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. 

The UK’s most comprehensive study on viruses and Professor Tim Spector said that Covid was responsible for at least half of all the illnesses. It is only one in four for the remainder of the country.

The symptoms of Omicron or Delta infection are the same, he said. These include a sore throat and runny nose as well as fatigue, headaches, sneezing, and fatigue.

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 hospitalizations.

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.

In the capital, hospitalizations rose 50 percent within a week. On average, 90 to 140 patients were admitted to Covid wards each 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.

The mayor’s spokesperson suggested yesterday that they might support greater restrictions in the capital. He said, however, it would be better to act now. Tories, however, called for ministers to use the “vaccine shield”.

This comes as the capital is already showing signs of stress. Many West End shows have been cancelled due to the virus, and many pubs and restaurants are facing cancellations for Christmas parties. 

Professor Tim Spector said infections in London were now rising at their fastest rate since the first wave. The above graph shows the app's estimates for cases in the capital, and reveals they are ticking up faster than when Delta took hold

Professor Tim Spector claimed that London infections are now growing at an unprecedented rate, compared to the previous wave. Below is a graph showing the app’s estimations for cases in London. This shows they are growing faster than ever since Delta acquired hold.

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

This graphic shows the Covid infected rate for every 100,000 residents of England. This graph also indicates that cases have increased rapidly in London (red), while they remain flat elsewhere in England.

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 for various regions in England. This graph shows that there was a steady rise in hospital admissions in London (orange). 

Professor Spector is the Covid symptoms study leader. This survey asks over a million Britons every day about their feelings of unwell and what symptoms they’re suffering. It also determines if any have been tested for Covid.

This information is used by the company to determine how many people are likely to catch Covid daily, as well as its spread relative to other respiratory viruses.

Professor Spector told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we look at our regional charts, we see London really accelerating more than we have really seen it anytime since the first wave.

Is London taking ITSELF into lockdown? 

London’s West End was effectively locked down today, with theatre performances being suspended. Pubs and restaurants were also affected by cancellations caused by rising concerns about Covid.

Big-budget productions from The Lion King at the Lyceum to Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre halted performances due to virus outbreaks among their cast and crew – a decision which is costing producers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Comedy Of Errors in the Barbican was also cancelled. The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-Time In Wembley by the National Theatre was postponed after an actor became ill with the flu.

The Rhythmics of Southwark Playhouse has been closed, as have Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse. Fair Play at Bush Theatre is also being suspended. Moulin Rouge, Piccadilly Theater also had shows suspended but it has been restarted.

Pubs and restaurants in London’s West End were left “devastated” by cancellations of bookings due the fear over the spreading of the Omicron strain, the dominant Covid strain.

The predominant variant is ‘Omicron already [in the capital]The number of infections is on the rise and it will reach 100 per cent in a few days.

He said, “We are also monitoring non-Covid virus and at the moment it is only one in four across the country.” 

‘[But]It is more common to have Covid in London, where it is growing rapidly.

Figures from the Covid symptom study — run by Professor Spector and other scientists — show London’s cases have risen almost 10 per cent in the first fortnight of the new wave.

The virus is now affecting between 7,757 and 9,923 people every day.

Comparatively, the number of people who contracted the virus in the Delta wave’s first two weeks rose by four percent from 8,454 and 8,824 each day.

However, they rose 29.9% from 7,694 at 9,931 to the Alpha Wave’s first fortnight.

Before they started to rise, the beginning of every wave was marked by the case’s lowest point. 

A new feature was added to the study to enable Omicron-positive people to report that they tested positive. 

Officials don’t usually tell Britons what variant they are positive for. However, some may have been told under self-isolation rules to help trace their contacts.

Chief of UK Health Security Agency Jenny Harries warned that the Omicron wave could put the NHS in serious peril.

She stated that she believed it was the greatest threat to our survival since the outbreak of the pandemic.

‘The real potential risk here, and I would underline that because we are still learning a lot about the variant, is in relation to its severity, clinical severity, and therefore whether those cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths.

‘We are still at too early a stage for that, in fact the world probably is still at too early a stage to be clear.

‘The difficulty is that the growth of this virus has a doubling time, doubling days, at the moment which is shortening, i.e. It is growing faster than it has been in years, and it now takes less than two days in many regions of the UK.

‘When it started we were estimating about four or five. So if you think of that growth rate right across the UK and we are starting to see it and to feel it now in London particularly but yesterday particularly around Manchester and we are very sure there are levels growing across most communities in the UK now, although there is quite a lot of regional variation still.’

Omicron may be triggering milder diseases among South African patients, according to doctors on the frontlines.

The country’s official statistics showed that while hospitalisations were up at an equal level as before Delta, but there was less people in intensive care and ventilators.

It is not yet clear if the variant is milder because there are more people who have been vaccinated against the virus since Delta was first introduced. 

South Africa is less vaccinated than the UK at 25%, however most people have been infected. Experts caution that it’s difficult to draw comparisons between these two countries as South Africa has an older population and the UK has more people.

Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he is worried ‘we could see numbers of people being admitted to hospital getting very large’ if infections continue to rise and spill into older age groups.

This was when Dr Jenny Harries (chief executive of UK Health Security Agency) told MPs that Omicron coronavirus variant is “probably the most severe threat” since the outbreak of the pandemic.

However, she said that the “real danger” is whether cases turn into serious disease, hospitalisations or deaths, although it’s ‘too soon’ to make a decision.

Professor Medley spoke in his personal capacity and said that it was difficult to know what is happening in any given day. However, it is certain that Omicron infections are increasing rapidly.

He stated that “we’re likely now at the same level that we’ve been at in the past,” and that it looked like the trend would continue and surpass that.

Professor Medley stated that there are no current data on Omicron’s severity, but added, “We are in a different situation to last year in the sense of the majority of people having been vaccinated, and there have been many infections since then. So there is more immunity…”

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

“So we each have a greater chance, but our individual risk is much less. The number of infections also means that although we may be at lower risk individually, when a large population comes together (the), the risk of us all ending up in hospital can get quite high. 

Professor Spector stated that Omicron’s symptoms were similar to a common cold. He said, “The majority of symptoms are headaches, sore throat, runy nose and fatigue. 

“Things such as fever, cough, and loss of sense are now in the minority among symptoms we see.”

According to him, there are no real differences between the Covid symptoms being reported now in London and those that were present a month before Omicron was established.

When asked if the virus is triggering severe diseases, he replied: “We’re not experiencing any serious disease. We aren’t seeing unusual symptoms like people in South Africa have experienced.”

‘It’s looking very similar, it’s looking very respiratory. At the moment, it looks mild. We won’t know how mild until we get to the bottom of most cases as they are young.

“But, we’re seeing breakthrough infections in people that have had two to three vaccines. That’s more than what we’ve seen before.”

“High Omicron regions are more likely to have breakthrough infections than those with low Omicron. London is one of the most affected. 

London might soon experience more restrictions. Ministers are currently considering ‘Plan C’ measures that would put more limitations on daily life. 

A spokesman for the mayor Sadiq Khan said yesterday: ‘Cases of Omicron are rising sharply in London and with so much at stake, it is better that we act now to safeguard the public and help reduce pressures on NHS services.

Londoners will soon see vaccination centres open 24 hours a day, with more pop-up clinics located near them. [the Mayor] will use all of our resources at City Hall to ensure that all of London’s communities are encouraged to take up this lifesaving vaccine.

Then they added, “The last thing anyone wants is for the virus to run amok or be locked down further.”

Emma Best, a Conservative member of the London Assembly for Health, stated that a strong vaccine shield and not a local lockdown are the best ways to protect our capital.

“Our vaccine shield is less than in other areas of the country, with only 61% of citizens fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, many hospitals in London have already reported that coronavirus wards are filling up.

‘That’s why it’s so important Londoners get vaccinated and go for their booster jab as soon as possible.’