Covid outbreaks SEXTUPLED in size in week before Christmas in England’s worst-hit neighbourhoods as fascinating time-lapse maps show how Omicron has torn through country in less than a month
- EXCLUSIVE: Cases in Lower Penwortham North, a district of Preston, jumped from 196 to 1,192 per 100,000
- Number of positive tests doubled over the same time-frame in a fifth of England’s 6,800 MSOAs last week
- Sanger Institute data shows how Omicron quickly went from being in one region to across the UK in a month
England’s worst-hit neighbourhoods saw their Covid outbreaks sextuple in size during the week before Christmas, according to MailOnline’s analysis of Government statistics which lays bare how quickly Omicron has torn through the country.
Cases in Lower Penwortham North, a district of Preston, jumped from 196 to 1,192 per 100,000 people in the week leading up to December 22, the latest date regional data is available for.
Official statistics also show the number of positive tests doubled over the same time-frame in a fifth of England’s 6,800 wards, home to roughly 11million people.
Meanwhile, fascinating time-lapse maps illustrate the sheer speed of Omicron’s journey to reach every corner of the nation.
Academics at the Sanger Institute, one of the country’s largest variant-tracking laboratories, pulled together data highlighting how England went from detecting its first case of the ultra-transmissible lineage towards the end of November to it becoming dominant in swathes of the country within a matter of weeks.
Boris Johnson yesterday held his nerve and opted against bringing in tougher restrictions ahead of NYE to thwart the variant, instead urging people to be cautious with their social plans.
No10’s own advisers have repeatedly warned the strain could overwhelm NHS hospitals within weeks, prompting calls for lockdown-esque measures.
Ministers have refused to rule out adopting tougher curbs in January to bring England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have already closed nightclubs and reintroduced the rule of six to contain Omicron.
England’s worst-hit neighbourhoods saw their Covid outbreaks sextuple in size during the week before Christmas, according to MailOnline’s analysis of Government statistics. Map shows: Covid case rates in regions across England and Wales in the seven days up to December 15 (left) and December 22 (right)
MailOnline’s analysis shows cases in Lower Penwortham North, a district of Preston, jumped from 196 to 1,192 per 100,000 people in the week leading up to December 22, the latest date regional data is available for
Academics at the Sanger Institute, one of the country’s largest variant-tracking laboratories, pulled together data highlighting how England went from detecting its first case of the ultra-transmissible lineage towards the end of November to it becoming dominant in swathes of the country within a matter of weeks
Omicron cases surged most quickly in London, before other areas of the country started to catch up. Graph shows: The number of laboratory-confirmed Omicron cases in regions across England over time
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows Omicron now makes up 90.4 per cent of all cases in England. Graph shows: The proportion of cases likely to be Omicron (purple) compared to other variants including Delta (light green) over time
A leading vaccines expert backed Boris Johnson’s refusal to toughen England’s Covid restrictions, saying that mass deaths and hospitalisations from the deadly disease are ‘history’.
Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of the Vaccines Taskforce, said the public had been ‘pretty responsible’ in its response to the spread of the Omicron variant.
It came as new figures showed the number of people in hospital with Covid in England is less than half the same time last year – despite cases being three times higher.
‘The health minister has taken advice and looked at the data. I think his judgment where we should go in the next few days is probably fine,’ Sir John told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘There are a lot of people who are aware that we are in the face of this large wave of disease. The behaviour of people in the UK, in England in particular, has been pretty responsible in terms of trying not to go out and spending a lot of time exposing yourself to the virus.’
He added: ‘The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago – intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely – that is now history in my view and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue.’
MailOnline’s analysis shows the second largest jump in Covid infections in England in the week up to December 22 was Belle Isle South in Leeds, which saw the number of positive tests spike by 457 per cent.
It was followed by Whitby West in Yorkshire (457 per cent), Droylsden East in Tameside, Greater Manchester (439 per cent), and Central Bolton in Greater Manchester (428 per cent).
In comparison, cases fell in around 500 of the 6,800 areas of the country (7.8 per cent).
The biggest fall was in Upper Dales in North Yorkshire which saw its case rate fall from 402 per 100,000 on December 15 to 117.3 per 100,000 on December 22 — a drop of 71 per cent.
Mylor Bridge and Frogpool in Cornwall saw the next biggest drop (70 per cent), followed by Appledore and Northam North in Devon (59 per cent).
None of the top 20 areas for growth were in Omicron hotspot London, bolstering claims that the capital’s outbreak may be starting to flatten off.
Some of the increases in case numbers will be down to more testing, but the Government data does not break down the number of swabs conducted by Middle Layer Super Output Area (MSOA) — the tiny geographical areas analysed by MailOnline.
Meanwhile data from the Sanger Institute shows how Omicron spread after being spotted in South Northants and a handful of other areas on December 4 to the rest of the country in a matter of weeks.
Omicron made up just 17.5 per cent of the cases in the area on that date.
It has since increased to make up around 90 per cent of all new cases, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
The mutant strain quickly became dominant London, accounting for more than 80 per cent of all Covid cases in Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Camden, Islington and Haringey by December 18.
It is also now dominant in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham and Liverpool.
The Sanger data only takes into account test samples from one lab, meaning it doesn’t show the full picture of the strain’s rapid takeover of the UK.
UK Government statistics show how the number of Covid tests being conducted has reached 1.5m a day, with the number of swabs carried out having increased massively since Omicron first emerged
The most up-to-date figures reveal there were 842 Covid patients in intensive care on ventilators – the lowest level in two months
UK faces calls to slash Covid isolation to just FIVE days after US halves virus quarantine to ‘keep society functioning’
Britain was today urged to cut its Covid quarantine period to just five days, bringing its isolation rules in line with the US.
American officials last night scrapped an order requiring the infected to self-isolate for 10 days. Instead, they can leave home at the half-way point, as long as they have no symptoms and can wear a mask around people for another five days.
Bosses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insisted the decision was ‘motivated by science’ and to keep ‘society functioning’.
Leading experts today called for UK to follow suit especially in the face of Omicron, which has wreaked havoc on businesses throughout Christmas by forcing hundreds of thousands to stay at home.
Union bosses have warned the ultra-transmissible variant’s rapid spread has left the NHS and other public sectors in a ‘perilous state’.
Ministers have already squeezed the isolation period to seven days, providing Covid sufferers test negative twice at the end of their week of quarantine.
But Sir John Bell, an immunologist who has advised the Government on Covid, said Britain could go even further and replicate the US by relying on lateral flow tests. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the swabs are ‘quite a good way of marking who is infectious and who isn’t’.
And Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of East Anglia, said eventually Covid-infected people need to be allowed to ‘go about their normal lives’ as they would with a cold.
The data comes amid fierce debate among experts and politicians over No10’s response to soaring infections, after England broke ranks with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by holding firm against calls to toughen restrictions over New Year’s Eve.
Business leaders issued a fresh call for support for the beleaguered hospitality sector, after fears around the new Omicron variant led to a sharp drop-off in trade in the run-up to Christmas.
The industry broadly welcomed the announcement there will be no new Covid restrictions in England before the new year, beyond the Plan B measures already in place.
However British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith warned it would not make up for the business lost during what should have been the busiest time of the year, as people stayed away from pubs and restaurants.
While the Treasury has announced grants of up to £6,000 for businesses affected, she said that some were losing more than that each day.
‘In January, February, March we have increasing labour costs and increasing energy costs, among many other costs. The list goes on for businesses, particularly in hospitality,’ she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘I am delighted to see that we are protecting New Year’s Eve, but it just won’t go far enough.’
Lady McGregor-Smith urged the Government to extend the business rates relief and the emergency rate of VAT beyond the end of March, and to bring back a ‘focused’ furlough support scheme.
She said that businesses in the sector also needed flexibility over the repayment of loans which they had taken out to support them through the pandemic.
‘Many, many have got more debt than they ever had before.
‘They are now in a position where they are going to have to pay that back and I think the Treasury needs to look very carefully at the repayment schemes for many loans across the UK,’ she said.
She was backed by Andy Wood, the chief executive of Adnams brewery, who said there had been a 50 per cent drop in visitors to pubs and hotels after the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, urged people to be cautious about socialising following the emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
‘More than half of Christmas has been lost. This is a sector that has the economic equivalent of long Covid.
‘There is going to need to be support for the sector through the dark months of January, February and March,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
While there is relief among business that New Year’s Eve celebrations will be able to go ahead in England, some scientists have expressed concern about the lack of new restrictions following the surge in Covid cases.
Experts criticise Boris Johnson for holding his nerve by NOT cancelling New Year’s Eve and say England’s decision to go it alone ‘speaks volumes’… but Tories back PM for making ‘right decision’
Boris Johnson’s decision to hold his nerve and leave England to go it alone by refusing to cancel New Year’s Eve was today criticised by gloomy experts.
The Prime Minister wants to rely on guidance urging people to limit socialising ahead of the last social hurrah of 2021, rather than impose legally binding curbs like in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Environment Secretary George Eustice today insisted the Government is keeping close tabs on Covid admissions and refused to rule out adopting further restrictions in January.
But critics have slammed No10’s decision to keep nightclubs and other hospitality venues open for New Year’s festivities, with one medical union chief claiming it ‘speaks volumes’ about the PM’s approach.
Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist based at Imperial College London, said the move seems to show the ‘greatest divergence between expert clinical/scientific advice and legislation’.
And University of Brighton virologist Dr Sarah Pitt said having different rules in England will just lead to people in Wales and Scotland travelling across the border to celebrate NYE, before returning home and potentially taking the virus with them.
However, Tory MPs have backed Mr Johnson for holding firm against calls to impose tougher sanctions, arguing it is better to trust in the ‘good sense of the British people’.
And NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said hospital trusts are not yet reporting a huge surge in patients needing critical care and ventilators that triggered the winter lockdown last year after the onset of the Alpha variant.
Official coronavirus statistics appeared to justify the Government’s reluctance to resort to economically-crippling curbs, with the number of cases recorded in England having fallen every day since Christmas.
Yesterday’s confirmed infections were up just seven per cent in a week to 98,515 but the figures were for England only, and did not represent Britain’s situation as a whole.
Tory MP Mark Francois (left) has praised Boris Johnson’s decision to hold his nerve and go it alone by not cancelling New Year’s Eve. But experts including Professor Danny Altmann (left) slammed the move, arguing it shows the ‘greatest divergence between expert clinical/scientific advice and legislation’
Mr Eustice acknowledged that infection rates from the new Omicron variant were rising but argued there was evidence it was not resulting in the same level of hospital admissions as previous waves.
‘There is early encouragement from what we know in South Africa that you have fewer hospitalisations and that the number of days that they stay in hospital if they do go into hospital is also lower than in previous variants,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘At the moment we don’t think that the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we have done.
‘But obviously we have got to keep it under very close review, because if it is the case that we started to see a big increase in hospitalisations then we would need to act further.’
However, scientists warned that any move to impose restrictions later than New Year’s Eve could be too late, arguing the decision was made on political rather than scientific grounds.
Professor Altmann told The Guardian: ‘It does feel hard that, at a time when we need to all pull together to maximise all possible mitigations, we seem to have our greatest divergence between expert clinical/scientific advice and legislation.’
And University of Reading cellular microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke warned official data does not take into account the picture in Britain between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.
He suggested the move was based on incomplete data and it would only become clear how the virus was moving through the population in another week or so — after New Year’s Eve has taken place.
Dr Clarke said: ‘While nobody wants to live under tighter controls, the public need to realise that if we end up with a significant problem of hospitalisations and mass sickness, it will be worse than if authorities had acted earlier.’
And Dr Pitt said it does not make sense for UK nations to have different Covid restrictions because partygoers from the other home nations will just go to England on New Year’s Eve before returning home.
She told LBC Radio: ‘If people can’t go to a New Year’s Eve party in Wales or Scotland, they’ll just tip over the borders into England, won’t they, thus potentially taking the virus and spreading it… and then taking it back home.
‘So it makes sense to have one set of measures across the whole country and I think it does make sense to have some measures to try and stop the spread of the virus at this point.’
Dr Pitt called for ‘a few measures’ to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. The microbiology lecturer said the ‘seriously infectious virus’ is ‘putting some people very seriously in hospital, and some people are dying’.
She told LBC Radio: ‘I know personally more people who’ve been off sick with Covid in the last month than the whole of the pandemic put together.
‘So although there is a balance between the economy and health, they’re not mutually exclusive – it’s not one or the other.
‘We’ve actually got to take the virus seriously, and I’m not talking about full lockdowns, I’m just talking about a few measures for some things to just try and stop the spread of this really horrible, nasty virus, just at this moment.’
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