At least 5,000 Covid 'patients' in England are NOT primarily in hospital for virus, data suggests 

As many as 5,000 Covid patients in hospital in England may have been admitted for other ailments, NHS figures suggest as the super-mild Omicron variant continues to engulf the country.

Latest data shows so-called 'incidental' cases — those who test positive after admission for something else, such as a broken leg — made up a third of coronavirus inpatient numbers on December 28.

At that point, there were just 8,300 Covid sufferers being treated in England's hospitals, 2,750 of which were not primarily receiving care for the virus (33 per cent).

More up-to-date statistics from the Government's Covid dashboard show that, as of Wednesday, there were 15,600 beds occupied by people infected with the virus.

It is not clear exactly how many of the current patients are there primarily for Covid because the NHS's breakdown is backdated and only covers up to December 28. But, if incidental cases still account for a third of cases, it means at least 5,000 who are being counted as coronavirus patients are not suffering seriously with the disease.

Experts say there is reason to believe the share of incidentals will continue to rise as Omicron pushes England's infection rates to record numbers, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year's Eve.

In South Africa — ground zero of the Omicron outbreak — up to 60 per cent of Covid patients were not admitted primarily for the virus at the height of the crisis there.

Separate analysis of NHS data shows 45 per cent of beds newly occupied by Covid patients in the final week of December were patients not primarily ill with the virus.

It comes as two dozen NHS trusts declared 'critical incidents' amid staggering staffing shortages caused by sky-high infection rates, indicating that they may be unable to provide vital care in the coming weeks.

One in ten workers are off and 183,000 Brits are being sent into isolation every day on average, prompting calls for the isolation period to be cut to five days.

And Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures — which distinguish deaths caused by Covid from those where the virus was merely incidental — shows fatalities dropped for the sixth week in a row in the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve.

Just 501 people were killed by the coronavirus — the fewest since August, according to the surveillance report.

Professor Livermore told MailOnline the Omicron variant could be beneficial because its increased transmissibility has helped wipe out more lethal variants, including Delta, and could help prevent future ones from emerging.

He said: 'Because it is so transmissible, and because the vaccines — targeting the spike protein of the Wuhan variant — give only "mismatched" and brief protection against Omicron, most of us are going to catch it over the next few weeks and months".

'It'll then act as a natural vaccine or booster. And that, I believe — rather than through human efforts — is how the pandemic will end. It's how respiratory pandemics ended in the past".

'Afterwards we'll all of us live in equilibrium with five common cold coronaviruses, not four, as previously.'

His comments echoed those made by Tyra Grove Krause — the chief epidemiologist at Denmark's State Serum Institute — who said a study from the organisation found that the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is half that seen with the Delta variant.

This, she said, has given Danish authorities hope that the Covid pandemic in Denmark could be over in two months.

'I think we will have that in the next two months, and then I hope the infection will start to subside and we get our normal lives back,' she said on Danish TV 2.

Despite early fears that Omicron could prolong the pandemic due to its increased level of infection, Dr Krause said it actually could spell the end of curbs.

And Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline descriptions from others of the ultra-infectious variant being a 'natural vaccine' were right.

He said that while any Covid variant boosts immunity the fact Omicron was highly transmissible yet milder worked to help boost population immunity.

'Whatever version you were infected with your immunity would be boosted,' he said. 'That mild bit suits us because it means we can get immunity without, or with much less, risk.'

However, he warned against any 'chickenpox' style parties where people intentionally try to catch Omicron, saying we needed to protect people who could get severely ill from the virus.

'You have to be careful here not to stretch it to things such as chickenpox parties because there will always be a vulnerable minority and to encourage infection puts them at risk,' he said.

Hopes of Omicron ushering in the end of the pandemic stage of Covid were sparked by a South African study into Covid death rates in the nation's Omicron wave. It showed fatalities were just a quarter of levels seen during other surges.

Researchers examined records of 450 patients hospitalised in the City of Tshwane, in the 'ground zero province of Gauteng, since the extremely-transmissible variant took off in the country. Their survival rates were compared to nearly 4,000 patients hospitalised earlier on in the pandemic.

A total of 24 out of 137 NHS Trusts in England have declared critical incidents — or 17.5 per cent. Above are the trusts that have publicly announced they have declared these incidents to help them manage winter pressures

Tory MPs criticised the BBC over its Covid coverage last night after it gave airtime to a Left-wing critic of the PM. It came as the Today programme aired a string of warnings from other NHS figures over the 'really challenging' circumstances facing hospitals

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show Covid cases in Omicron hotspot London are now only going up in people aged 60 and above. Graph shows: The case rate per 100,000 in people aged 60 and above (yellow line) and under-60 (red line). Cases have started to drop in under-60s, though the rate still remains above the more vulnerable older age groups

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show confirmed infections have fallen week-on-week on seven of the eight days leading up to December 30 - the latest date regional data is available for - in people aged 59 or below. Graph shows: The week-on-week rate of growth in average cases in under-60s (red line) and people aged 60 and above (yellow line). Cases are falling in under-60s and the rate of growth is slowing in over-60s

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