Experts back Boris Johnson’s light-touch Covid rules as vaccines bring down death rates

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They back Boris Johnson’s light-touch rules and say that mass fatalities and hospitalisations from the virus are over. Virology expert Sir John Bell backed the Government’s decision not to impose fresh Covid restrictions in England before the start of the new year.

The Regius Professor of medicine at Oxford University, who helped drive the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said the ­inoculation programme had helped bring down death rates.

He added: “The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago ‑ intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely ‑ that is now history in my view and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue.”

Sir John said the public had ­ been “pretty responsible” in the response to the spread of the Omicron virus variant, adding that the Government’s judgment about “where we should go in the next few days is probably fine.

“There are a lot of people who are aware that we are in the face of this large wave of disease.

“The behaviour of people in the UK, in England in particular, has been pretty responsible in terms of trying not to go out and spending a lot of time exposing yourself to the virus. You look at the people on the streets, the roads are quiet, all ­ that stuff. I think that’s likely to ­continue for the next week as we see how this thing evolves.”

Health minister Gillian Keegan advised revellers in England to have fun celebrating the New Year but said: “Just be cautious but do try to enjoy yourself as well.”

The Government has been urged to cut the isolation time for people with asymptomatic Covid-19 after US health officials reduced their limit to five days.

People in England who have tested positive can leave isolation after a week if they provide negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven.

Whitehall insiders said cutting that timescale further is not being considered at the moment but everything is “kept under review”. Another 129,471 Covid cases were confirmed yesterday, not including Scotland or Northern Ireland.

That is up 43 percent on 90,629 a week ago which included totals for the other home nations as well.

A further 18 people died within 28 days of testing positive.

A total of 51.7 million first doses of Covid vaccine were given by Monday, up by 16,357 in a day, plus 47.3 million second shots – an increase of 18,965.

Some 32.7 million booster jabs were given, a day-on-day increase of 215,703.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that coronavirus cases were still rising, but not as rapidly as they were doing a week ago.

He said: “Cases are increasing in older people and of course, people over 60. This is the group that is more likely to go into hospital and hospitalisations are also rising, but so far nothing obvious such as ­people on intensive care units.”

Prof Hunter said people with Covid should be allowed to “go about their normal lives” as they would with a common cold.

“This is a disease that’s not going away, the infection is not going away, although we’re not going to see as severe disease for much longer. Ultimately, we’re going to have to let people who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold. And so, at some point, we’ve got to relax this.

“If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.”

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said that the data had been “clear” for weeks, showing that Omicron was less severe: “We could be out of this in a month. We have coped with it in London where one in three are not vaccinated.”

NHS England reported 1,374 Covid hospital admissions on Boxing Day, up 48 percent on the week and the most since February 11. 

In the second wave, admissions peaked at 4,134 on January 12. There were 374 admissions in London on Boxing Day, up 53 percent week-on-week but fewer than the 390 for December 23.

London admissions in the second wave peaked at 977 on January 6.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said ministers were keeping admissions under “very close review”. 

He said Omicron infection rates were rising but there was evidence they were not resulting in the same level of admissions as in previous waves.

He added: “At the moment we don’t think that the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we have done.

“If it is the case that we started to see a big increase in hospitalisations then we would need to act further.”

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Around 214,000 people in England had jabs on the festive weekend.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said: “Omicron still poses a threat and we continue to keep everything under review as we learn more about the variant.

“People should remain cautious and take a lateral flow test where appropriate ‑ especially before meeting up with the elderly or vulnerable, celebrate outside if you can and ventilate indoors.”

Hugh Jackman says he has “mild symptoms” after testing positive. The Greatest Showman actor said he is “looking forward” to getting back on stage after his Broadway show The Music Man was cancelled until the new year.

His co-star Sutton Foster reportedly tested positive on Christmas Eve, forcing the postponement.

Jackman, 53, said online: “My symptoms are like a cold, scratchy throat and a bit of a runny nose. Going to do everything I can to get better ASAP.”

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