90,000 recorded today, but it is believed to be much higher than the reported figure as more people will be asymptomatic due to a booster jab. (Possibly as high as x5 the reported figure).
It is expected to be over 1million cases per day before the new year, without any form of social distancing like work from home.
What will happen to the NHS?
This is the most crucial question. The answer depends on what fraction of the infections turn into hospitalisations, and how long people are admitted for. Last winter’s wave was driven by the Alpha variant, and before the rollout of vaccines, it hospitalised about 22% of cases in the 65-and-over age group. The vaccine program slashed that rate to 6%. Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said that his worst-case scenario for Omicron is a return to those pre-vaccination hospitalisation rates. More optimistically, he said a booster might provide better protection against severe Omicron than two doses do against severe Delta.
When will we know more?
The UK Health Security Agency expects to have reliable data on the severity of Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines against hospitalisation in the week between Christmas and the new year, or more likely the first week of January.
Given the high levels of previous Covid infection and vaccination in the UK, most cases of Omicron are expected to be mild: even if antibodies fail to block infection, T cells are expected to hold up fairly well against severe illness. But according to Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, 1 million infections a day would still put the NHS under considerable strain. That is because rather than being spaced out, the hospitalisations would happen all at once. “A million infections a day translates into a hell of a lot of hospitalisations, even if we get far fewer hospitalisations per case than we have in the past,” he said.