LONDON’S Covid hospitalisations have surged by 78 per cent in one week.
And if current trends continue, they could reach No10’s reported lockdown threshold of 400 daily admissions per day.
Boris Johnson has avoided putting the brakes on before Christmas, with family festivites allowed to go ahead without restrictions.
But he has warned that “we cannot rule out further measures after Christmas”, putting New Year celebrations in doubt.
Pubs and restaurants could be forced to serve outside and indoor mixing capped by next Tuesday, sparking fears New Year's Eve events could be ruined.
Government sources told the i newspaper draconian measures may not be put in place at all if hospital admissions stay under 400-a-day in the capital.
Yesterday it was reported that 301 people in the capital were admitted for Covid – up 78 per cent on the 169 reported on December 13 and the highest number for a single day since February 7.
If this trend continues, admissions would be almost 550 within one week – and breaching limits set by ministers within days.
The 400-a-day hospitalisations in London would still be drastically lower than the peak of 977 recorded on January 6, when vaccines had not taken full effect.
However, it is the sheer growth from one week to the next that is frightening officials, and scientists say other regions in England always follow the trend of London with a lag.
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Professor Rupert Pearse, an intensive care doctor in London, said: “If you look at UK-wide figures you can’t see an uptick in hospital admissions just yet. But we know it’s coming and it will spread across the country.”
After encouraging new data shows Omicron is milder than Delta, an expert said the NHS could still be under huge pressure.
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Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT-1 study, said “there are many many cases and sadly some of those people may get severe illness and end up in hospital".
He told Sky News: “Of course, with this very very rapid rise and increase in cases – and we have seen the national cases go above 100,000 – then more cases means more pressure (on the health service).
“Even though a smaller proportion (of people) might get severe disease or go into hospital, that could still result in many cases and, of course, that could give pressure on the health service.”
But whether the sharp spikes in admissions will play out across the UK remains to be seen, given that London has different demographics.
Vaccination rates are the lowest of any region with some 30 per cent still not fully vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to Omicron.
Two jabs are not deemed enough to protect against the super strain – let alone one – and just a third of Londoners have gotten their booster shot.
It's not only the number of patients coming in that threaten to overwhelm the NHS, but the huge number of staff off sick.
Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the “broader picture” of critical care pressures beyond Covid hospital cases was being overlooked.
He said: “What you can see is in places where Omicron in particular is spreading though the community you’re finding significant numbers of staff are off."
Almost 3,900 NHS staff at acute hospital trusts in London were absent for Covid reasons on December 19, more than double the number a week earlier (1,540).
Across England as a whole, 18,800 staff members were off, up 54 per cent from 12,240 a week earlier.
POCKETS OF HOPE
But there are positives Mr Johnson will be unable to ignore, including new bomshell data from the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) that shows Omicron is milder than Delta.
Care Minister Gillian Keegan said data on Omicron's severity was the "missing piece" the Government had been waiting for before deciding how to act.
Boosters have also been proven to be highly effective against Omicron by Imperial College London's REACT-1 study, bringing down infections in the older generations by up to two-thirds.
It makes it more vital than ever to sign up to The Sun's Jabs Army campaign and help turbo-charge the booster rollout.
More than 30 million Brits have got their top-up dose – half the population. But it’s vital the programme keeps up pace so Omicron can be suppressed as soon as possible.
Mr Johnson told The Sun last night a booster jab is the best Christmas gift you can give your family – although it's important to note immunity does not kick in for at least 14 days.
He said: “The most important thing we can all do is to get a jab.
"While much about this new variant remains uncertain, we do know that two jabs does not give you enough protection against catching Omicron.
"You need that booster to bolster your immune system and to protect yourself and your family.”
Meanwhile, infections in London already appear to be improving.
Growth rates – how fast cases are increasing over time – have “crashed”, mathematician Alex Selby, who used the daily rates up to December 16, showed in a graph.
He suggested the change in rate – different to the amount of cases being detected, which is still very high – could have been caused by people changing behaviour.
Daily case numbers rocketed to 27,650 on December 15, which was four-fold higher than the 9,364 reported just one week earlier.
But since then, tentative analysis of data shows cases have slowly been coming down, with the daily average now at 20,000.
Given that hospitalisations lag behind case numbers, however, it is likely many more admissions are “baked in”.
Professor Paul Hunter said under some modelling scenarios, high hospital admissions are “pretty much locked in” and “a lockdown after Christmas would probably be too late”.
Across England, 1,061 admissions were recorded on December 20, up 34 per cent week-on-week and the highest number for a single day since February 19.
The second-wave peak was 4,134 admissions on January 12.
A total of 8,008 people are in hospital in the UK with Covid, up four per cent from a week earlier but lower than the 39,200 at January’s peak.
The figures include those who are admitted to hospital known to have the disease, plus any patients diagnosed with it while there.
Sir David Spiegelhalter suggested people who get diagnosed with Covid while in hospital falsely imply that admissions are increasing.
He told Channel 4 News: "Around half the extra admissions in London with Covid were in fact diagnosed with Covid after they had been in hospital, in other words they had Covid anyway, which vast numbers of people in London now do, and then they found out they had Covid once they'd gone to hospital."
He added: “People are going to be watching London very carefully over the next few days, which has had a huge surge in Omicron, doubling every couple of days.
"But their admissions in London… the speed by which they are going up may be slowing down.
“It's not looking quite as bad as it was in terms of the speed of increase."
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