In sticking with Plan B, Boris Johnson is hoping Omicron won’t hit hospitals quite as hard

There will be questions raised over why Boris Johnson is sticking to Plan B in England when several hospitals have declared critical incidents – even though the Prime Minister insists that he is proceeding with the “utmost caution” over Omicron.

Mr Johnson says it is important for a “balance” to be struck in protecting the NHS and protecting the economy and people’s livelihoods.

There are 15,000 people in hospital with Covid, which is the highest level since the end of last February, but is half the amount at this time last year.

And there is optimism within Whitehall that, clinically speaking, Omicron is not hitting hospitals in the same way as previous variants: not only is it less likely to cause severe disease, but patients who are admitted are spending less time on wards.

The more serious cases tend to be unvaccinated and, among the seriously ill patients who have received their jabs, they are typically needing oxygen for up to two days in hospital rather than being admitted to intensive care.

The proportion of people who are being treated primarily for Covid – rather than incidentally testing positive after being admitted for something else – is around 70 per cent, with the split being 50/50 in London hospitals, analysis by the Government is expected to show this week.

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With shorter stays and fewer patients falling seriously ill with the virus, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister has, for now, decided to stick to Plan B.

The pressure is instead coming from staff shortages (which are nowhere more acute than in the NHS) and is driving the critical incidents in several hospitals.

Measures to alleviate those absences are being ramped up, with testing for critical workers, volunteers and NHS reservists being drafted in to help with clinical and ancillary needs, and the Army on standby.

It is hoped that this will be enough to allow ministers to strike a balance between protecting the NHS and ensuring that everyday life can continue as normally as possible for a population that is 60 per cent boosted.

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