The UK government, which is responsible for public health policies in England, said on Dec. 27 that no more restrictions would be imposed at least until after the New Year.
Writing in the Daily Mail on Saturday, Javid said the decision that saw England welcoming the New Year “with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe” was because the number of people in intensive care units (ICU) remained stable and did not follow “the trajectory we saw this time last year during the Alpha wave,” despite soaring case numbers.
The UK on Friday reported 189,846 new cases of COVID-19—the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus—almost three times the peak case number last January (68,053).
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician and government adviser, told the BBC that the real number could be closer to 500,000 due to the testing regime being overstretched and reinfections not being counted in the UK government data.
The number of patients in hospitals with COVID-19 has also started increasing since Christmas, with 11,918 hospitalised patients on Wednesday, a 47.5 percent jump week on week.
However, data from NHS England showed that only 67 percent of patients in NHS acute hospital trusts were being treated primarily for COVID-19, down from 71 percent a week earlier.
The number of patients across the UK in mechanical ventilation beds with COVID-19 has remained stable. On Wednesday, 868 patients in mechanical ventilation beds had COVID-19, 21 percent of the number last January.
The number of daily reported deaths within 28 days of positive test—the most up-to-date number on CCP virus-related deaths—has increased after Christmas, but the number is skewed due to reporting lags during Christmas. The latest available 7-day average was 130.1, about one-tenth the number seen in January 2020.
The number of deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate—which normally lags behind—reported 132 deaths on Dec. 6. The highest number in previous waves was 1461, recorded on April 8, 2020.
Javid said the record-breaking Omicron wave of infection will “test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter,” but promised to only use lockdowns as the last resort.
“Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them,” the health secretary wrote.
“Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social, and economic costs of lockdowns,” he added.
“So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.”
A top health care boss in England confirmed on Saturday that ICU occupancy in England has broadly remained stable. However, he urged the government to “be ready to introduce new restrictions at pace if they’re needed,” arguing the NHS is “now under different, arguably more, pressure” compared to last January.
In a string of posts on Twitter, Chris Hopson, NHS Providers chief executive, said the problems the NHS is facing are “less one of patient acuity, intensity of care, and length of stay required.”
The new pressures, compared to last year, include a “much busier urgent and emergency care pathway”; many more planned care cases—many of which had been delayed during the pandemic—that can no longer be delayed without patient harm; staff absences; and a “significantly more” resource-intensive and complex booster vaccination campaign, Hopson wrote.