Fury over lack of transparency on UK's first Omicron death

Did Britain’s ‘first Omicron death’ die FROM the Covid variant or WITH it? Professor slams government’s ‘lack of transparency’ and says No10 is causing ‘unnecessary alarm’ – adding: ‘The patient could have been hit by a bus’

  • Expert says the lack of details on Omicron death is causing ‘unnecessary alarm’ 
  • Key details, such as vaccination status, and the age of deceased are in the dark
  • News of death comes as the NHS enters ‘high alert’ for a surge of Omicron cases 

A lack of transparency over the UK’s first Omicron death prompted fury today, as a doctor told the Government to release more details to stop ‘unnecessary alarm’.

Experts are demanding answers about the UK’s first Omicron fatality, such as the individual’s vaccination status, if they were part of group vulnerable to Covid, and if the virus was the leading cause of death. 

Professor of medicine and consultant oncologist Karol Sikora said the Government was not providing the nation with enough information about the death, and that this was causing ‘unnecessarily alarming’. 

‘Were they in hospital for Covid or were they there because they had been run over by a bus?,’ he said.  

Boris Johnson revealed both the UK’s, first death due to Omicron on a visit to a vaccination clinic in Paddington, west London.

‘Sadly yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron. 

Mr Johnson did not reveal the age of the person who died, or if they had underlying health conditions, which made them vulnerable, or whether Omicron was the leading cause of their death or a secondary factor. 

The Prime Minister told the country last night that a wave of Omicron ‘is coming’ as he ramped up the booster drive to meet his target of delivering a million jabs a day. The PM is pictured above at a vaccination centre in Westminster, London

The UK Covid alert level was raised from level 3 to level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant 

The death in the UK is thought to be the first confirmed Omicron fatality in the world.

However, given the variant makes up almost every case in South Africa it is likely that the vast majority of fatalities there are due to the mutant strain but a lack of testing means these are not picked up. 

UK’s first Omicron death: What do we know?

There are almost no details available on the UK’s, and world’s, first death from Omicron that was confirmed by Boris Johnson today. 

Was the person unvaccinated? 

Unclear. Nothing is known about the vaccination status of the person, whether they had received a Covid booster or if they were completely unvaccinated. But UKHSA have said most people hospitalised with Omicron had two doses of Covid vaccines.

Were they vulnerable? 

Undetermined. Older people and those with some health conditions are at increased risk of dying from Covid, which is why they, and the health and care staff who look after them, have been prioritized in the vaccine rollout.

Where did the person catch Omicron?.

Unknown. Where a person caught Covid can be tricky to pin down unless a large number of infections can be traced to a single-event, known as a super-spreader. 

In which part of the UK the person lived has also not been disclosed. 

Were they in hospital for another reason when they died?

Unsure, but UKHSA have said the person who died was diagnosed with Omicron in hospital. This could mean that the person was in hospital for Covid, which was later determined to be the Omicron variant, or they were in hospital for a sperate reason, such as a heart attack and later found to have Omicron when they died. There is also the possibility they caught Omicron while in hospital for a procedure, like a planned surgery, and then caught Omicron and died.

Why haven’t we been told?

Patient confidentiality has been cited a reason. 

Will we know more? And when?

UKHSA prepare a weekly report on Covid cases and deaths. More information on this, and any more Omicron deaths, may be provided in that report that comes out at the end of the week. 

Health bosses today also revealed that 10 Britons have already been hospitalised with Omicron. But the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which confirmed all were aged between 18-85 and that most had received two doses of Covid vaccines, refused to say if any had already had a booster.

UKHSA however did reveal that the individual who died of Omicron was diagnosed in hospital. 

Professor of medicine and consultant oncologist Karol Sikora said the Government should release more details about the death to put people’s minds at ease.   

‘Have they had booster? Are they elderly?,’ he said.  

‘There are all sorts of nuances to this thing, and we’re not being given proper information.’

He added that given the average age of Covid fatalities in the UK, and that the individual may have died while being infected with Omicron, as opposed to because of the variant, there was no reason to panic and the Government should calm fears rather than stoke them. 

‘The average age of death of Covid is 82.5 so a lot of 82-year-old people die in a year, at any one time,’ he said,

‘No details have been released, I suspect it’s just some old boy that’s tested positive, he may have died in his sleep or with a heart attack, who knows?

‘It is unnecessarily alarming.’

Professor Sikora said his suspicion is that the silence regarding whether the person was vaccinated or not indicated to him that the person died of another cause while they had Omicron. 

‘I suspect that it’s a death, which is unfortunate, but is due to something else, and it just happens to be Covid positive that’s why they’re not making a big noise  about them being vaccinated or not,’ he said.

When queried on the lack of details regarding the Omicron death, the Prime Minister’s spokesman cited patient confidentiality as a reason, but added more details may be forthcoming in UKHSA end of week report.   

‘Obviously when it comes to individual deaths there is a right to patient confidentiality so we are limited in what we can say,’ he said. 

‘But we will provide further breakdown on things like characteristics, both of cases, numbers in hospital, through the surveillance report.’

The spokesman added that deaths from Omicron were sadly inevitable due to the ease in which spread, meaning that while it was not in itself more deadly than regular Covid, more cases meant more deaths. 

‘I don’t think anyone is in any doubt that there will be deaths because of Omicron. That is sadly something that we have to face because of this increased transmissibility.’ 

While there has been an increased focus on Covid deaths today due to the news of the fist Omicron fatality, on the whole the number of people killed actually fell on last week. 

The Department of Health’s (DOH) daily update revealed there have 38 deaths, down 7 per cent on last week, as well as another 926 daily hospital admissions, up 14 per cent in a week.

The DOH update also showed that there were 54,661 overall Covid cases in the past 24 hours, marking a rise of just 6 per cent week-on-week.

No10’s scientific advisers have warned this could rise to an astronomical 1million per day by the end of the month if Omicron continues to spread at its current pace.  

Due to the nature of Covid and the time it takes for people to get potentially seriously unwell hospital admissions and deaths due to Omicron are only now starting to emerge.

This was something UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, Dr Susan Hopkins, was keen to point out today: ‘Hospitalisations always lag a few weeks behind infections, therefore it isn’t surprising that we have started to see people being admitted to hospital with the Omicron variant. 

 Dr Hopkins also urged people to get a Covid booster on the back of the news regarding hospitalisations and the death,

‘Our data shows that getting the booster vaccine is more effective against this variant than 2 doses alone. Everyone over 18 is now able to walk into a vaccine centre, so do not hesitate to get yours,’ she said. 

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the news of the death underlined ‘the seriousness of the situation’.

He tweeted: ‘The awful news of the UK’s first Omicron death underlines the seriousness of the situation and my heart goes out to their family and friends.

‘This is why the booster rollout is so vital and public health measures are necessary to reduce its spread.’

Fury over the lack of transparency over the death was joined criticism of how No10’s supposedly turbocharged booster vaccine rollout was plagued with issues today.

It also came as entirety of NHS England was put on the highest level of alert for the first time since March after the UK’s Omicron outbreak surged by 50 per cent in a day. 

Pictured above is the current pace of the booster programme (green bars) and how it will have to ramp up to hit the million jabs a day target (red bars). NHS bosses warn scaling up the programme will be ‘incredibly difficult’

Health service bosses have raised the alert to level four meaning they believe there is a real threat that an influx of Covid patients could start to force the closure of other vital services.  

Now NHS tells people to STOP trying to book a booster jab online 

NHS bosses today urged Britons desperate to get their Covid booster jab to try again tomorrow after the website crashed again this morning and huge queues built up outside vaccination centres around the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people were rushing to get their third dose less than two weeks before Christmas, just hours after Boris Johnson revealed that the booster programme would open up to all UK adults from today.

Those aged 30 or over are now eligible to book their vaccine online via the NHS website, while people aged 18 to 29 can book there from Wednesday – but all UK adults can now go to a walk-in centre from today.

Those trying to book a jab appointment on the website were greeting with a message saying: ‘The NHS website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We are working to resolve these issues. Thank you for your patience.’

And the NHS later said in a tweet: ‘The Covid vaccine booking service is currently facing extremely high demand so is operating a queueing system. For users aged 18 to 29, please be aware that booking opens on Wednesday 15 December. For all others experiencing waits, we would advise trying again later today or tomorrow.’

The booster expansion plan is expected to focus on walk-ins rather than online bookings – and those trying to get an appointment on the website face having to wait until after Christmas, insiders told Politico’s London Playbook.

Meanwhile long lines of people waited outside pharmacies, hospitals and temporary vaccine sites across the UK this morning, with particularly big queues seen at St Thomas’ Hospital and Guy’s Hospital in London.

It comes after the Prime Minister confirmed in a televised statement last night that he had turbocharged the booster programme, as the deadline to offer all adults a third jab is being brought forward by a month.

The Army will be drafted in and clinic hours extended to help dose 18million people by January 1 – nearly a million a day – as the PM warned of a ‘tidal wave’ of Covid that could overwhelm the NHS and cause ‘very many deaths’.

Mr Johnson said the ‘Omicron emergency’ meant boosters were vital to ‘protect our freedoms and our way of life’. Within minutes of his announcement, the NHS website crashed as thousands flocked to secure appointments.

It came as officials confirmed another 1,576 cases of the highly-evolved Omicron variant over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 4,713 — however this is believed to be a vast underestimate with the true number several times greater because not all positive tests are analysed for variants.  

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the best estimate was that there are currently 200,000 overall daily infections across the country, with Omicron expected to become dominant in London by tomorrow and nationally within days. 

It came as vital stocks of lateral flow tests ran out. A message on the Government website said there are ‘no more home test kits available right now’ and told Britons to ‘try again later’. Officials insisted there was no shortage but ‘exceptionally high’ demand meant they’d stopped taking new orders. Kits could still be picked up from community sites including pharmacies, schools and colleges, and PCR swabs are available, the Government said. 

From tomorrow, vaccinated people who are close contacts of a Covid case will be asked to swab themselves once a day instead of having to isolate. And from Wednesday, pending the move being voted in by MPs, people heading to night clubs and large events will need to show a negative result if they are not double-jabbed.

Leading experts have urged people to test themselves repeatedly in the run up to Christmas, and keep their social contacts to a minimum to avoid catching Covid. 

In another sign of chaos, Britons desperate to get their top-up doses were left standing in up to five-hour queues as centres warned they were already running low on doses this morning. Twenty-somethings were turned away in confusion at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium as they tried to get booster jabs.

Meanwhile, the NHS booking system crashed as thousands tried to secure a booster, with health service bosses urging people to ‘try again tomorrow’. 

And Britons struggled to get a booster appointment near their home with people in York told to travel 31 miles to a centre in Doncaster, and a 37-year-old in Bicester, Oxfordshire, saying their nearest clinic was 26 miles away. 

Mr Javid has promised to ‘throw everything’ at the Covid booster drive, which is aiming to jab all over-18s for the third time by the New Year. To achieve this, some elective surgery such as hip replacements will have to be postponed.

But NHS bosses warn that scaling up the booster programme now will be ‘incredibly difficult’ and inevitably have ‘consequences’, with patients once again facing the threat of cancelled operations. Mr Javid promised, however, that cancer patients will be unaffected.

In a massively ambitious move last night, the Prime Minister brought forward the deadline to offer all over-18s a third jab by New Year’s Day as he warned the country: ‘There is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.’

Some 750 Armed Forces personnel and thousands of extra volunteers will be drafted in to achieve the target, and clinic hours extended to help dish out up to 20million jabs over the next two-and-a-half weeks. 

The drive will also see 42 military planning teams across every region, additional vaccine sites and mobile units, an extension of opening hours for clinics so they run seven days a week and thousands of extra volunteer vaccinators trained.

But concerns about whether the Government could even hit the goal were raised almost immediately after Mr Johnson’s 8pm televised announcement last night. Even at the height of the NHS’s vaccine drive in March, the health service never managed more than 850,000 jabs a day.

Mr Johnson also today repeatedly refused to rule out more Covid rules to combat Omicron. Both Scotland and Wales have already dangled the possibility of stricter controls. 

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