© Reuters. Shoppers walk down Oxford Street amid coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) in London, UK, December 23, 2021. REUTERS / Henry Nicholls
By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Friday reported another day of record-breaking COVID-19 cases, with new estimates showing that part of London’s population is carrying the virus, highlighting the relentless progress of the Omicron variant.
The rapid spread of Omicron has led to an increase in the number of cases over the last seven days, especially in the capital.
Approximately 1 in 20 London residents probably had COVID-19 on December 16, and early estimates – which could still be revised – suggest it could rise to 1 in 10 on Sunday, according to models from the Office for National Statistics ( ONS) on Friday.
Many industries and transport networks are struggling with staff shortages as sick workers isolate themselves, while hospitals in Britain have warned of the risk of affecting patient safety.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has invested considerable political capital to make Christmas 2021 “significantly better” than the previous year, on Tuesday rejected new restrictions just before the day, saying there was uncertainty about Omicron’s severity and hospitalization rate.
Government figures show 122,186 new cases, up from 119,789 on Thursday, which is more than 100,000 cases on the third day.
Although recent research on Omicron suggests that it has a lower hospitalization rate than previous variants of COVID-19, health officials have maintained caution regarding appearance.
“There is a glimmer of Christmas hope … but it is definitely not yet at a point where we can reduce this serious threat,” Jenny Harries, head of the British health agency, told the BBC.
“What we have now is a really good balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalization – which is great news – but equally highly transferable variants and one that we know avoids some of our immune defenses.”
The government on Friday reported 137 new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, down from 147 on Thursday, bringing the total number to 147,857 during the pandemic – the highest in Europe.
The ONS said the prevalence had increased in all parts of the United Kingdom, with Scotland showing the lowest infection rate on 1 of 65 people on 19 December.
ONS estimates show that about 1 in 35 people in England – the equivalent of 1.54 million people – were infected with COVID-19 in the six days to 19 December.
Early modeling in the following days suggested that it could climb to more than 2 million people on Sunday, or about 1 in 25.
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