Prof Chris Whitty today warned of the need to be cautious about promising hospitalisation data that Omicron might cause milder infections in South Africa.

The chief medical officer of England told Downing Street that this morning’s wave saw fewer hospitalisations than usual, due to the greater immune system in this country.

Professor Whitty said the country’s higher immunity to the virus would not necessarily be the same as in the UK because South Africa was worse hit by Delta because it has a lower vaccination rate — and its wave was more recent. 

“I believe there’s been some commentary regarding the fact that scientists and doctors from South Africa have suggested that Omicron may reduce hospitalisation rates. This has been misinterpreted.

‘The amount of immunity for this wave because of prior delta wave and vaccination is far higher than it was for their last wave and therefore the fact they have a lower hospitalisation rate this time is unsurprising.

‘That doesn’t mean there is some degree of milder disease — that is possible — but I think there is a danger that people have overinterpreted this to say this is not a problem and there’s nothing to worry about. Let me be very clear: I fear this will be a problem.

In South Africa, a record 26976 infections have been detected in the past 24 hours. This is a significant increase from the 26,485 cases that were reported early July as Delta ran rampant.

The outbreak also saw a 36% increase in cases over last Wednesday. In every province, except for Gauteng where it may be already at its peak, the number of reported cases increased week on week.

Officials said that another 620 Covid patients were today admitted to the country’s wards, an increase of 66% over last week. A further 54 Covid deaths have been reported, an increase of 50% in one week.

However, both are poor indicators due to how long it takes for the person who has caught the virus to feel well enough to be admitted into a hospital.

Professor Chris Whitty (pictured) today called for 'caution' over promising hospitalisation data suggesting Omicron may cause milder disease in South Africa after the country's daily infections jumped to another high

Today, Professor Chris Whitty (pictured), called for caution over the promising data regarding hospitalisations that Omicron could cause milder diseases in South Africa. This is after South Africa’s daily infection rate jumped another level.

A record 26,976 infections were detected over the last 24 hours in South Africa, surging past the previous high of 26,485 cases from early July when Delta was running rampant

South Africa has seen a record 26,976 cases of infection in 24 hours. That’s more than the 264,85 infections that were discovered early July, when Delta ran rampant.

It also marked a 36 per cent rise on last Wednesday, and cases rose week-on-week in every province except the epicentre Gauteng (red line) where the outbreak may be peaking

The outbreak also saw a 36% increase in cases over last Wednesday. In every province, except for the epicentre Gauteng where there may be a peak, the number of reported cases increased week on week.

Worried Whitty advises attendees to choose the right events ‘carefully. 

Today, the UK announced the highest daily number of coronavirus cases as Omicron invades the country. At a Downing St press conference, Boris Johnson (and Chris Whitty) gave stern warnings to Britons about Christmas parties.

A record 78,610 people tested positive in the past 24 hours, eclipsing the previous highest count by more than 10,000 — when 68,053 were recorded on January 8 at the peak of the second wave.

Omicron is officially responsible for only one third of all cases today. However, Government modeling predicts that 400,000 people will be infected every day and the virus spreading quicker than any testing.

According to projections widely disputable, experts have predicted that by March there will be over a million cases of infection per day. That could mean up to 4,000 admissions in hospitals each day.

Professor Whitty, just minutes after the sudden rise in cases warned that even more Covid records would be broken by Omicron variants.

His advice was to prioritize the people they see in the lead up to Christmas. Otherwise, you risk contracting the virus and not being able to enjoy the festivities.

Professor Whitty could not be pinned down on whether harsher lockdown curbs were necessary, pointing out that there were still several key unknowns about Omicron — such as how vaccines will perform and how severe it is.

He added that he believed that most people prioritize the important social interactions and that they protect them by deprioritizing those that are less important.

Asking specifically about the Christmas work parties, Professor Whitty stated: “The chance of someone being infected with something that doesn’t really matter for them then becoming unable to do those things that are important to them clearly goes up.”

Professor Whitty stated that Omicron should be treated with caution due to reports coming from South African physicians. Because it infects more people, he warned that the Omicron variant could lead to more hospitalizations than Delta.

Today, Professor Whitty spoke at the press conference and stated that South Africa has a much higher immunity to Covid than it did in the previous wave.

“So you might expect some reduction in severity due to increasing immunity. 

‘But in contrast to our Delta wave, we already had lots of immunity thanks to the fantastic work of our NHS in double vaccinating everybody, so we don’t have that additional thing on top. 

The increase in immunity may explain some, or perhaps all, of South Africa’s decreases in severeness. However, this is unlikely to be the case here. 

“The second fact is that the age ranges are quite different. It is important to take care when reading data about HIV as there are many factors that can affect your health.   

Despite Professor Whitty’s warning’s, promising data earlier today suggested Omicron infections may have already peaked in Guateng, the epicentre of South Africa’s outbreak.

According to the South African Government’s Weekly Covid Surveillance Report, Gauteng saw the highest number of cases since Omicron was alerted on November 24, 2011. 

In Gauteng there were only 377 cases per 100,000, which is a decrease of around 4 percent from the previous week. MailOnline received confirmation from experts that the “encouraging” drop in Omicron cases wasn’t significant enough to cause an error. However, this shows Omicron’s slowing spread.

Testing in the province has more than doubled in the past three weeks — from 541 tests per 100,000 on November 27 to 1,264 now, suggesting swabbing capacity is not the issue.

Robert Dingwall (an ex-member of the Nervtag or JCVI panels) expects the ultrainfectious variety to infect so many Britons it causes a work absence crisis. He predicted it wouldn’t. overwhelm the NHS, despite gloomy warnings from No10’s own scientists.

Yesterday’s major, real-world Omicron study in South Africa found that Omicron is responsible for two-thirds less hospitalizations than Delta. This supports claims that it is more mild than other strains.  

MailOnline was informed by Professor Dingwall that he is still a sociologist and sits on Government’s Moral and Ethical Advisory Group. However, he has not been involved in the responses to the pandemic.Experts in South Africa tell us that we are reacting too quickly and this virus is milder.

British scientists were wrongly accused by him of being snobby. He added that the best South African scientists could be just as effective as anyone anywhere.

Omicron can cause milder diseases, according to South African doctors. South Africa has an average of 375 Covid admissions each day. 

The No10 scientific advisors believe that Britain’s older, denser population places it at greater risk for an outbreak of infectious diseases and pressure in hospitals. However, only 25% of South Africans are currently vaccinated. Their booster program is just starting. 

After 18 months of fighting the pandemic, there is evidence that the threshold at which the NHS is considered ‘overwhelmed” is now lower. Omicron had already put the service in crisis, while waiting lists have reached a record for routine procedures since the outbreak.

South Africa's weekly Covid surveillance report this morning revealed that cases fell in the epicentre of Gauteng province last week, in an early sign that the variant has peaked within a month of being discovered. The province, which includes major cities like Johannesberg and Tshwane, recorded 377 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 11, down 3.9 per cent on the previous week

South Africa’s Covid surveillance reports this morning showed that Gauteng was the epicenter of the cases. It is an early indication that the variant had peaked less than one month after it was discovered. This province includes large cities such as Johannesberg or Tshwane and recorded 377 cases for every 100,000 residents in the week ending December 11. That is a drop of 3.9% from the previous week.

Cases were rising in young children, older teenagers and adults 40 and over, but falling in all other groups. The fact that cases are still rising in elderly and vulnerable groups is still a cause for concern

The cases were increasing in older teens and young adults, and falling in other age groups. It is concerning that elderly and vulnerable populations are seeing cases rise.

The above graph shows the weekly Covid infection rate per 100,000 people across South Africa's nine provinces. It reveals cases are now pointing downwards in Gauteng

Below is the graph showing South Africa’s weekly Covid infection rate, per 100,000 inhabitants. This graph shows that cases in Gauteng are trending downwards.

This graph shows the Covid infection rate per 100,000 people in England's regions. It also shows there has been a rapid uptick in London (red) while cases remain largely flat in other regions

The graph below shows the Covid incidence rate for each 100,000 inhabitants in England. The graph shows that there is a significant increase in cases in London (red), but the rate remains flat in most other areas.

The above graph shows the seven-day average for hospital admissions in different regions of England. It reveals that in London (orange) there has been a steady increase

Below is the graph showing seven-day average hospital admissions across England. The graph shows that hospital admissions have been increasing steadily in London (orange). 

This map reveals which parts of South Africa the variant's case numbers are rising fastest in. It shows these are the Free State and the Eastern Cape

This map shows where South Africa’s variant cases are growing fastest. This map shows that these regions include the Eastern Cape, Free State, and Cape Verde.

Professor Dingwall told The Telegraph last night: ‘My gut feeling is that omicron is very much like the sort of flu pandemic we planned for – a lot of sickness absence from work in a short period, which will create difficulties for public services and economic activity, but not of such a severity as to be a big problem for the NHS and the funeral business.’ 

He made these comments as South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) Weekly Covid Report found Gauteng had experienced a drop in cases last week for its first time.

London’s Omicron hotspot is now seeing more Covid cases than ever since the first wave. 

London’s Omicron-stricken Covid cases have increased faster than ever before and the majority of people with a common cold will be infected, according to a leading epidemiologist today. 

Prof. Tim Spector of the UK’s biggest virus tracking study, stated that at least half the respiratory illnesses in London were Covid. It is only one in four for the remainder of the country.

Omicron and Delta symptoms are similar, according to him.

Health bosses warned today that Omicron was the ‘biggest threat’ since the start of the pandemic, and was leaving the NHS — a key barometer of whether more restrictions are needed — in ‘peril’.

Graham Medley from SAGE, an expert in genetics and medicine, said that the mutant strain is transmissible more than any other. This could lead to a surge of hospitalisations.

Omicron has been responsible for more than 50% of London’s infections. London now sees its infection rate rise to the highest level since January, at 575.4 cases per 100,000.

The capital’s hospitalisations have increased by 50 percent in two weeks, with an average of 90-140 people admitted to Covid wards every day. The average death rate from the virus is 10 each day.

However, these indicators are not as accurate due to the amount of time it takes for someone with the virus to become seriously ill and need to be admitted to hospital.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mayor suggested that they support additional restrictions on the capital and said it was better to “act now”. Tories, however, called for ministers to use the “vaccine shield”.

The virus is causing many West End productions to be cancelled and restaurants and bars facing cancellations due to Christmas party cancellations.

This province includes large cities such as Johannesburg and Tshwane. It recorded 377 cases for every 100,000 residents in the week ending December 11. That’s a drop of 3.9% from the previous week.    

Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist with the University of East Anglia, and a professor of environmental health at Tshwane University of Tech, described the decline in infection rates as encouraging.

He said, “But we need to be cautious not to take in too many data points within a week.” If this trend continues, it would be good news both for South Africa as well as for us.

‘I can’t think of any major caveats, though one swallow doesn’t make a spring so just one week of data could be due to other things such as problems with people accessing testing (I know of no evidence that this is the case but I am always a little cautious).’ 

Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said yesterday that it was valid to assume the UK faces an alarming 1million Omicron infections per day at the end of this year.

That projection is based on widely disputed modelling by the UK Health Security Agency which claims there were also 200,000 Omicron infections yesterday — despite the centralised testing scheme picking up just 59,000.

Professor Hunter claimed that the 1-million-per-day number was “theoretically possible”, but he feels it is far too high. 

“As regards the UK, there is a big difference in that although vaccination rates are less high in South Africa than the UK, large numbers of South Africans have been exposed to an infection before and it makes it difficult for them to apply their knowledge to the UK.

“Even so, I don’t think that the omicron will grow at its current rapid doubling rate for very long. Otherwise we’d all be infected by Christmas 12th.”

The development comes after the first major real-world study in South Africa found that Omicron is currently leading to a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did during its entire wave — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta.

According to officials who examined 78,000 Omicron case reports in the month of September, they were able to estimate the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus.   

These results support the theory that this ultra-infectious variant of the virus is more resistant than the previous strains. Doctors on the ground in South Africa claim it for many weeks. 

But the reduction in severity is probably not solely down to Omicron being intrinsically milder, according to the South African Medical Research Council which led the analysis. 

70% of South Africans have already recovered from Covid and 23% are double-vaccinated. This creates high levels of immunity.  

Two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine provided 70 percent protection against Omicron-related hospitalizations or deaths, as compared with 93 percent for Delta.

Although this provides more protection than scientists originally believed, 30 percent of those still at risk for severe Omicron Disease, which is four times the number found in Delta, are still vulnerable.   Waning immunity from two Pfizer doses was found to offer just 33 per cent protection against Omicron infection, explaining why the country has seen a meteoric rise in case numbers.

Three jabs are required to travel: Brits warn it is ‘inevitable.’ They will need booster shots in order to be fully vaccinated for 2022. 

Grant Shapps announced today that Britons will need to have a third Covid jab in order to enter destination countries next year if they want to take a holiday abroad.

According to the Transport Secretary, countries like France, Italy and USA, which are all very popular among millions of tourists from the UK, will likely make this a requirement for entry in 2022.

Ministers say that the booster jab will soon be a requirement for all domestic vaccinations to be considered fully-vaccinated in Britain. They also expect it to become mandatory.

Sky News’ Mr Shapps said this: “I speak to my counterparts in other countries, transport secretaries of around the globe – especially from the G7 this Year. Which we are hosting.

“They’re saying, “Look! We’re going to require people to get that third jab before they can enter their country.” This is because it’s inevitable for other countries to demand it.

“I do not know when that will happen – but it is this year.” 

Sajid Javid, yesterday’s minister of foreign affairs, confirmed last night that every country will be removed by the government from its international travel redlist at 4am tomorrow because Omicron is running rampant throughout the UK.

According to the Health Secretary, the House of Commons was informed that there has been a domestic transmission of this variant as well as widespread spread ‘widely throughout the globe’.

He stated, “Now less effective in slowing Omicron’s incursion from abroad,” and that hotel quarantine would be cancelled.

Angola. Botswana. Eswatini. Lesotho. Malawi. Mozambique. Namibia. Nigeria. South Africa. Zambia.

This decision was made at the Cabinet’s Covid-19 operations Committee (Covid O) meeting.

Ministers attempted to stop cases being imported into the UK by introducing the red list, but the ministers failed to do so.

Tougher travel testing regulations will continue to apply despite the modification of the red-list.  

However, despite all the optimism, one top modeler for the government stated that there is no reason to feel optimistic. Omicron may lead to the NHS becoming overwhelmed.

Graham Medley is chair of SPI M modelling, which feeds into SAGE. He told BBC Radio 4 Today that he fears that there will be a rise in infections and more people admitted to hospitals.

The announcement came after Dr Jenny Harries from the UK Health Security Agency said that the Omicron coronavirus variant was ‘probably our most serious threat since the beginning of the pandemic.

Although she stated that there is “real risk” that cases could turn to severe illness, hospitalizations, and death, it was too early to know for certain.

Prof. Medley spoke in his personal capacity. He said that while it was hard to predict what would happen in real-time, however, the fact is, Omicron infection rates are on the rise and have been for some time.

He stated that “We may now be at the level we have been in the past,” and that it appears that it is going to increase beyond the current levels and surpass it.

Professor Medley claimed that Omicron is still a mystery. However, he said, “We have a different population than last year. In the sense where the majority has been vaccinated. There has been much infected since then. Therefore, there is much greater immunity.”

“The virus is less likely to infect us because we have a greater immune system than usual.

“So while we individually have a lower chance of getting sick, the number of infections in our population means that we are at greater risk. However, if we add up, it is possible for more people to end up in hospitals.

It is an’million-dollar issue’ as to how it will impact the health system, he said. He said that hospitals might become overwhelmed if they were asked.

“If there is an increase in infections and this spills over into the older age group, we might see a lot more people admitted to hospitals. It could be as high as 1,000 to maybe 2,000 per day. We’ve kept the Delta variant under control.

“It was kind of under 1,000 since July with no restrictions. But I believe that it is very difficult, or very unlikely, to achieve this.”

The expert replied that he believed there was a possibility that the NHS would be overwhelmed in the next month.

“It is very difficult to know these things. Although you cannot put any risk on these things, it is possible to make them more probable.

Professor Medley claimed that booster numbers have increased enormously but that it’s the ‘concertinazing effect’ which presents the greatest threat.

According to him, there were approximately 800 admissions to hospitals per day over the last five months. However, if all of those had been made in one month it would have created a completely different experience. The NHS would also have been very taxed.

He said, “And that’s the fear. That we’ll end up with four more months of this epidemic in one month.”

Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) defended the government’s position. Ministers believed Plan B included’sensible, proportionate steps’ that, when combined with getting the booster shot, would be the correct approach.

Today interviewed him to say that the Government believes that we are better positioned than last year for Christmas. He added that testing before the gatherings was a smart move and boosters were also recommended.

Other than that, Professor Adam Finn of Bristol and a member of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation(JCVI) told BBC Breakfast that Omicron’s wave has just begun to spread across the country.

According to him, the wave was coming fast. In fact it is alarmingly fast. If anything, faster than any time before. This is the race of our lives at the moment.

“The less this problem is, the more immune we all have. But I fear it will be serious.

Prof Finn acknowledged that it wasn’t his job to determine what regulations need to be applied to the public, but he said: “I can definitely encourage people to do all they can during this crucial period to reduce spread of virus. Of course, some of those actions can be done freely without the imposition of rules.

“We know what we can do now. You can limit social contact and minimize work contact. Also, you can use masks to protect yourself from infection.

Prof Finn expressed concern about the current level of infections and said that they are expecting to “see the number people falling ill and needing to be admitted to hospital” in the weeks ahead.

He said that boosters work quickly because the body has immunological memory and you have seen it before. So the protection level goes up very quickly.

Professor Tim Spector from the Covid Zoe App said Covid cases in London have been increasing faster than during the initial wave.

Today interviewed him about the common symptoms of Omicron, which include headaches and runny nasal, tiredness, fatigue, and sore throat.

He explained that Covid is becoming more common in London than it being a cold.

“If you look at regional charts, London is accelerating faster than it has since the very beginning wave. It now indicates that Omicron will be the dominant variant.

New restrictions on face coverings in indoor areas in England were passed by Parliament Tuesday night. Also, the NHS Covid pass for large venues and nightclubs was approved.

The Scottish government has urged people to avoid mixing and to socialize with no more than two other households inside their homes. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland politicians have backed Covid certification which allows them to enter nightclubs pubs and restaurants as well as other licensed establishments.