Home » PM Urged To Rule Out New Year Curbs After Studies Show Omicron IS Milder

PM Urged To Rule Out New Year Curbs After Studies Show Omicron IS Milder

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Boris Johnson is today being urged to ditch the idea of New Year restrictions after studies showed the Omicron strain is milder than Delta.

The PM has delayed decisions on toughening up Covid rules until after Christmas Day with the government stressing that there is not yet compelling evidence on whether they are needed.

He is expected to leave Britons in peace for the new few days after exhorting them ‘to take extra care to protect yourselves and your families’ during festive gatherings.

But with more critical evidence on the variant due later, businesses and Tories are calling for early clarity on the New Year period – which could be make or break for many bars and restaurants after a wave of cancellations over recent weeks.

MPs and ministers have been voicing satisfaction at the emerging findings on Omicron – although scientists have cautioned that it still poses a serious threat to the NHS because it is so fast-spreading. Professor Andrew Hayward, a SAGE member, warned this morning that the picture is unclear for elderly people.

Professor Neil Ferguson — who just last week warned there could be up to 5,000 daily Omicron deaths in the UK — said the country’s fourth wave will be ‘nothing like what we seen last year, with ICUs overflowing with patients’ on the back of the new findings.

His team at Imperial College London found that overall, Britons who catch Omicron are between 15 and 20 per cent less likely to be admitted than those who get Delta.

But the real-world analysis, of more than 300,000 people between December 1 and 14, found the chance of having to stay in the NHS overnight was even lower, with a reduced risk of between 40 and 45 per cent.

The findings are believed to have contributed to Mr Johnson holding off Christmas restrictions despite record case numbers — with 106,122 positive tests reported yesterday.

Venues are desperate to know whether they will be allowed to open on what is a crucial day of trading, especially after weeks of devastation caused by the Omicron variant.

But it is understood the Government is not preparing any announcements this week and there are no plans for a press conference, meaning venues will likely only get clarity at the last minute.

Some nightclubs make as much as a tenth of their annual profits on New Year’s Eve and lockdown measures could plunge more pubs, bars and restaurants into financial ruin.

The wait-and-seen approach in England contrasts sharply with the rest of the UK, with tensions rising between Westminster and the devolved administrations over funding for bailouts.

Wales has banned large New Year’s Eve celebrations and said nightclubs must close. In Scotland, hospitality has been hampered by rules which limit serving alcohol to table service only from December 27.

And in Northern Ireland, Stormont ministers agreed a series of restrictions due to come into force on Boxing Day, including the closure of nightclubs, and guidance to limit contacts with different households.

Welsh economy minister Vaughan Gething said he did not believe Mr Johnson would be able to hold out ‘for very much longer’.

‘Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken relatively similar measures yesterday – it’s England that’s out of step with the other three nations,’ he told Times Radio.

‘We’ve done this because of the clear public health advice we’ve got and because we are already starting to see a rise in cases.’

Boris Johnson will wait until after December 25 to announce any post-Christmas Covid changes, after studies showed Omicron is milder and far less likely to cause hospitalisation than Delta

The concerns come after senior SAGE scientist Neil Ferguson — who just last week warned there could be up to 5,000 daily Omicron deaths in the UK — said the country’s fourth wave will be ‘nothing like what we seen last year, with ICUs overflowing with patients’ on the back of the new findings

Researchers at Imperial College London found Omicron is 10 per cent less likely to cause hospitalisation in someone who has never been vaccinated or previously infected with Covid than with Delta. Hospitalisation is up to 20 per cent less likely in the general population — including those who have been infected or vaccinated — and 45 per cent less likely for at least a night

University of Edinburgh researchers found the risk of being hospitalised with Omicron was 65 per cent less with Omicron than with Delta. Graph shows: The rate of hospitalisation in different age groups for Delta (green) and Omicron (red) cases in Scotland

87% of South African Omicron deaths are in the unvaccinated

By Eleanor Hayward, Health Correspondent for the Daily Mail

Nine in ten Omicron deaths are in unvaccinated patients, data from South Africa shows.

Of the country’s 309 deaths from the variant, just 40 have been in those who had received two vaccine doses. It means 87 per cent of deaths were in patients who have had only a single dose or no jabs at all.

Its health officials said the death rate from the Omicron variant is ‘lower than at any other point of the pandemic’ while hospitalisation rates are 80 per cent lower.

Just 5 per cent of hospitalised patients have died from the virus during the Omicron outbreak, compared to 24 per cent in previous waves.

The figures highlight the crucial role of vaccines in preventing severe disease. The research was carried out by scientists from institutions such as the University of the Witwatersrand and were published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, along with a study confirming Omicron leads to milder illness.

Scientists looked at data from more than 160,000 people with Covid, comparing hospitalisation rates during the Omicron wave with previous variants.

After adjusting for other factors, the researchers found people with Omicron are 80 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital.

Lead author Professor Cheryl Cohen said: ‘Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe.

‘Our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants.’

The study said it was too early to know if high levels of immunity from previous infection and/or vaccines were keeping hospitalisations low.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, has said Omicron’s severity is still being assessed, while care minister Gillian Keegan warned there is ‘uncertainty’ around people making plans for New Year’s Eve.

Greater Manchester’s night time economy advisor Sacha Lord said last night it is critical the Government announces a decision for England as quickly as possible.

He praised the Prime Minister for recognising the importance of keeping the hospitality sector open but said it is ‘in limbo’ with the threat of restrictions hanging overhead.

Mr Lord said: ‘Every operator wants to operate. But responsible operators say safety has to come first. So with how much planning goes into New Year’s Eve the second they know what they’re doing there can be no dithering around like the last few weeks, they must come out with absolute clarity, certainty and guidance.’

It comes as social care bosses called for the public to stay at home ‘as much as they can’ and limit social activities, as they declared a ‘national emergency’ due to care being rationed as staff isolate.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) said it is appealing to people to do the right thing, in the absence of any further restrictions being set out for England.

Mr Lord, who also founded Manchester’s Warehouse Project and Park Life festival, said any closures on New Year’s Eve would force people into much more contagious house parties.

Mr Lord said: ‘In Wales and Scotland it shows what they think about hospitality and the night time economy.’ He was echoed by the boss of the British Beer and Pub Association Emma McClarkin, who said: ‘New Year’s Eve and the build-up to the New Year – whether it is family meals or those wanting to toast 2022 with a pint in their hands – is a huge part of our festive trading. We have already been decimated by the Government’s announcement and are desperately hoping we can cling on into the New Year and find a way to trade our way into recovery in 2022.’

Jonathan Neame, boss of Britain’s oldest brewer Shepherd Neame, said: ‘We hope that pubs stay open and that there are no further restrictions.’

And Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin said the Government should not cancel New Year, adding: ‘Do not follow Scotland.’

Industry body UK Hospitality said businesses in Wales are being devastated by the country’s new restrictions.

Its Welsh arm’s executive director David Chapman said: ‘Hundreds of millions of pounds of business have been lost in the run-up to a very quiet Christmas and things will now get worse from Boxing Day.’

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said the latest Omicron findings show there is ‘certainly no need for any further restrictions’.

Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith said the lower severity has a ‘a huge bearing on what is happening’.

‘No more restrictions. it is becoming absolutely clear that those of us who said don’t will be proved right now,’ he told MailOnline.

‘It is time for the scientists to stop Project Fear.’

Sir Iain said that Mr Johnson should come out and reassure people that they can carry on relatively normally.

‘The public needs to feel OK. Yes they need to be careful. Yes in crowden circumstances wearing facemasks, yes use hand sanitiser… but that is not the same as stay away, don’t visit your family all that stuff.

‘The answer is, we just get on with it.’

The reaction came after a study found that even an unvaccinated person who has never had Covid and has no immunity, there was a 10 per cent lower risk of being hospitalised with Omicron compared to Delta.

For someone how has been recently infected, the chance of hospitalisation was slashed by 69 per cent in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The finding may explain why in South Africa — where up to 70 per cent of people have immunity from prior infection but only a quarter are jabbed — is seeing daily hospitalisations stall at less than 400.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘You can see in London, we are getting a lot more people hospitalised. Not for very long, probably not with very severe illness.

‘And that’s not a reflection of Omicron versus Delta — that was already true for Delta infections, that they’re less severe than they were last year because there’s a lot of immunity in the population.

‘The challenge is, if there’s enough of them it still poses quite a challenge to the NHS. We’re not talking about anything like what we saw last year with over-flowing intensive care units and ventilator beds.’

The notoriously gloomy expert confirmed he expected the Omicron wave to be milder, with patients discharged from hospitals quicker and fewer Covid deaths, but warned there could still be significant pressure on the NHS.

He also warned that if infections are 40 per cent higher than they were with Delta then that could offset any reduction in severity.

At-risk 5-year-olds to get low dose Pfizer jabs

By Xantha Leatham, Health and Science Reporter for the Daily Mail

Vulnerable children as young as five will be offered a Covid vaccine in the UK, it was announced yesterday.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has approved a lower dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged five to 11 who are in a clinical risk group.

It means that around 330,000 youngsters will be eligible for two doses, spaced eight weeks apart.

The MHRA made the approval following a review of safety data that showed the benefits far outweigh the risks for the jab to be used in this age group.

In light of the regulator’s approval, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is advising that children aged five to 11, who are in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, should be offered a primary course of the vaccine.

Each dose will be 10 micrograms – a third of the adult dosage. The JCVI held off on recommending jabs for healthy children in the age group, citing the need for more data. Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: ‘Parents and carers can be reassured that no new vaccine for children would have been approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met.

‘We have concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective for five- to 11-year olds, with no new safety concerns identified.’

Separately, in response to the Omicron threat, the JCVI has advised that booster vaccinations should be offered to those aged 16 to 17 years, children aged 12 to 15 who are in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, and children aged 12 to 15 years who are severely immunocompromised and who have had an extra third primary dose due to their condition.

The booster for these groups should be 30 micrograms of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the same as adults, given no sooner than three months after completion of the primary course.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, coronavirus immunisation chairman of the JCVI, said: ‘The majority of children aged five to 11 are at very low risk of serious illness due to Covid-19.

‘However, some five- to 11-year-olds have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, and we advise these children to be vaccinated in the first instance.

‘For children and young people who have completed a primary course of vaccination, a booster dose will provide added protection against the Omicron variant.’

Meanwhile, a record 968,665 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported in the UK on Tuesday, new figures show.

The previous record was 940,606 doses on Saturday.

More than 30.8 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with 6.1 million in the past seven days.

Last night the Government urged unpaid carers, care home and home care workers to get boosted to protect the most vulnerable this winter. It came as a new study from the University of Birmingham and University College London found that boosters significantly reduce the risk of severe Covid infections in care residents.

A similar study conducted in Scotland found the risk of being hospitalised with Omicron was 65 per cent less with Omicron than with Delta.

University of Edinburgh researchers said Omicron was as severe as delta they would have seen around 47 people in hospital in Scotland, yet so far there are only 15.

Professor Hayward, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare and a member of the Nervtag advisory group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the emerging research showed ‘we can reasonably say, amongst mainly young adults who normally have mild disease anyway, that the severity is reduced compared to Delta’.

‘That’s reduced maybe nearly a half in terms of likelihood of being admitted to hospital and maybe by about a quarter in terms of the chance of going to accident and emergency,’ he said.

‘I think what we can’t necessarily extrapolate to is what level of reduction in severity we might see in elderly people, and we also know that in elderly people the risk of severe disease throughout the pandemic has always been massively high.’

The NHS could still be under huge pressure despite the possibility that the Omicron variant may cause milder disease, a scientist has said.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT-1 programme and chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London, 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: ‘From the beginning of December we saw this very dramatic rise in prevalence across the country, but particularly across London with the R number now substantially above one.

‘This exponential increase in infections is absolutely being driven by the Omicron variant.’

Professor Elliott described it as ‘encouraging news’ that perhaps the infection when you get it might be less severe in terms of hospital cases, but he added: ‘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.’

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday declared that new Covid restrictions will return on Boxing Day, with large New Year’s Eve parties banned and the rule of six re-imposed on pubs and restaurants.

The two-metre social distancing will return in most public settings, while hospitality venues will be limited to table service-only and customers will have to wear face masks at all times apart from when seated.

Scotland has also announced stricter guidance for after Christmas but the Prime Minister has said there is not ‘enough evidence’ on Omicron to justify tougher curbs yet.

Writing in the Sun, Mr Johnson entreated people not to let their guard down, and keep getting boosters.

‘Omicron continues to surge faster than anything we’ve seen,’ he said.

‘So please keep following the guidance: wear a mask when needed, open windows for ventilation, and take a test before visiting loved ones, particularly if they are elderly or vulnerable.

‘But the most important thing is to get a jab. While much remains uncertain, we know two does not give enough protection from Omicron.

‘You need a booster to bolster your immune system and to protect you and your family.

‘So please, if you haven’t already, get a booster. And if you haven’t had a jab at all, or are due a second, it’s not too late.

‘A vaccine is the best Christmas present you can give yourself, and the best thing you can do for family and friends is encourage them to get jabbed.’

It came as business leaders in Northern Ireland slammed the country’s new Covid restrictions as ‘unacceptable and unforgivable’.

Stormont ministers announced yesterday that nightclubs will close from Boxing Day after its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases was recorded.

Some 3,231 new cases of the virus were confirmed in the region on Wednesday, a jump from 2,096 cases recorded on Tuesday.

The move to close nightclubs was agreed at a virtual meeting of the powersharing Executive on Wednesday, in which it was determined that dancing will also be prohibited in hospitality venues. It will not apply to weddings, however.

First Minister Paul Givan described the measures as ‘proportionate based on where we are today’ but added they will be kept under review.

However, Belfast Chamber of Commerce heavily criticised the fact that no additional financial support package was agreed to accompany the measures.

Chief Executive Simon Hamilton, a former DUP minister in the Stormont Executive, said businesses had already suffered significant losses due to heighted consumers fears about the prospect of a lockdown.

‘For weeks now, businesses who have experienced a difficult 2021, have been subjected to a drip feed of speculation and scaremongering about possible lockdowns and further restrictions,’ he said.

‘As the rhetoric ramped up, the impact on businesses was very real as millions of pounds of trade disappeared, causing owners and their teams huge distress.

‘Today, the Executive has added insult to injury. As well as having to deal with the impact of additional measures, businesses haven’t been offered a single penny in financial support. That is simply unacceptable and unforgivable.

‘What sort of a message does that send to the thousands of people who rely on jobs in the affected sectors and their supply chains to heat their homes and feed their families?

It came as it emerged that Britain is considering giving out fourth Covid vaccines in a bid to stop the surge of Omicron cases, following the lead of Germany and Israel.

The rollout of a second set of boosters is being examined by experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

They will weigh up the levels of immunity granted by the extra jab as well as hospitalisation figures, The Telegraph reported.

Those with weakened immune systems are already entitled to a fourth jab but the elderly and other vulnerable groups could soon be included.

The number of Omicron cases reported in the UK is increasing slower than scientists predicted. However some experts fear that the country has hit the limit of its testing capacity and that this is throttling the data

Britain considers FOURTH Covid vaccination: Experts will examine evidence on rolling out ANOTHER jab after Israel and Germany announced second booster to tackle Omicron threat

Britain is considering giving out fourth Covid vaccines in a bid to stop the surge of Omicron cases, following the lead of Germany and Israel.

The rollout of a second set of boosters is being examined by experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

They will weigh up the levels of immunity granted by the extra jab as well as hospitalisation figures, The Telegraph reported.

Those with weakened immune systems are already entitled to a fourth jab but the elderly and other vulnerable groups could soon be included.

The fourth jab would likely come four months after the third if it gets the green light and could be available in the new year.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, said: ‘We need to see more data. We are in different circumstances to Israel and we need to see more data on waning immunity and vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation.’

An Israeli health expert, who is sharing findings with the UK, said they are already seeing waning immunity from the third jab, prompting the extra round of vaccinations.

Israel announced today citizens over the age of 60 and medical teams would be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine shot.

‘The world will follow in our footsteps,’ Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted.

Bennett, who has sought to drum up higher Israeli turnout for vaccines, welcomed the decision as ‘great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world’.

The Israeli government moved quickly against Omicron, barring foreigners from entering on November 25 and expanding a list of high-risk countries to which its citizens should not travel to include the United States this week.

The fourth jab would likely come four months after the third if it gets the green light and could be available in the new year.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, said: ‘We need to see more data. We are in different circumstances to Israel and we need to see more data on waning immunity and vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation.’

An Israeli health expert, who is sharing findings with the UK, said they are already seeing waning immunity from the third jab, prompting the extra round of vaccinations.

Israel announced today citizens over the age of 60 and medical teams would be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine shot.

‘The world will follow in our footsteps,’ Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted.

Bennett, who has sought to drum up higher Israeli turnout for vaccines, welcomed the decision as ‘great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world’.

The Israeli government moved quickly against Omicron, barring foreigners from entering on November 25 and expanding a list of high-risk countries to which its citizens should not travel to include the United States this week.

On Tuesday, an Israeli hospital reported the country’s first known death of a patient with Omicron, before amending the statement to say a final laboratory investigation had determined he was infected with the Delta variant.

Soroka Medical Center said the man, in his 60s and with serious pre-existing conditions, died on Monday, two weeks after he was admitted to a COVID-19 ward.

The Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel as of Tuesday.

Israel said it will share its data with the UK on fourth doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the over-60s, healthcare workers and those with lower immunity.

The Imperial College London report 56,000 cases of Omicron and 269,000 cases of Delta over the first two weeks of the month.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘Our analysis shows evidence of a moderate reduction in the risk of hospitalisation associated with the Omicron variant compared with the Delta variant.

‘However, this appears to be offset by the reduced efficacy of vaccines against infection with the Omicron variant.

‘Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron virus, there remains the potential for health services to face increasing demand if Omicron cases continue to grow at the rate that has been seen in recent weeks.’

Professor Azra Ghani from Imperial College London said: ‘Whilst the reduced risk of hospitalisation with the Omicron variant is reassuring, the risk of infection remains extremely high.

‘With the addition of the booster dose, vaccines continue to offer the best protection against infection and hospitalisation.’

New Covid cases breach 100,000 for first time

More than 100,000 Covid cases were recorded across the UK today for the first time as Wales announced tougher New Year curbs in two developments that could pile pressure on Boris Johnson to go further with lockdown curbs.

Government dashboard data shows there were 106,122 positive tests across the country in the past 24 hours, up by a third on the figure last week and eclipsing the previous record of 93,045 last Friday.

While today’s cases are the most ever recorded in a single day, there are signs the week-on-week growth rate is slowing, down from 52 per cent yesterday and around 70 per cent on some days at the weekend.

The rise of Omicron is out of step with gloomy Government modelling that predicted the mutant super-strain was doubling every two days and could lead to a million infections per day by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, latest hospital data shows there were 813 admissions across the UK on December 18, marking an increase of just five per cent in a week. Deaths dropped 15 per cent week-on-week to 140.

Hospital admissions are rising more slowly than in previous waves and a growing body of evidence suggests Omicron is causing milder illness.

Experts said the Imperial study showed people who have had previous infection are significantly less likely to be hospitalised with Omicron.

Professor James Naismith, a structural biologist at the University of Oxford, said: ‘This study finds that previous infection reduces the risk of hospitalisation by around two thirds, indicating Omicron is milder if you have some immunity.

‘However, the study suggests there is no reduction in the severity of Omicron compared to Delta for the doubly vaccinated, indicating that it is not milder.

‘This finding is surprising but is grounded in data. There is no report on the benefit of boosting.

‘The study highlights the same risk as EAVE II, Omicron is not a harmless infection, it will cause serious illness and the more people it infects the more people will end up in hospital.

‘Decreasing the spread of the virus to give time to improve population coverage with the booster is the best strategy.’

Meanwhile, scientists in the Scotland-wide Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of Covid said that the early data suggested that Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in risk of hospitalisation when compared with the strain which used to be dominant in the country.

Dr Jim McMenamin, the national Covid incident director for Public Health Scotland, labeled the findings a ‘qualified good news story’, but said that it was ‘important we don’t get ahead of ourselves’.

He said: ‘The potentially serious impact of Omicron on a population cannot be underestimated.

‘And a smaller proportion of a much greater number of cases that might ultimately require treatment can still mean a substantial number of people who may experience severe Covid infections that could lead to potential hospitalisation.’

MailOnline analysis of UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows Covid cases doubled in all but one of Omicron London’s 32 boroughs last week and trebled in seven

Reports have claimed ministers are watching hospitalisation numbers in the capital, with a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown set to be imposed if daily numbers surpass 400. London is averaging 217 admissions a day as of December 19, the latest date daily figures are available for

London Covid hospitalisations rise by 50% in a week to 301

Covid hospitalisations in London have risen 50 per cent in a week to 301, approaching the Government’s threshold of 400 for introducing lockdown restrictions across the country, official data showed today.

Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.

Government sources say officials are considering a national two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown after Christmas if London’s daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the NHS.

London recorded 301 daily admissions on December 20 — the most recent date with data — which was more than double the figure on December 5. If the current rate is to continue, it would take less than a fortnight to hit the 400 mark.

The capital became the epicentre of the UK’s Omicron outbreak two weeks before the super mutant variant became dominant across the country and experts are treating trends in the city as a sign of what could come for England.

Despite the recent surge in admissions in London, daily hospitalisations are still a far cry from the 850 at the peak last winter and they started from a low base this winter.

But there are fears that the sheer scale of infections that have already occurred in London may be ‘baked in’ and cause a big spike in the coming days. The NHS is considering setting up ‘field hospitals’ in existing hospital car parks in order to cope with the predicted rise in admissions.

However, the capital’s Omicron infections appear to already be plateauing just three weeks into the fresh outbreak. After doubling to 26,000 in a week, they appear to have dropped off in the last five days according to incomplete data. The rate of increase has also dropped off in the last four days.

Authors of the paper, which is yet to be peer reviewed, said if the Omicron had been like the Delta variant in Scotland they would have seen around 47 people in hospital suffering from the virus but, so far, there are only 15.

But Professor Mark Woolhouse, of the University of Edinburgh, said it was heavily caveated at the moment. The data is based on a small number of cases and didn’t have much data on those most at risk, the over 65s.

Professor Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, said: ‘On a day when the UK has registered its largest ever number of daily confirmed Covid infections, some good news has emerged from Scotland and from Imperial College.

‘Both studies suggest that infection by the omicron variant may be less severe than infection by the delta variant, when assessed by comparing the proportion of patients needing hospital admission.

‘At this point, both studies are based on comparisons with differing follow up periods due to the more recent appearance of the omicron variant, leaving some degree of uncertainty as to the potential for more severe outcomes among subjects affected by the omicron variant that do need hospital admission to emerge later.

She continued: ‘However, based on this preliminary information, the decision to delay imposition of greater restrictions on social mixing than are currently advised under Plan B might be more reasonable than some have suggested.

‘This news does not detract from the extraordinary spread of this variant across the population, and the fact that even a small proportion of people needing hospital care for Covid may become a very large number indeed if the community attack rate continues to escalate, with all that implies for overstretching the already stretched NHS.

‘It remains important for all of us to take reasonable care, test test test, and get our boosters as soon as possible. If we all do this, then we might expect a happier new year 2022 than at the same time last year.’

It comes after official data showed there were another 302 hospital admissions in London on December 20, the latest date data is available for, which was up 79 per cent in a week — but still a fraction of the peak during the second wave, when there were 850.

Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.

Government sources say officials are considering a national two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown after Christmas if London’s daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the NHS.

It came as The Guardian reported that the NHS could set up ‘field hospitals’ in hospital car parks to provide ‘super surge’ capacity if Omicron causes a massive spike in hospitalisations above previous peak levels.

How Covid restrictions compare across the UK

Stormont ministers in Northern Ireland have unveiled new measures to help combat rising case numbers of coronavirus in the nation.

On Wednesday evening, ministers agreed a series of restrictions due to come into force on Boxing Day, including the closure of nightclubs, and guidance to limit contacts with different households.

Here, we look at how the measures compare in the different UK nations.

– What is the situation in England?

One big change which has taken place from December 22 is the rules surrounding the self-isolation period.

If a person in England has tested positive or has symptoms, they can stop self-isolating after seven days instead of 10 days if they receive two negative lateral flow test results on days six and seven.

Those who are unvaccinated close contacts of positive cases must still isolate for 10 days.

In terms of restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reassured people that no further curbs will be introduced in England before December 25. He has yet to announce a post-Christmas Covid strategy for England.

England currently has the most relaxed rules in the UK, but a recent vote in Parliament saw some measures introduced, including Covid passes for entry into nightclubs and other venues as of December 15.

This applies to indoor events with 500 or more attendees where people are likely to stand or move around, such as music venues, outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees, such as music festivals, and any events with 10,000 or more attendees, whether indoors or outdoors, such as sports stadiums.

Face coverings have also been made compulsory in most indoor public settings, as well as on public transport, and people have been told to work from home if they can.

People aged 18 and over are able to get their third jabs from this week.

England’s guidance is that people should work from home if they can. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go in to work – but is encouraged to consider taking lateral flow tests regularly.

– What are the rules in Wales?

From December 26, groups of no more than six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales.

Licensed premises will have to offer table service only, face masks will have to be worn and contact tracing details collected and the two-metre social distancing rules are set to return in public places and workplaces.

Sporting events will be played behind closed doors to help control the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Nightclubs will also be closed from Boxing Day under the new rules, although the Welsh Government has announced a £120 million fund to support any businesses affected by the restrictions.

Regulations will also be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.

A maximum of 30 people can attend indoor events and a maximum of 50 people at outdoor events. There will be an exception for team sports, where up to 50 spectators will be able to gather in addition to those taking part.

People attending weddings or civil partnership receptions or wakes are also being told to take a lateral flow test before attending.

– What about Scotland?

From Boxing Day, large events will have one-metre social distancing and will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.

The following day, the one-metre physical distancing will be implemented between adults in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings, including pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other settings where food and drink is served, gyms, theatres, cinemas, bingo and snooker halls and bowling alleys.

Museums, galleries and other visitor attractions also have the same rules in place.

Table service is also required where alcohol is being served.

Ministers at Holyrood have announced a package totalling £375 million, including £175 million of additional funding from the Treasury, to support sectors affected by the latest protective measures to combat Omicron.

Since December 14, people have been asked to reduce their social contact as much as possible by meeting in groups of no more than three households.

Allowing staff to work from home where possible has become a legal duty on employers.

Care home visits have also been limited to two households.

– What is Northern Ireland doing?

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said nightclubs will be closed from 6am on December 26.

Dancing will also be prohibited in hospitality venues, but this will not apply to weddings.

While nightclubs must close, other restrictions are coming into effect on the rest of the hospitality sector. People must remain seated for table service, while table numbers will be limited to six.

Ministers also agreed that sporting events can continue with no limits on capacity, while the work-from-home message is being bolstered and legislation introduced to require social distancing in offices and similar typed workplaces.

Weddings are exempted from the latest measures.

From December 27, the guidance is for mixing in a domestic setting to be limited to three households.