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Omicron cases peak for second time this year as hospitalisations ‘come down’

OMICRON Covid cases have peaked for the second time this year, according to a leading study.

But despite the worst being over, and tumbling hospitalisations and death, infections are “far too high” to ease restrictions, an expert has said. 

The ZOE Covid data show that there were two Omicron peaks, one in early January, and one in early to mid-February

The ZOE Covid data show that there were two Omicron peaks, one in early January, and one in early to mid-FebruaryCredit: ZOE COVID Symptom Study app
Face masks in indoor places have been scrapped - and now self-isolation is expected to end in a months time

Face masks in indoor places have been scrapped – and now self-isolation is expected to end in a months timeCredit: LNP

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced self-isolation will soon be scrapped

The ZOE COVID Study estimates there are 203,973 new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK every day.

It’s an increase of 4.5 per cent from the 195,068 reported last week and compares to the peak of 208,471 daily cases on January 6.

One in 25 people in the UK are currently unwell with symptoms of the virus, the study predicts, and there will be more that are asymptomatic. 

Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist and lead scientist on the study, said “it looks like we’ve now passed the second big peak of the year” but cases were “currently far too high”.

He said hospitalisations, ICU cases and deaths are falling, which is evident from the Government’s data, too.

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Weekly hospitalisations are down by 12 per cent this week, with 1,200 admissions per day, and deaths are down by 16 per cent, with 276 per day.

The ZOE data this week show that cases are now slowing in all age groups, apart from the 18-34 and 75+ age groups, where there are increases. 

Prof Spector said: “Cases need to decline more among older and more vulnerable age groups before we can start to relax.”

He added it was “too early to tell the effects of Long COVID as a result of an Omicron infection or the effect of the super infectious BA.2 variant that continues to increase nationally”.

The latest research into the BA.2 variant, dubbed Omicron’s “stealth sister”, spreads 33 per cent quicker and can dodge vaccines.

But there is no data to suggest it is more severe or evades booster jabs more than the original Omicron version, BA.1, so scientists are not currently concerned. 

The estimated ZOE case figures are higher than those given by the Government coronavirus dashboard, which is reporting some 80,000 new cases a day.

Last week, Prof Spector suggested this was because of a recent testing rule change.

In December, health officials said Brits who got a positive lateral flow test need to report their result to the NHS website and go into self-isolation.

But they no longer need to get a confirmation PCR if they do not have any of the classic symptoms listed by the NHS.

Therefore, the full scope of the Covid outbreak relies on people reporting their LFT test results.

Prof Spector said this means positive LFTs are “often not being logged with the Government”.

And the Office for National Statistics is showing similar trends to ZOE, estimating one in 19 people in England had Covid in the week to February 5.

Is it over yet?

Prof Spector said today: “Despite the Government’s hasty decision to end all restrictions this month, and the message this sends, this does not mean the pandemic is over.

“We should all try to be good citizens by continuing to self-isolate when ill and protect ourselves and others from what can be a really nasty infection.”

The PM said on Wednesday that he would present a plan for “living with Covid” within days to the glee of Tory MPs.

The current self-isolation rules will expire “a full month early” than the planned March 24, Mr Johnson said. 

Prof Spector said he thought it was “totally wrong” to tell people they didn’t need to bother self-isolating, even if other countries may switch to a no-quarantine strategy.

“They won’t be saying to everyone, ‘Don’t bother, just go and infect your workmates’, which seems crazy,” he told Times Radio.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.”

But by kicking restrictions to the curb, with Plan B restrictions scrapped in January, it will see the UK start treating Covid in a similar way to other infectious diseases such as flu.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We are the freest country in Europe thanks to the strong defences we have built.

“We’re learning to live with Covid.”

Covid new cases per region

Covid new cases per regionCredit: ZOE COVID Symptom Study app