Restrictions on freedom “must be an absolute last resort” and the UK must look to “live alongside” COVID-19 in 2022, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said.
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.
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.
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.
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.