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Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson warns of 5,000 Omicron deaths a DAY

Is the UK heading for a New Year lockdown? Now Professor Neil Ferguson says there could be 5,000 Omicron deaths a DAY this winter unless tighter restrictions return ‘in a week or two’ to curb wave in gloomy SAGE modelling

  • Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial warned: ‘Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health’ 
  • Dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ for gloomy predictions in past, he called for more lockdown curbs in fortnight 
  • Wales has already announced the return of social distancing and closure of nightclubs from Boxing Day
  • Scots urged to limit mixing to three households and people in England are advised to ‘prioritise’ social events

Gloomy modelling by ‘Professor Lockdown’ today suggested there could be up to 5,000 Omicron deaths per day this winter as he called for restrictions to be tightened within a fortnight.

Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London found ‘no evidence’ the variant is less severe than Delta but estimate it is five-and-a-half times more likely to re-infect people and make vaccines significantly weaker.

In a best case scenario, Imperial said without further curbs there could be in the region of 3,000 daily Omicron deaths at the peak in January — significantly higher than the previous record of 1,800 during the second wave.

Drawing on data from Omicron’s spread in the UK and South Africa, as well as lab tests on vaccine effectiveness, they concluded: ‘Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health’. 

Professor Ferguson — a Government adviser whose modelling has spooked No10 into lockdowns before —  said tighter curbs were needed ‘in a week or two’ to have a significant effect on the size of the peak of the new wave.

The latest projections will raise fears that Britons could be stung by last-minute festive restrictions once again, with Boris Johnson repeatedly refusing to rule a full lockdown out if hospitalisations start to surge.

Wales has already announced the return of social distancing and closure of nightclubs from Boxing Day, while Scots are urged to limit mixing to three households and people in England are advised to ‘prioritise’ social events. 

Professor Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial and one of the researchers behind the modelling, said the 5,000 deaths per day estimate was an ‘illustration of the need to act’.  

Yesterday, Chris Whitty told MPs yesterday that he was ‘extremely cautious’ about SAGE’s modelling of Omicron because there are still some ‘really critical things we don’t know’ about the variant. 

SAGE’s models have been criticised several times in the past for overegging the UK’s epidemic, most recently projecting 6,000 daily Delta hospital admissions in October. 

Professor Ferguson’s team did not model scenarios for Britain, instead they offered hypothetical situations for a ‘high-income country with substantial prior transmission and high vaccine access’. Modellers presented three different scenarios for daily Covid deaths with Omicron, based on how deadly the virus proved to be and its ability to dodge vaccines. Under the most pessimistic estimate, the team warned of 100 daily deaths per million people for a country that vaccinated the majority of over-10s and given out boosters to the majority of over-40s – like the UK. At the other end of the scale, the figure stood at around 50 per million when the same vaccination calculations were taken into account. The team’s central projection – which it told MailOnline was its ‘best estimate’ – suggested daily deaths could peak at around 75 per million in early 2022 

Professor Ferguson — the Government adviser whose modelling has spooked No10 into lockdowns before — said tighter curbs were needed ‘in a week or two’ to have a significant effect on the size of the peak of the new wave

Professor Ferguson’s team did not model scenarios for Britain, instead they offered hypothetical situations for a ‘high-income country with substantial prior transmission and high vaccine access’.

Modellers presented three different scenarios for daily Covid deaths with Omicron, based on how deadly the virus proved to be and its ability to dodge vaccines.

Under the most pessimistic estimate, the team warned of 100 daily deaths per million people for a country that vaccinated the majority of over-10s and given out boosters to the majority of over-40s – like the UK. 

At the other end of the scale, the figure stood at around 50 per million when the same vaccination calculations were taken into account.

The team’s central projection – which it told MailOnline was its ‘best estimate’ – suggested daily deaths could peak at around 75 per million in early 2022.

That, in theory, suggests Britain could expect to see 5,000 daily deaths – four times the levels seen during the peak of the second wave, before vaccines had really been rolled out. 

The study found a significantly increased risk of developing a symptomatic Omicron case compared with Delta with two vaccines or a booster.

Vaccine effectiveness was estimated to be around 20 per cent after two doses and between 55 per cent and 80 per cent after a booster dose. 

The scientists used data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and NHS for all PCR-confirmed Covid cases in England who had taken a test between November 29 and December 11 this year to come to the estimates.

The risk of reinfection with Omicron was said to be 5.4 times greater than that of the Delta variant, which Imperial said meant immunity from past infection may be as low as 19 per cent.

Professor Ferguson added: ‘This study provides further evidence of the very substantial extent to which Omicron can evade prior immunity, given by both infection or vaccination.

‘This level of immune evasion means that Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health.’ 

The study also found no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, but data on hospital admission was very low at the time of the study, with only 16 British patients admitted with the strain.

That is despite a major real-world study on 78,000 South Africans concluding that Omicron is up to 30 per cent milder than older variants and causes a third fewer hospital admissions.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has previously called for ‘serious caution’ over interpreting the promising data on Omicron coming from South Africa.

He said the same patterns may not be replicated in the UK in part due to South Africa’s last wave being more recent so population-wide immunity was fresher.

No evidence Omicron is milder, Professor Lockdown says 

Omicron is just as bad as Delta in terms of how ill it makes people according to a new study led by ‘Professor Lockdown’, Neil Ferguson.

The early findings from Imperial College London researchers appear to dash hopes that the new Covid variant would not make people as ill as they have been in previous waves. 

The researches used UK infection data from the NHS and the UK Health Security Agency and found ‘no evidence’ of Omicron having lower severity than the Delta variant that it is now replacing as the dominant Covid strain in Britain.  

‘The study finds no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, judged by either the proportion of people testing positive who report symptoms, or by the proportion of cases seeking hospital care after infection,’ the research team, led by Professor Fergusson, said. 

However the team did caveat that hospitalisation data on Omicron remains ‘very limited’ at this time. 

The researchers also found that Omicron largely evades immunity from past Covid infection or that offered by only two vaccine doses.

Professor Fergusson said: ‘This study provides further evidence of the very substantial extent to which Omicron can evade prior immunity given by both infection or vaccination. This level of immune evasion means that Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health.’

The findings on Omicron being just as severe as Delta put the UK researchers at odds with South African experts who say the new variant is milder than Delta. 

Officials from the country  analysed 78,000 Omicron cases in the past month and estimated the risk of hospitalisation for those infected with the new variant was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus. 

Translated as a crude rate that data would mean  Omicron is currently leading to a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did during its entire wave — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta. 

But England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty called for ‘serious caution’ over interpreting the promising data on Omicron coming from South Africa warning the same patterns may not be replicated in the UK in part due to South Africa’s last wave being more recent so population-wide immunity was fresher.

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