Omicron becomes DOMINANT in London

Omicron becomes DOMINANT in London as data shows city’s hospital admissions have risen 50% since super-mutant variant first emerged and graphs show how quickly strain has taken off in the capital and beyond

  • Professor Kevin Fenton, the capital’s director of public health, said Omicron was already dominant in the city
  • Covid cases in the capital are now at their highest level since January after surging 55 per cent in a fortnight
  • A spokesman for London’s mayor today suggested they would back more restrictions in the capital 

The Omicron Covid variant spreading at a ferocious pace in the UK has become dominant in London barely two weeks after it was first detected, health chiefs revealed today.

Professor Kevin Fenton, the capital’s director of public health, said data suggested the super-strain was already behind at least one in every two new infections in the city, up from 44 per cent just yesterday.

As the country’s major transport hub, London quickly became England’s Omicron epicentre after South Africa first raised the alarm on November 24. It is thought to have been seeded in the capital by travellers flying into the UK. 

The capital’s Covid infection rate has spiralled to its highest level since January when stringent curbs were in place, rising 55 per cent in a fortnight from 347 to 537 cases per 100,000 people.

And hospitalisations in the city have risen by 50 per cent over the same period, from 90 to 140 admissions a day on average. Deaths remain flat but it can take up to a month for fatalities to start rising due to the time it takes to fall seriously ill. 

Nationally, Omicron is behind one in every five cases but is expected to outstrip Delta before the New Year. For comparison, it took Delta almost two months to take over from the Alpha variant. 

A spokesman for London’s mayor suggested today they would back controversial local lockdown restrictions in the capital, saying it was better to ‘act now’ rather than wait for the virus to spiral out of control.

But Tory representatives called on ministers to rely on ‘strong vaccine protection’ and ramp up the booster drive, rather than curb people’s daily lives.  

Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots they could no longer mix in groups bigger than three households, and said social distancing was to return in shops and pubs because of surging Omicron numbers there. But the First Minister said the rule would be relaxed for Christmas Day and there was no reason to cancel plans.

The surging cases in the capital and calls for more restrictions have echoes of last winter when London was the first place to be locked down in the run up to Christmas.

It comes as a major study today suggested that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine still provides 70 per cent protection against hospital admission and death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta. 

The first real-world study in South Africa also estimated the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus.   

The findings lend weight to the theory that the ultra-infectious variant is weaker than previous strains, something which doctors on the ground in South Africa have been claiming for weeks. 


The above maps show areas where the Omicron Covid variant has been detected in England over the two weeks to November 20 (left), and to December 4 (right). Areas where the variant has been detected are not coloured yellow. It shows how it has gone from just one local authority, to about half of the country. Areas with darker colours have detected more cases

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 

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

The above graph shows how Omicron cases are rising across England’s regions. PCRs search for three specific genes to tell whether someone has Covid, but with Omicron one of the genes is so mutated – the S-gene – that it does not show up with the tests. Cases with this gene missing are coloured purple above, with the graph showing their numbers quickly increasing

The above graph shows the proportion of cases detected that did and did not have a confirmed S-gene. PCRs search for three specific genes to tell whether someone has Covid, but with Omicron one of the genes is so mutated – the S-gene – that it does not show up. This allows scientists to quickly tell which cases are likely Delta (green) and Omicron (purple)

It is feared Scotland’s move in response to Omicron will bounce Boris Johnson into action, who yesterday refused three times to rule out another lockdown. 

He has brought back restrictions including face masks in public places, work from home guidance and new rules for vaccinated contacts of Covid cases in order to beat the variant. He has also ramped up the booster drive opening it to all over-18s. 

Officials are already working on a ‘Plan C’ which would see more covid curbs on people’s daily lives, but there is no suggestion it would involve bringing back the tier system. 

Britain’s Omicron cases rose 50 per cent again yesterday after 1,576 were recorded. In London, there were 887 confirmed or suspected cases up to December 10, with the most (55) in Barking and Dagenham. 

Professor Fenton today warned that Omicron had now become dominant in the capital, and called on all residents to ensure they get their booster shots.

He told the Standard: ‘Our latest monitoring of provisional data indicates that over 50 per cent of cases sent for further analysis in London are now Omicron, replacing Delta as the dominant variant.

‘It is crucially important that Londoners get fully vaccinated with their first dose, second dose, and the all-important booster while we learn more about the clinical characteristics of Omicron and the potential impact on our hospitals.’

Omicron is causing milder disease than Delta, in patients in the epicentre of the new Covid variant, the first major real-world study in South Africa confirmed today.

Officials who looked at 78,000 Omicron cases in the past month found the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus. 

The finding lends weight to the theory that the ultra-infectious variant is weaker than past strains, something which doctors on the ground in South Africa have been claiming for weeks. 

But the reduction in severity is probably not solely down to Omicron being intrinsically milder, according to the South African Medical Research Council which led the analysis. 

Around 70 per cent of South Africans have recovered from Covid already and 23 per cent are double-vaccinated, which has created high levels of immunity. 

The finding will raise hopes that the UK’s Omicron wave will be less severe than previous peaks, despite having an older and denser population.

The study also found that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine still provides 70 per cent protection against hospital admission or death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta.

Latest data from the UK Health Security Agency — which monitors variants — showed Omicron was behind 44.5 per cent of cases in the capital up to December 11. 

The city’s Covid infection rate has surged 55 per cent in the latest fortnight, up from 347 to 537 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 9. 

This is also the highest infection rate in the capital since January, when stringent curbs were in place. 

Hospitalisations have risen by a similar amount, but deaths remain flat at about ten a day.

Both are lagging indicators, however, because of the time taken for someone who has caught the virus to suffer serious disease. 

Suggesting the mayor would support more restrictions, a spokesman said: ‘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 see vaccine centres working around the clock, more local pop-up sites coming online near them, and [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.

They added: ‘The last thing any of us want is to see a further lockdown or to see the virus running out of control. 

‘We have already lost too many Londoners — that’s why it’s so important that the government redouble their efforts to make sure that we’re reaching groups who haven’t yet taken up the vaccine, step up the booster rollout and that we see children vaccinated as well, when they’re eligible.’

Labour is backing more restrictions in the Commons today and bringing in Covid passports for nightclubs and large events.

They have repeatedly blasted the Government for failing to ramp up the booster programme earlier to protect against a new variant. 

Emma Best, the Conservative’s London Assembly member for health, said: ‘A strong vaccine shield, not a local lockdown is the best protection for our capital.

‘Our vaccine shield is weaker than other parts of the country as only 61 per cent of people are fully vaccinated and sadly, some hospitals in London are already reporting that their coronavirus wards are starting to fill up.

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

Official data shows 61 per cent of Londoners have had two doses of the Covid vaccine, with uptake falling in inner city areas and ethnic minority communities. Some 25 per cent have also received their boosters so far.

Official data only reveals suspected or confirmed Omicron cases across the capital’s 32 boroughs to December 6.

It reveals Barking and Dagenham in the north have detected the most cases, 55, followed by Greenwich, 53, and Newham, 52. On the other hand, cases are lowest in Sutton, 7, Harrow, 10, and Hounslow, 11.

But officials fear the true total is likely to be much higher with cases doubling every two to three days.

This graph shows how Britain’s vaccination drive is going. There was a lag in September as the booster drive got going, which opposition parties have already slammed saying it has put the country at unnecessary risk

It comes as a study in South Africa today confirmed Omicron is causing milder disease than Delta, in patients in the epicentre of the new Covid variant.

Officials who looked at 78,000 Omicron cases in the past month found the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus. 

The finding lends weight to the theory that the ultra-infectious variant is weaker than past strains, something which doctors on the ground in South Africa have been claiming for weeks. 

But the reduction in severity is probably not solely down to Omicron being intrinsically milder, according to the South African Medical Research Council which led the analysis. 

Around 70 per cent of South Africans have recovered from Covid already and 23 per cent are double-vaccinated, which has created high levels of immunity. 

The finding will raise hopes that the UK’s Omicron wave will be less severe than previous peaks, despite having an older and denser population.

The study also found that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine still provides 70 per cent protection against hospital admission or death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta.

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