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Boris Johnson expected to decide on new Covid restrictions today


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Boris Johnson was expected to decide today whether to impose more Covid restrictions in the wake of soaring case numbers.

In Kent alone almost 50,000 people have tested positive for the virus this month, with all 13 districts recording pandemic-high infection rates.

Boris Johnson will review the latest Covid data today. Pic: PA
Boris Johnson will review the latest Covid data today. Pic: PA

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There is a similar picture nationally, so the Prime Minister is facing pressure to introduce measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, as has already been done in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

He was due to be briefed today on the latest Covid data and the impact of rising rates on hospital capacity.

It has been described as an internal government meeting, but will not be followed by any new announcement on restrictions, the Press Association reported.

The Financial Times reported earlier that the PM is “more likely to tighten guidance” if he is told hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

Boris Johnson visited a vaccination centre in Ramsgate earlier this month. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway
Boris Johnson visited a vaccination centre in Ramsgate earlier this month. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway

What's the situation in Kent?

Local case numbers haven't been reported since Friday because of the Christmas break, but early figures do not make for pretty reading.

By December 19 almost 20,000 weekly cases were already being recorded across Kent and Medway - the highest since the pandemic began.

And initial numbers show close to 4,000 daily cases in the period that followed, meaning the county's rate will surge further when new data is published this afternoon.

At the last count it stood at 1,034 weekly cases per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 971.

Is the whole of the county affected?

All 13 districts have sky-high infection rates, but there is definitely an east-west divide in terms of where Omicron appears to have taken hold fastest.

The seven areas with rates higher than the national average are all in the west of Kent, with Dartford topping the table with a staggering 1584.

This is more than double the rate in both Thanet and Dover, on the east coast of the county - which have Kent's lowest at 727 and 740 respectively.

Has testing gone up?

Yes, from about 75,000 tests a week at the start of October, to 110,000 just before Christmas.

Significantly, the number returning a positive result has also risen markedly over the same period, from 6% to more than 18% in Kent, and 21% in Medway.

So about one in five people having a PCR in the week before Christmas tested positive - a rate only seen at the start of January.

How are our hospitals coping?

As yet there has been no significant spike in patient numbers.

On Tuesday there were 206 people with the virus in Kent's hospitals - up 30 on the week before.

But on the same day last year there 993.

Typically, people present to hospital about a week after testing positive, so it is likely there will be a post-Christmas patient surge as case numbers continue to rise.

Paul Donaldson, the general secretary of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), told the Guardian: "We are holding out hope that hospitalisations are at the lower end of projections. But given the uncertainty we face it would be ludicrous not to take additional precautions.”

Health chiefs will also have one eye on staff absences, as more and more hospital workers are forced to isolate.

At Barts, the biggest trust in London, absences have risen from 597 to 864 in the past seven days.

Are more people dying in Kent?

Early analysis of Covid deaths is difficult for two reasons.

Firstly, there is a delay in the government reporting the numbers, so someone who may died after a positive Covid test on December 16, for example, may still not be recorded in official figures.

Secondly, there is typically a period of about three weeks between someone becoming infected and them dying, which means the fallout of any surge in case numbers is yet to be seen.

As rates rise, so will hospital patients, and, tragically, deaths.

Current official numbers show there were 87 Covid deaths in Kent and Medway in November.

This month, to December 23, there have been 41 recorded so far.

Boris Johnson visited a vaccination centre in Ramsgate earlier this month. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway
Boris Johnson visited a vaccination centre in Ramsgate earlier this month. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway

Are people still being given their booster jabs?

Yes, vaccine clinics are still running across the county, with more than one million people across Kent and Medway now having had a third vaccine dose.

Almost 230,000 of the boosters have been delivered since Boris Johnson announced on December 12 his target to offer all adults a third jab by the new year.

In Kent, 54.5% of over-12s have now had a booster, and 48% in Medway.

What new restrictions could be brought in?

The Prime Minister has a number of options available to him, and could choose to implement measures similar to those elsewhere in the UK.

In Scotland, indoor events have been limited to 100 people standing or 200 people sitting, and from today, pubs, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and gyms will have to ensure a one-metre distance between groups of people.

In Wales, no more than six people can meet at pubs, cinemas and restaurants, while outdoor events are limited to 50 people and indoor gatherings to 30. Nightclubs have been ordered to close.

Nightclubs are also shut in Northern Ireland, where indoor standing events are banned, and pubs, cafes and restaurants have been restricted to table service only.

No more than six people from different households are allowed to sit together.

More than one million people in Kent have now had a booster jab
More than one million people in Kent have now had a booster jab

Are new measures likely?

Much will depend on what the data says, but most commentators predict the chances of similar restrictions being introduced before the new year are low.

It would take some time to recall parliament, and Mr Johnson would likely face opposition to fresh restrictions within his own party.

He will have also drawn optimism from evidence that emerged last week that Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than the Delta variant.

But while Omicron appears to be milder overall, the UK Health and Security Agency has found it is not necessarily mild enough to avoid large numbers of hospitalisations.

It also confirmed that transmissibility of Omicron is very high, meaning that even though it is milder, infections could rocket to the point large numbers still end up in hospital.

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