The number of elderly people being admitted to hospital with Covid rocketed over the festive period, with cases almost doubling in the week since Christmas Day.
Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, told NationalWorld the situation is concerning and that it is “reasonable to anticipate” that deaths will rise as older people become infected.
He likened the current situation to “watching the water level rising and hoping that the flood defences will hold – which they may or may not do”.
In the week to 1 January, hospitals reported 2,207 admissions among people aged 85 and over, up by 95% on the 1,124 recorded in the week to 25 January.
The rate of growth in the week to 1 January among the 85 and overs was exceeded only by those aged 0 to five.
Weekly admissions among children of this age doubled from 255 to 509 – although other age groups in the official data are very broad, with all people aged 18 to 64 and those aged 65 to 84 grouped together.
During the same period the number of weekly hospital admissions across the entire population rose by 69%, from 7,881 to 13,281.
London, the early centre of the Omicron outbreak, drove much of the growth among 85 and overs in the week to 18 December, with cases rising by 50% against a national average of 9%.
Since then strong growth has been recorded in other NHS regions – the North East and Yorkshire (up 153% in week to 1 January), North West (107%), South East (128%) and South West (198%).
However the rate of admissions is still highest in London – there were 303.6 admissions for every 100,000 people aged 85 and over here in the week to 1 January, compared to a national average of 156.9.
Patients are counted as Covid hospital cases if they tested positive in the 14 days prior to their admission, or during their hospital stay. If a person tests positive after admission, they are added to the count of admissions for the day before their positive test.
People aged 85 and over made up 17% of admissions in the week to 1 January. At the start of December, they made up only 12%.
“From our experience with Covid-19, we know that the risk of severe illness increases with age,” Professor Michaelis said.
“However, we do not yet exactly know to what extent vaccines and in particular the boosters will protect [older age groups] from needing intensive care and from death.
“Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the number of deaths will go up, when more older individuals become infected.
“It is prudent to prepare for a worst case scenario at such a time of uncertainty.
“It is much better to put in the effort and to be relieved in the end that things have not turned out as badly as we may have feared than simply hoping for the best and sleepwalking into a catastrophe.”
Age breakdowns on the number of patients on ventilators are not published.
Separate analysis of NHS England data reveals most Covid-positive patients in English hospitals are being treated primarily for coronavirus, although the Omicron wave has resulted in a growing minority who are admitted for other conditions but who test positive for Covid-19 as well.
On 1 December, a quarter (25.7%) of Covid patients in hospital were being treated primarily for other conditions. By December 28, this had risen to a third (33%).
London has seen the biggest rise in both types of Covid patient. From 1 to 28 December, the number of beds occupied by people being treated primarily for Covid-19 nearly doubled in the capital, from 844 to 1,630.
At the same time, the number of patients who had Covid but who were being treated for other conditions quadrupled, from 180 to 801.
NHS England says patients who are being treated primarily for other matters still need “treatment in areas that are segregated from patients without Covid”, and the presence of the virus can be a serious complicating factor for their health.
NationalWorld’s analysis comes following a period of sustained, record-breaking growth in Covid cases across the UK.
There were 157,758 cases reported on 3 January, a figure which only included England and Scotland. A record 189,846 cases had been reported on 31 December across the whole of the UK.
And so far 218,385 people who took a test on 29 December have had a positive result – a figure which may still rise due to a backlog in processing tests and reporting results.
Restrictions in England were due to be reviewed on Wednesday (5 January) once ministers had appraised the latest Covid data in the wake of intergenerational Christmas mixing – including hospital data.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will now host a televised press conference at 5pm today (4 January), it was announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson directed NationalWorld to comments made by Health Secretary Sajid Javid earlier today, who said: “Nothing in the data suggests we need to move away from plan B. It has been the right approach. Our focus is the vaccination campaign and the boosters. Reaching out to the last 25% will make a real difference.“
The latest data shows 95.9% of people aged 85 to 89 and 94.3% of those aged 90 and over in England have had at least one vaccine, based on the number of people with an NHS number and registered with a GP.
A message from the editor:
Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.