New cases of Covid-19 in the UK hit record highs for the second consecutive year on Thursday as England’s chief medical officer warned that daily hospital admissions could also hit new highs due to the fast-spreading variant of Omicron coronavirus.
The UK reported 88,376 new infections, the highest since the pandemic began and an increase of around 10,000 since Wednesday’s previous record.
The surge in cases put pressure on a health service struggling with staff’s illness, England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Thursday.
Omicron is so transmissible that even if it turns out to be milder than other variants, it could still lead to a surge in hospital admissions, Whitty told lawmakers.
The record for the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 is 4,583, which was set in January.
“It is possible because this will be very focused over a short period of time, even if it is milder, you can have more hospital admissions in a single day,” he said.
However, he said vaccinations could cut ICU admissions and time in hospital. There were 849 admissions on Thursday.
Susan Hopkins, the UK’s chief medical advisor, said there were 15 recorded cases of Omicron in hospitals, but the number was likely much higher.
Although the number of new cases hit a record high, according to official figures, when the pandemic first hit the country in March 2020, the UK did not have mass testing capacity, so the extent of the infections is unknown at the time.
A senior emergency doctor said hospitals, especially in London, are struggling to maintain staff levels as many people are being isolated over Covid-19.
“While we haven’t seen a huge surge in hospital admissions yet, we are already seeing the impact of staff failing to keep shifts working properly and safely,” said Katherine Henderson, London emergency advisor and president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told BBC Radio .
“So we worry that the patient will be harmed because we simply don’t have the staff.”
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The education minister also warned of staff shortages issues, saying his department would work with former teachers who wanted to return to the profession to help.
Britain is betting that the booster vaccination will prevent serious illness from Omicron.
The government has also advised people to work from home, mandating the wearing of masks in public places and introducing Covid-19 passes to enter some venues and events in England, but has failed to comply with previous lockdown measures.
“For example, if the vaccines appeared to be less effective than we expected, it would be a major change in how ministers view future risks,” said Whitty.