently ‘coping’ and absence of large numbers of seriously ill offer grounds for optimism. But future still uncertain,” he tweeted. PTI AK AMS
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