Hospitals in the South West of England are recording more daily Covid admissions now than during the peak of the Omicron wave, official figures show.
Government dashboard data reveals the region saw 150 admissions a day on average during the week to March 5, up 30 per cent in the first full week after ‘Freedom Day’.
For comparison, average daily virus admissions reached a previous high of 142 on December 31 at the peak of the Omicron wave.
Experts today said there was no reason to panic yet but admitted it may be an early sign of booster vaccine immunity starting to wane.
Even though the South West is seeing rising Covid admissions, there are signs that a significant proportion of these may not be primarily due to the virus.
Separate NHS figures show that of the 663 inpatients with Covid in the region at the start of March, 43 per cent were mainly ill with a different illness.
In another promising sign, Covid ICU admissions in the South West are still barely a quarter of the level in January, and 14 times lower than January 2021, with about 16 admissions per day. Covid deaths are still falling.
Covid cases are also about a third of the level now compared to in January but testing is being wound down, making the true scale of infections harder to measure.
Nationally, daily Covid admissions are now rising in all of England’s seven regions.
The above graph shows Covid hospital admissions across the South West. It reveals they are now higher than the levels recorded during the Omicron wave, and have reached a year high
The above graph shows the proportion of Covid inpatients in the South West being primarily treated for Covid (red line) and the number mainly ill with a different condition but happen to have the virus. Meanwhile, the number of Covid patients on ventilators is shown in a dark red line
All regions across England are now seeing their hospital admissions rising, official figures showed today
The rise in hospitalisations comes after No10 ditched all final Covid laws in England on February 24, meaning people no longer have to self-isolate even if they are infected.
It also coincides with the rise of a more infectious version of Omicron which experts insist is just as mild as the original.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, said the figures in the South West were ‘not a reason to panic yet’ but admitted it was a reminder that Covid was here to stay.
He added: ‘It might be that we’re starting to see the level of protection given by the boosters drop below a level that gives good protection.
‘It’s a reminder that Covid has not gone away yet, and you can’t just wish it away. Denying it is a problem until it is too late means more restrictions may be needed.’
Covid can cause regions of the brain to SHRINK
A Covid infection can triple the rate of brain degeneration in middle-aged and older people, a world-first study suggests.
University of Oxford researchers looked at brain scans of more than 400 people between the ages of 51 and 81 before and after they had the disease.
Results showed that in olfactory-related regions, responsible for smell, their brain volume shrunk by an average of 0.7 per cent compared to a control group who did not get Covid.
A middle-aged person would normally expect to lose about 0.2 per cent volume in that area per year, while an older person could expect to see a 0.3 per cent decrease.
On average, Covid patients involved in the study had four months between their two scans — suggesting the virus significantly speeds up the rate of degeneration.
Survivors also took longer to complete cognitive tests and achieved poorer scores compared to their peers.
To check that the declines in brain matter and cognition could not have been replicated by any respiratory illness, the researchers carried out an analysis of the brains of pneumonia patients and found no similar changes.
NHS England data suggests about half of inpatients with Covid in the South West are not being primarily treated for Covid.
Latest figures show of 663 patients on wards on March 1, only 384 were primarily being treated for the virus.
It suggests many patients are testing positive for the virus after being admitted to hospital for other illnesses or injuries.
At the peak of the Omicron wave, there were almost 1,000 Covid patients in hospitals in the South West.
Covid deaths in the South West also remain very low with three recorded on March 2, the latest available, compared to seven from a week ago.
At the peak of the Omicron wave there were up to 22 deaths per day, and last winter it hit more than 100.
It comes after a top medic in Scotland said there was no reason to ‘panic’ over rising case numbers in the UK.
Yesterday Britain recorded 126,605 Covid cases spotted over the last three days as the virus continued to rebound.
Government dashboard data showed the combined infections on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were 54 per cent higher than the total last week.
But National clinical director for Scotland Professor Jason Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland there was no reason to ‘panic’ over rising cases.
‘I’m not panicking – I’m not thinking we should suddenly go back to restrictions or protections, but I am concerned,’ he said.
‘As we mix more, the virus gets more opportunities, so we’ve got 10,000 cases a day, we’ve had a little bit of an increase in those in hospital – it’s not huge, so people shouldn’t panic, but this disease is not over and it’s not done with us.’
He stressed the importance of vaccine uptake to allow for the continued suppression of the virus.
‘You should still be cautious, particularly around those who are vulnerable,’ he said.
‘So get your vaccine, particularly if you’re getting a letter now if you’re in one of these elderly groups, or vulnerable groups.
‘Test – because that testing is still available – and follow the guidance.’
Another 139 Covid fatalities were registered over the weekend, up by just one on the 138 last week. Deaths lag by several weeks behind cases so any fluctuations would not be expected for some time yet.
Meanwhile, latest hospital data shows there were 1,287 admissions were recorded on March 1, up 15 per cent on the tally from a week ago.
The flare-up in infections comes after England’s ‘Freedom Day’ on February 24 and amid the spread of a more infectious version of Omicron.
Experts warn the more infectious variant may cause some fluctuations in case rates, but say there is no reason to panic because there is no evidence the strain is more likely to cause severe disease.