Published: 18:14, 08 January 2022
| Updated: 18:22, 08 January 2022
Covid patient numbers in Kent have almost doubled in a week - as the booster roll-out stalls in some parts of the county.
In the seven days to January 4, the number in hospital with the virus rose from 234 to 407.
It comes as new figures reveal that in nine Kent neighbourhoods, 60% of people aged 12 and over have not yet had a third dose.
This is 20% below the national average.
Uptake is lowest in Luton in Chatham, where just 33.2% have had a booster.
It comes after health secretary Sajid Javid yesterday said people were 90% less likely to end up in hospital after having a third jab - which significantly increases protection against the Omicron variant.
While Covid patients numbers have risen in Kent over the past week, the picture is very different to last winter.
In a clear sign of how the Omicron variant is milder, this time last year there were three times as many people with the virus in the county's hospitals.
Meanwhile, in January 2021 there were 71 patients on a ventilator (5.4% of patients).
But over the past week the number on a ventilator has actually fallen from 20 to 15 (3.7% of patients).
Yet while the disease appears to be milder this time around, it is still having an impact on local healthcare.
In the space of a month, Covid-related absences have increased by 181% at Kent hospitals trusts.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pinned his hopes of beating Omicron by getting as many people across the country "boosted".
But, as well as in Luton, in eight other Kent neighbourhoods, uptake of the third dose is below 40%.
In Medway, they are: Chatham Central & Rochester Riverside (35.1%), Chatham South East (34.3%), Gillingham Central (37.1%) and Gillingham North (36.3%).
In the east of the county, they are: Blean Forest, Chartham Hatch & University (38%), Canterbury Barracks (36.5%) and Cliftonville West (38.1%).
The remaining neighbourhood with an uptake below 40% is Ringlestone & Central Maidstone (39.3%).
The district with the highest uptake is Folkestone & Hythe, where 64.8% have now had a booster.
While the country has been hit by record case numbers over recent weeks, some scientists are optimistic that we can now learn to live with the virus.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), says Omicron is possibly the “first ray of light” in ensuring Covid becomes endemic.
He said cases in London are “slowing down”, but scientists need two weeks to see if this continues.
Dr Tildesley told Times Radio today: “The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version. It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.
“We’re not quite there yet, but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term. It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.
“Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationship of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable.
“Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be.”