People being hospitalised with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom as the Omicron variant surges have “less severe” symptoms compared with those admitted earlier in the pandemic, an official said.
Maggie Throup, minister for vaccines and public health, also said that the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients was “about half what it was a year ago”, despite the country’s record-high virus caseload.
“That just shows the power of the vaccine,” she told Sky News on Tuesday.
Omicron is the dominant variant in the country, accounting for more than 90 percent of infections.
While hospitalisations are rising, they have not tracked the trajectory of daily cases, possibly reflecting the effect of vaccines, the likely lower severity of Omicron and the time lag in people going into hospital after becoming infected with COVID-19.
The number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 in England, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the UK’s total population, has doubled in less than two weeks, rising to more than 14,000 – lower than the peak of 34,000 patients recorded last winter.
But the UK’s soaring caseload has disrupted public life, with staff across a range of industries self-isolating, some train operators cancelling services and schools facing teacher shortages as term restarts in England.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from London, said up to one million Britons were absent from work as they were “sick with COVID-19 or self-isolating”.
“The government says it has tasked its cabinet ministers with preparing for a worst-case scenario of perhaps one in four people being off from work,” he said. “If it happens, that is obviously going to hit the National Health Service and the transport network.”
According to Throup, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s virus strategy was working, adding there was no need for further restrictions at this stage.
Johnson imposed some measures in England last month under his so-called “Plan B” approach, including making mask-wearing mandatory on public transport and in shops.
But he stopped short of cracking down on gatherings or closing businesses, while ramping up a booster vaccination programme to control the spread of Omicron.
Johnson warned on Monday that pressure on hospitals would be “considerable” in the next couple of weeks but ruled out any immediate change of course.
He said that the new variant was “plainly milder” compared with previous strains and that the UK was in a stronger position than earlier in the pandemic.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which control their own COVID-19 rules, have all recently imposed some new measures.