Chris Whitty warns Covid records will continue to be broken as Omicron rages across UK

15 December 2021, 17:38 | Updated: 7 June 2023, 08:56

Chris Whitty said the country is dealing with two epidemics and records will continue to be broken in the coming weeks
Chris Whitty said the country is dealing with two epidemics and records will continue to be broken in the coming weeks. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned Covid records will continue to be broken in the coming weeks as the UK is deals with two epidemics.

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He slapped down interpretations of recent data suggesting Omicron is milder than other variants and therefore less of a threat.

Speaking at a press conference today he said: "I'm afraid we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up."

The medical officer warned the UK is experiencing two epidemics "on top of one another" warning the the Delta variant is "not going away".

Prof Whitty also said there should be "really serious caution" over reports that a reduction in hospitalisations was being seen in cases of Omicron in South Africa.

Explaining recent data, he said: "The first caution on this is simply a numerical one - if the rate of hospitalisation were to halve but you're doubling every two days, in two days you're back to where you were before you actually had the hospitalisation.

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"If the peak of this is twice as great, then halving of the size of the hospitalisation rate, you still end up in the same place. And this peak is going very fast."

Adding: "The second point I wanted to make, which I'm not sure it's fully been absorbed by everybody, is that the amount of immunity in South Africa for this wave - because of a prior Delta wave and vaccination - is far higher than it was for their last wave. And therefore the fact that there is a lower hospitalisation rate is unsurprising."

He continued: "That doesn't mean that there isn't some degree of slightly milder disease, that is possible. But I just think there's a danger people have over-interpreted this to say, this is not a problem and what are we worrying about?

"I want to be clear, I'm afraid this is going to be a problem. Exact proportions of it, of course, South African scientists and UK scientists and scientists globally are trying to determine at the moment."

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Ending his stark warning, Professor Whitty said: "There are several things we don’t know about Omicron, but all the things we do know are bad."

His cautions to the public come as the UK has recorded the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 78,610 new cases on Wednesday.

The previous record was 68,053, recorded on January 8 this year, when the UK was in lockdown.

During the news conference the Prime Minister warned in some areas the doubling rate for Omicron cases was now under two days.

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When asked about socialising in the run up to Christmas, the Chief Medical Officer stated "you don’t need a medical degree" to see that it is a sensible idea to "de-prioritise" social interactions over the festive period.

Boris Johnson also advised people to "think carefully" before going to events over the Christmas period.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he said: "I said many times that I thought that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas, and I stick to that.

"We're not cancelling events, we're not closing hospitality, we're not cancelling people's parties or their ability to mix.

"What we are saying is think carefully before you go. What kind of an event is it?

"Are you likely to meet people who are vulnerable? Are you going to meet loads of people you haven't met before? And get a test ... make sure that there's ventilation, wear a mask on transport and get a test before you go."

Updates to follow