Covid Sheffield: Rise in Omicron cases among over-65s 'very worrying', but good news on vaccines
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Before Christmas, the city’s coronavirus case rate had been hovering around 300 new cases a week per 100,000, but that has rocketed to 2,076.2 in the seven days to January 5 – the latest date for which reliable figures are available – with no signs of slowing down.
The huge increase is largely down to the new milder but more transmissible Omicron variant, which was initially spreading mostly among younger people but is now hitting more vulnerable older people.
Greg Fell, Sheffield’s director of public health, said infections were ‘now going up really quite quickly and to a very high, so high I’d say very worrying, rate in the over-65 population’.
He added: “It is being seen very definitively in hospitalisation rates.
“(It’s) milder, so what we’re seeing is that people in hospital have milder illness and probably less use of intensive care. It’s still not a mild illness. It is hospitalising hundreds of people each week and that narrative is really important to get right.”
Covid vaccines providing good protection against Omicron
Regarding vaccinations, Mr Fell said his early worries that the vaccines would not hold up well against the new strain appeared to have proved unfounded as they continue to provide good protection against severe illness from Omicron.
He revealed how just short of 80 per cent of the population was now fully vaccinated thanks to a huge push over Christmas, when nearly 100,000 boosters were given.
But he said he worried ‘an awful lot about the 100,000 people or so who have not yet been fully vaccinated’.
‘Unprecedented’ pressure on primary care and social care
He also said that while increases in hospitalisations dominated the headlines, other services were also facing enormous pressure.
“There is huge, possibly unsustainable pressure, on the NHS and social care system,” he said in the latest of his weekly updates, published on Monday, January 10.
“All of the media narrative is on the hospital. I shall remind you that the hospital is as good as the services around it, and hospital is good, but there’s also pressure on primary care, there’s also pressure on social care.
“That’s unprecedented, exceptional and unsustained, and that will have consequences in the coming weeks and months.”
Changes to Covid testing this week
Mr Fell said that access to lateral flow tests and PCR testing was improving, following shortages over Christmas.
He reminded people that from today, Tuesday, January 11, asymptomatic people with a positive lateral flow test will no longer be asked to take a confirmatory PCR test but should instead report the results online or call 119 and self-isolate.
People are able to leave isolation seven days after a positive test providing they receive two negative LFT results 24 hours apart on days six and seven.
While cases are beginning to top the peak of the curve and fall in London, where Omicron first surged, Mr Fell said ‘Sheffield isn’t London’ and there is no guarantee Covid cases will follow the same pattern here.
He again urged people to get vaccinated and issued a reminder that Sheffield Medical Centre on Spital Hill, Burngreave, would be offering walk-in vaccinations next Monday, January 17, from 9am to 4.30pm.