Omicron: 250 confirmed cases in south west - but could be 650

covid 19

Covid 19 rates in East Devon - Credit: LDRS

More than 250 cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been detected in the South West - and that number is rising fast, according to health bosses.

The South West arm of the UK Health Security Agency (SWUKHSA) today (December 15) confirmed that as well as the 250 confirmed cases, there could be as many as 650, including 'probable cases' of Omicron, in the region.

Dominic Mellon, deputy director SWUKHSA, said: "Cases of the Omicron variant continue to grow rapidly in the South West and all regions of England.

"Studies of contacts are showing that Omicron is transmitting more effectively than Delta."

Cases were doubling every 2.5 to three days, he said, compared to every seven days for the Delta variant.

"As of December 14, more than 250 cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the South West," he added.

"If we include the current probable cases, this rises to around 650.

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"The situation is moving rapidly, and more time is needed to understand the severity of this variant, but hospitalisations are now happening in this country.

"Even if Omicron proves to be less severe, its rapid spread means we are likely to see further hospitalisations – so there is a real chance the NHS could come under a great deal of pressure, which we all want to avoid over the winter months."

Prof Debbie Stark, regional director of public health for NHS England and NHS Improvement and DPH regional director of public health for the Office for Health Inequalities and Disparities, said: "With Omicron spreading very quickly, it is vital that people get fully vaccinated.

"That’s our best defence, and why the Government has asked us to step up the booster campaign to make sure everyone is offered the jab by the end of December.

"It looks like being double-jabbed gives some protection against omicron but that this diminishes quite quickly.

"Boosters massively increase protection, so please get boostered to protect yourself and others. And if you haven’t had any vaccination at all yet, please do start as soon as you can, because Covid is not going away and having you jabs is the best defence we’ve got."

The news came on the day new restrictions to limit against the spread of Omicron came into effect in England, including the need for a Covid pass to enter large events, nightclubs and sporting fixtures. 

Dr Michael Marsh, medical director for NHE England an NHS Improvement in the South West, said: "The booster campaign is being expanded at a time when health and social care is under great pressure.

"We all know about long waits at A&E and the heroic lengths that staff are going to in order to care for people who need emergency and urgent treatment.

"At the same time, they’ve been doing all they can to reduce long waiting lists that have built up during the pandemic.

"But social care in particular is finding it hard to recruit and retain enough staff to enable patients to go home again from hospital after treatment, which makes it harder to admit new patients through the front door.

"So with omicron posing a fresh threat, it’s really important that everyone does what they can to stay safe and avoid admission wherever possible."

He added: "The Prime Minister has already indicated that some appointments in hospital and at GP surgeries may need to be deferred while we all focus on booster jabs.

"But the better we’re protected by the vaccine by having our boosters, the less likely that other services will be affected by a rising tide of serious illness and hospital admissions."

He said the NHS was looking at all options to increase capacity, including:

• Pop-up clinics
• New vaccination centres
• More GP-run sessions
• Extended hours
• Roving vaccination teams to reach housebound people

"These are already starting to come online so people whose second jab was at least three months ago can go for their booster," Dr Marsh added.

"We’d ask everyone to keep checking availability via the online National Booking System or by calling 119, and then booking as soon as they can.

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The SW data on covid vaccination currently stands at:
Total doses to date: 10,964,078
Boosters given to date: 2,300,000
Yet to receive first dose: 227,000
Yet to receive second dose: 152,000
Total still needed to hit target: 1,700,000
Jabs given: 41,685 per day average over past three weeks
Weekly total required: 539,000 by next week (around 77,000 per day)