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Omicron coronavirus cases surge in UK, scientists see bigger wave

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By Reuters
London declares 'major incident' to help COVID-hit hospitals
London declares 'major incident' to help COVID-hit hospitals   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021   -  

<div> <p>By William Schomberg</p> <p><span class="caps">LONDON</span> -Britain reported a surge in cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday which government advisors said could be just the tip of the iceberg, and London’s mayor declared a “major incident” to help the city’s hospitals cope.</p> <p>The number of Omicron cases recorded across the country hit almost 25,000 as of 1800 <span class="caps">GMT</span> on Friday, up by more than 10,000 cases from 24 hours earlier, the UK Health Security Agency (<span class="caps">UKHSA</span>) said.</p> <p>Seven people believed to have had the Omicron variant had died as of Thursday, up from one death in the <span class="caps">UKHSA</span>’s previous data which ran up to Tuesday. Admissions to hospital of people thought to have the variant increased to 85 from 65.</p> <p>The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (<span class="caps">SAGE</span>) said it was “almost certain” that hundreds of thousands of people were being infected with the variant every day and were not being picked up in the figures.</p> <p><span class="caps">SAGE</span> said without a further tightening of <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 rules, “modelling indicates a peak of at least 3,000 hospital admissions per day in England,” they said in minutes of a meeting on Dec. 16.</p> <p>Last January, before Britain’s vaccination campaign gathered speed, daily hospital admissions in the United Kingdom as a whole surged above 4,000. </p> <p>Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced a rebellion in his governing Conservative Party over some of the measures he has taken so far to try to curb <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19’s latest spread. A newspaper said on Saturday that Johnson’s Brexit minister, David Frost, had resigned in part because of the new rules. </p> <p>The advisors said it was too early to assess the severity of disease caused by Omicron but if there was a modest reduction compared to the Delta variant, “very high numbers of infections would still lead to significant pressure on hospitals”.</p> <p>London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” – which allows for closer coordination between public agencies and possibly more central government support – as <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 hospital admissions in the city rose by nearly 30% this week. </p> <p>He said health worker absences had also increased.</p> <p>“This is a statement of how serious things are,” he said.</p> <p>Khan, from the opposition Labour Party, also declared a major incident in January, when rising <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals.</p> <p>The Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/how-worried-should-we-be-about-omicron-variant-2021-12-14 is estimated to account for more than 80% of new <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 cases in London, officials said on Friday.</p> <p><span class="caps">EMERGENCY</span> <span class="caps">MEETING</span></p> <p>Johnson was due to chair an emergency committee meeting over the weekend with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have their own powers over public health.</p> <p>A report in The Times newspaper said officials were preparing draft rules which, if introduced, would ban indoor mixing in England — except for work — for two weeks after Christmas when pubs and restaurants would be limited to outdoor table service.</p> <p>People would be able to meet in groups of up to six outdoors, the newspaper said, adding that ministers were yet to formally consider the plans.</p> <p>Johnson said on Friday “we are not closing things down”.</p> <p>A government spokesperson said the government would continue to “look closely at all the emerging data and we’ll keep our measures under review as we learn more about this variant”.</p> <p>The number of all new <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 cases reported in official data fell to 90,418 from a record high of more than 93,000 on Friday, but that was still the country’s second-highest daily toll. Figures typically dip at the weekend.</p> <p>Cases were up 44.4% over the seven days to Dec. 18 compared with the previous week.</p> <p>Police clashed with a group of protesters opposed to the latest <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 restrictions near Johnson’s Downing Street office and residence on Saturday. A number of officers were injured but so far no arrests had been made, police said. </p> </div>