More stringent restrictions need to be brought in “very soon” in England if ministers want to stop hospital admissions reaching 3,000 a day, the government’s scientific advisers say.
The BBC has seen leaked minutes of a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies held on Thursday.
The document says there are “many uncertainties” about the future path of hospitalisations linked to Omicron.
It comes as Omicron is now dominant in England, new analysis suggests.
The number of people requiring treatment in hospital has been rising, with admissions being between 800 and 900 every day in the past week.
According to the leaked minutes, the Sage advisers say that without intervention measures beyond the Plan B rules currently in place, modelling indicates that hospital admissions could peak at “at least” 3,000 a day in England.
The current Plan B rules for England include Covid passes for certain events, face masks in more places and people being urged to work from home if they can.
The other nations of the UK had already brought in similar rules – and Scotland has gone further by asking people to limit social contact to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas. Wales has also ordered nightclubs to close from 27 December.
The Sage minutes say: “If the aim is to reduce the levels of infection in the population and prevent hospitalisations reaching these levels, more stringent measures would need to be implemented very soon.”
The record of the meeting goes on to say that measures equivalent to those in place after Step Two or Step One of the roadmap in England, if enacted early enough, “could substantially reduce the peak in hospital admissions and infections compared with Plan B alone”.
Step One and Two of the roadmap for easing lockdown – which was in place in England in the Spring – banned indoor social contact and indoor hospitality. Step Three allowed six people, or two households, to meet indoors and indoor hospitality could reopen.
“The timing of such measures is crucial,” say the Sage minutes. “Delaying until 2022 would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions and make it less likely that these would prevent considerable pressure on health and care settings.”
Sage meetings are designed to advise officials and ministers about the possible path of the pandemic in certain circumstances rather than offer up concrete predictions.
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.
On Friday the UK saw another record number of daily Covid cases for the third day in a row, with more than 93,000 infections announced.
But there was also a record 861,306 booster and third dose jabs announced – the highest daily total so far.
It means half of all UK adults had now received a booster jab, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
New research on Friday also showed that a Covid booster shot would have around 85% protection against severe illness against Omicron.
The protection is a bit less than vaccines gave against earlier versions of Covid – but it means the top-up dose should still keep many people out of hospital.