People returning home for Christmas have been warned of the dangers of Covid for vulnerable family members as more than 10,000 people in England could be hospitalized with the virus by the end of the year.
It comes as the latest data from NHS England showed there was a 22% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid in one week. There were 6,720 people in hospital with the virus on December 14, up from 5,501 on December 7, according to data released by the health service.
NHS Covid doctor Dr Daniel Goyal said the jump in hospitalizations was “very worrying” and warned that the rise in the number of cases was exacerbating the “worst health crisis any of us has ever experienced”.
“Part of the bigger concern is how many patients are getting Covid in hospital settings,” Dr Goyal said The independent. “What we are seeing is people picking up Covid in hospital, then being delayed from going home, adding extra pressure to the service. He brings the question why we haven’t done anything significant to try to reduce transmission.
The medical adviser, based in the Highlands, said there should be stronger public health messages in the run-up to Christmas about the benefits of wearing a mask in public areas and busy spaces. He added that the public should consider wearing masks at Christmas gatherings where vulnerable family members are present.
Meanwhile, flu admissions to hospitals in England have surpassed those for people with Covid for the first time since the pandemic began. Figures show that the flu hospitalization rate stood at 6.8 per 100,000 people in the week to December 11, compared with 6.6 per 100,000 for Covid.
Both figures are currently on the rise, but the flu hospitalization rate has risen sharply week on week — nearly doubling from 3.9 per 100,000 — while Covid hospitalizations are increasing more slowly.
The figures are the latest sign that the flu is becoming more widespread among the population. According to data released by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), hospital admissions among people with flu are now at a higher rate than in any week during the previous four winters.
Admissions are highest among people ages 85 and older, at 23.1 per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 10.7. There was an equally large jump in the rate among children four years of age and younger, from 8.4 to 20.7.
Coronavirus cases in England are estimated to have passed the 1 million mark for the first time since late October, while Scotland and Wales have seen increases.
Research actuary Adele Groyer predicts that if Covid hospital admissions continue on their current trajectory, more than 9,000 people could be hospitalized with the virus by Christmas and more than 11,000 by the end of the year.
Ms Groyer added that while a sustained increase at the same rate is unlikely, it is possible. In that scenario, hospital beds in England could potentially sell out by 31 December, forcing the NHS to cancel non-urgent procedures to free up space.
Stuart McDonald, partner at LCP Health Analytics and founder of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, also predicted that hospitalizations from Covid could exceed 10,000 by the end of the year, spelling disaster for an already ‘creaky’ NHS.
“At the moment, there are very few hospital beds in the NHS. The system is creaking; the wait time for ambulances and emergency room admissions shows there is a huge blockage in the system,” McDonald said The independent. “In the context of an NHS which is already very much struggling with bed availability, every extra bed occupied by a Covid patient is a problem.”
Mr McDonald also highlighted the problem of patients contracting the coronavirus in hospital, which researchers say accounts for around a third of coronavirus cases.
Professor Azeem Majeed, head of public health at Imperial College London, said the UK currently faces a twin threat from Covid and flu and encouraged the public to get vaccinated against both viruses.
He added that while people are unlikely to cut back on their holiday plans due to the increase in hospital admissions, they should consider getting tested before visiting elderly family members for Christmas.
The total number of people in private households in the UK who tested positive for the coronavirus was estimated at 1.3 million in the week to 5 December, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist on immunisation, said: ‘We are seeing an increase in flu, Covid and other winter viruses as people mix more indoors. Covid hospitalizations are highest in older age groups, so it’s especially important that all those eligible continue to come forward to accept their booster vaccine.
“Although Covid-19 and influenza may be mild infections for many, we must not forget that they can cause serious illness or even death for the most vulnerable people in our communities.”