A row erupted over the Government’s Covid figures last night as it emerged almost one in three in hospital with the virus was admitted for unrelated reasons.
These cases are from patients taken to hospital for an unrelated reason, such as a fall or broken bone, who just happen to then discover they also have the virus.
It means thousands of those who are being counted as Covid admissions – which would suggest they are severely ill with the condition – are not actually suffering seriously with the virus.
Many only tested positive once they were on wards – and may have simply caught the virus while there.
It has raised concerns that the headline statistics – which drive Government decisions on restrictions and lockdowns – are overestimating how many people are dangerously sick with Covid.
The latest coronavirus developments came as:
- Britain’s Covid cases soared to another pandemic high on Wednesday as hospital admissions in London breached a key threshold that may force No10 into adopting nationwide restrictions;
- Nicola Sturgeon was slammed by hospitality bosses for banning large scale New Year’s Eve gatherings with reports of thousands of Scots preparing to cross the border to ring in 2022 in England instead;
- A MailOnline analysis revealed that seven times fewer Covid ‘cases’ are ending up in England’s hospital compared to the country’s devastating second wave, official data suggests, as proof that Omicron is milder continues to pile up;
- A senior World Health Organization official warned the PM against following America’s lead in slashing Covid isolation rules to just five days, stating it was ‘advisable’ not to adapt Covid-fighting strategies based on ‘early’ Omicron data;
- Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said ‘staff absence is a huge issue for the NHS right now’ on top of about 100,000 vacancies that already existed.
A row erupted over the Government’s Covid figures as it emerged almost one in three in hospital with the virus was admitted for unrelated reasons. Pictured: Boris Johnson visiting a Covid vaccination centre in Milton Keynes on Wednesday
Last night former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This is a nonsense. It’s almost certain that admissions for Covid are far lower than the figures suggest.
‘We cannot make decisions based on hospital admissions when we don’t know how many were admitted for other reasons and subsequently tested positive.’ He went on: ‘It also speaks very badly to the NHS’s ability to control Covid in hospitals when so many people are catching it there.’
He called for the independent Office for National Statistics to publish the figures for true Covid admissions, rather than the NHS.
Tory backbencher Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said: ‘We need to be much clearer about what the primary purpose was of someone being admitted to hospital.
‘If they’ve got Covid later it’s wrong to ascribe that to a Covid admission. We should be much more straightforward with the statistics.’ Because hospital inpatients are now routinely tested for Covid, admissions data in England have always included those who were brought in for entirely separate reasons but were later found to be infected, either because they had it already or caught it in hospital.
From July, trusts were told to provide a breakdown of those who were primarily admitted because of acute Covid symptoms and those who were in hospital for other reasons.
Number of English Covid patients ending up in hospital is now SEVEN TIMES lower than during devastating second wave
Seven times fewer Covid ‘cases’ are ending up in hospital now compared to England’s devastating second wave, official data suggests as proof that Omicron is milder continues to pile up.
No10’s own advisers feared the ultra-infectious variant could overwhelm the NHS, which prompted calls for Boris Johnson to adopt tougher restrictions.
But mounting evidence now shows the strain causes less severe disease than previous strains, which the PM today used to justify his refusal to tighten curbs.
And MailOnline’s analysis of UK Health Security Agency data adds to the slew of statistics that suggest the days of the UK recording several hundred deaths a day are ‘history’.
The proportion of Covid cases ending up in hospital a week later now stands at just 1.5 per cent, compared to 10.9 per cent during the depths of the country’s Delta crisis last January and February.
Experts told MailOnline immunity from vaccination and prior infection means ‘what we’re seeing this winter is a very different picture’ — but warned hospitalisations and deaths could still tick upwards in the coming weeks.
Initially the figures showed that 20 per cent – one in five – of those in hospital with Covid were admitted for another condition. But the proportion has steadily grown before reaching a series of new highs in recent weeks.
It stood at 25 per cent – one in four – on December 12 before reaching 27 per cent five days later, then 28 per cent on the 19th. The most recent figure in the dataset, published each week by NHS England, was 29 per cent on December 21. This proportion is certain to go up even further in the next set of figures due to rising cases in general.
The most recent figures show that, of the 6,245 beds occupied by patients with Covid, only 4,432 were being primarily treated for the virus.
Further analysis shows that just a fifth of the latest weekly rise in Covid inpatients was down to ‘true’ cases, with 45 sufferers admitted because of the virus while the other 214 arrived for other conditions.
The number of incidental admissions is likely to have risen still further since then because of the rapid spread of the milder Omicron variant, with cases covering the week to Christmas Eve to be published on New Year’s Eve.
The growing phenomenon has been discussed by top hospital bosses in recent days.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of membership body NHS Providers, wrote on Monday: ‘Talking to trust chief executives this morning, what’s very interesting is how many are talking about number of asymptomatic patients being admitted to hospital for other reasons and then testing positive for Covid. Some are describing this as “incidental Covid”.
‘As [the] Covid community infection rate rises rapidly due to Omicron, we will get more cases of this type of incidental Covid-19 in hospital.’
He pointed out that these cases will also cause problems because the patients will have to be isolated to avoid cross-infection, but added: ‘These cases are, obviously, not same as Covid driven serious respiratory illness.’
UK’s daily Covid cases hit pandemic high of 183,037 and hospital admissions breach crucial ‘lockdown threshold’ in London
By Stephen Matthews Health Editor and John Ely Senior Health Reporter for MailOnline
Britain’s Covid cases soared to another pandemic high on Wednesday as hospital admissions in London breached a key threshold that may force No10 into adopting nationwide restrictions.
UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 183,037 positive tests, up by almost three-quarters on last week’s tally.
The count — which eclipses Tuesday’s previous record by more than 45,000 — is skewed upwards because it includes five days’ worth of backlogged data from Northern Ireland, which didn’t feed officials its numbers over the Christmas break.
Statistics for England-only — which were kept up-to-date through the festive period — were also their highest on record, jumping by 45 per cent in a week. This is despite a similar number of tests being carried out.
No10 rules out cutting Covid self-isolation to five days
Ministers today revealed there are no plans to cut the Covid self-isolation period to just five days, despite fears that crippling staff shortages will threaten the NHS and other vital parts of the economy.
Scientists, MPs and business leaders have lined up to urge Boris Johnson to follow the US’ example by once again reducing the time spent in quarantine.
But the Government has said there are ‘no further changes’ planned. Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, health and work, said the current seven-day isolation span was the ‘right’ length of time.
No10 only last week slashed the quarantine period in England from ten days to seven for those who test negative two days in a row. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to make any changes.
But late on Monday, American health officials announced they would cut their isolation time for positive cases to just five days – provided people were showing no symptoms, piling pressure on the UK to follow suit.
Sir John Bell, a world-leading immunologist and former Government adviser, yesterday revealed he would back a similar move in the UK, as long as people still recorded negative lateral flow results. Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, went further, calling for strict isolation rules to be scrapped altogether ‘sooner rather than later’.
But others urged No10 to avoid ‘rushing into’ cutting isolation times. Any decision to cut the quarantine period to five days ‘would have to be based on very clear evidence’ that it will not drive a rise in infections, one NHS leader said.
This is despite health bosses warning that NHS staffing shortages are a ‘bigger problem’ than rising coronavirus admissions.
Despite the explosion in cases, Boris Johnson gave the green light for people to celebrate New Year’s Eve but urged millions of revellers to be ‘cautious and sensible’. The Prime Minister insisted ‘everybody should enjoy’ the last social hurrah of the year, despite the spread of Omicron.
He said the strain ‘continues to cause real problems’ with hospitalisations rising but the data shows it is ‘obviously milder than the Delta variant’.
Separate NHS figures showed daily Covid hospitalisations in London have now breached the key 400-a-day threshold, which Government advisers said may trigger nationwide restrictions.
England itself saw a 65 per cent weekly jump in admissions, with more than 10,000 beds now occupied by virus-infected patients for the first time since March.
But NHS bosses have called for caution over interpretations of increasing hospital numbers, with Omicron known to cause a milder disease, virus-infected patients spending less time on wards, and ‘incidental’ admissions on the rise due to extremely high prevalence of Covid in the community.
Mr Johnson argued the success of England’s booster roll-out was behind his decision to hold off on implementing any tougher restrictions, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all having imposed new rules on socialising.
The PM repeated his plea to the nation to get boosted as he warned up to 90 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care units across the country had not received the top-up dose.
Mr Johnson has faced criticism after failing to make a public appearance in recent days despite the coronavirus crisis.
He was grilled on the subject on Wednesday morning as he was asked where he had been ‘for the last 10 days’.
A flustered PM replied: ‘I have been in this country.’
The comments came as hospitality chiefs suggested as many as 100,000 Scottish and Welsh revellers could cross into England to enjoy ‘normal’ New Year’s Eve celebrations without restrictions.
Rules prohibiting large social events in neighbouring nations are expected to prompt a flood of people crossing into England on December 31, with the Scottish government having admitted it is powerless to stop Scots who want to make the trip.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney urged Scots not to travel to England to celebrate but Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith risked a row as she said: ‘We are one country and people are more than free to move around inside our country under the general law’.
Did London’s Covid outbreak peak an entire WEEK before Christmas? Capital’s cases began to flatten out on Dec 18 as official figures show up to 3% of people in worst-hit boroughs tested positive in final week before Xmas Eve
By Emily Craig Health Reporter for MailOnline
Slightly more than 30,000 people living in the capital tested positive on December 21 before the number fell for two consecutive days, causing the city’s average infection rate to flatten off. Cases are already trending down in some of the worst-hit boroughs.
One of the Government’s own advisers told MailOnline it was possible rates were dropping because of a ‘genuine decline’ in cases, mirroring the same trend seen in South Africa — the first country in the world to fall victim to the variant, where infections now appear to be in freefall.
Cases rose by 12 per cent in the week ending December 23 in Wandsworth, 15 per cent in Lambeth, 25 per cent in Southwark and 43 per cent in Lewisham – the areas with the highest infection rate
Other experts urged caution over the figures, saying they could be skewed by fewer tests being carried out over the Christmas period. Statisticians, however, insisted the rate will ‘eventually’ fall but it was ‘really difficult’ to say when.
Despite Covid infection rates appearing to level off in London, they are still at the highest levels seen throughout the pandemic.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) statistics show almost 3 per cent of people living in Lambeth tested positive for the virus in the week ending December 23. That tally only takes into account people who were swabbed, and up to half of the infected never get tested.
The Omicron-fuelled wave of infections seen in London, where the variant first took hold in the UK, are expected to play out across the country in the coming weeks.
All the other regions are now seeing a sustained increase in cases. Ministers have already ruled out imposing regional restrictions to fight Omicron.
But hospitalisations and deaths – the key measurements monitored by ministers to determine whether tougher curbs are required to control the spread of the virus – are still a fraction of the levels seen last winter.
Coronavirus admissions in London have doubled in a fortnight, which, coupled with rising staff absences among NHS staff, has piled pressure on hospitals. But daily hospitalisations are still below the 400-a-day level that could trigger a Government intervention.
NHS leaders have warned many admissions are incidental as they include people admitted for routine surgery or other conditions but coincidentally test positive for Covid. But they fear the Covid hospitalisation figures will still increase over the coming weeks.