Fraser Nelson

Has Omicron peaked in London?

Has Omicron peaked in London?
Text settings

The present best-case scenario is that Omicron peaks early in the new year and then falls just as fast as it did in South Africa. Given how much is still unknown about the variant, it’s impossible to plot any trajectory with confidence far less read a trend into a few days of data over the festive period. Overall it's quite plausible that London, having been hit first, would face the worst effects first then turn the corner first. That’s what makes recent data here so interesting. This blog will collate the main London graphs (taken from The Spectator's live data hub) and they’ll be updated every day so those interested can return to the page.

First, cases. Lambeth has been the hotspot of London Covid and the data so far — as of New Year’s day — points to a pre-Christmas peak.

Zoom out to the whole city and we can see that what had been an exponential rise slowing down - but not the same decline as case numbers appeared to show by New Year's Day in Lambeth. The latest five days are in grey because they can be revised upwards and there are other reasons not to read too much into this data now. It’s over the festive period, where Londoners tend to leave the city and data recording isn’t quite what it is during a normal working week, etc. But this will be the graph to watch:- 

Of course, the above is (in part) a reflection of how many tests are done. The ONS survey for London is perhaps the most reliable - but it's the last to update. 

South Africa showed us that Omicron peaked first in Pretoria, then in the Gauteng province (which contains Pretoria, Johannesburg and a quarter of South Africa's population) and then nationwide. If the same pattern were to hold here — a big if, at time of writing, we’d expect a peak in Lambeth, London and then England. This assumes that Omicron would not (for example) suddenly shoot up in Birmingham — which it may well do. Or that it starts to rise in London again when schools return and the city gets back to work: we’ll see that in the next few days.

We can also ask how well the NHS is coping in London. We have seen hospital admissions rise fivefold (albeit a drop in the last two days), but a good chunk of that is people admitted for other reasons who happened to have Covid. The rise of these ‘incidental admissions’ is shown below with a 29 Dec peak. Again, this chart will be updated daily.

We still don’t know how serious Omicron is relative to Delta: the UK Health Security Agency estimates it’s between 50 per cent and 70 per cent less likely to hospitalise. But what happens to those who do end up in hospital? The below graph suggests a smaller proportion of them end up in intensive care. This is consistent with reports from South Africa that Omicron patients are far more likely to recover and are out sooner — closer to four days than the previous eight.

Overall, we see a decline in critical care bed use: in London and nationally.

The story in the news today is NHS absences: those who have to isolate (and their contacts) add up to quite a chunk out of the workforce. But Covid absentees now seem to be falling in London even if this trend is rising nationally.

One final point: the nightmare that most worried ministers back in late summer was a combination of Covid and flu (which kills between 10,000 and 25,000 in a typical winter). But this year so far, flu has not taken off.  We don’t measure flu as we do Covid (it would be quite interesting to see a modelled graph of its infections, hospitalisations and deaths) but weekly samples are done.

But this certainly does not mean the NHS is somehow less busy. Things were going pretty seriously wrong before Omicron came on the scene: we ran a cover story on these trends last month saying 7,060 patients had been waiting more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E. This has since jumped to 10,646 — and that was in November.

The NHS in London seems better-placed to deal with some important things: 111 calls are being answered in just over four minute, for example, versus an average of 20 minutes in the North East and Yorkshire (the standard should be 20 seconds).

So in general, it’s important not to conflate Covid’s trajectory with the NHS being overwhelmed: the latter could still happen. That's why we'll be keeping a live data file of several NHS indicators, not just the virus, on The Spectator's data hub in the coming days and weeks.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is editor of The Spectator

Topics in this articleSociety