New data published this afternoon also shows that yesterday had the highest number of booster or third doses since the vaccination campaign began, as Ministers and officials race to try and get jabs in arms to minimise the spread of the new Omicron variant.
656,711 booster vaccines or third doses were administered across the country yesterday.
The news comes as scientists warned of a “staggering” increase in infections over the coming days and a risk that the NHS could be overwhelmed next month, as the wave of new cases sweeps over the country.
Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he is worried “we could see numbers of people being admitted to hospital getting very large” if infections continue to rise and spill into older age groups.
It came as Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, told MPs the Omicron coronavirus variant is “probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic” and warned of a “staggering” number of cases in the next few days compared with what has gone before.
She said the “real potential risk” is whether “cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths”, but added that it is “too early” to be clear on that.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Medley said it is “very hard to predict in real time exactly what’s happening on any day, but it’s certainly true that the numbers of infections primarily with Omicron is increasing, and has been increasing quite dramatically”.
He added: “We’re probably now at the level that we have been at the past, sort of back in January, and it does look as though it’s going to continue beyond that and go over it.”
Prof Medley said there is not currently any good information on the severity of Omicron but added: “We are a population in a very different position to this time last year, in the sense that the majority of people have been vaccinated and there has been much infection since then, so there is much more immunity…
“The fact that we are much more immune than we were generally means that the virus will appear to be much less severe.
“So, individually, we have a much lower risk but the numbers of infections means that even though individually we’re at less risk, at a population level (the) number of people ending up in hospital could get very large.”
He said it is a “million-dollar question” over how this will affect the health service.
Asked if hospitals could end up overwhelmed, he said: “I think that that is a very real possibility.
“If the numbers of infections increasing continues in the way that it has done, and it spills out into older age groups, then we could see numbers of people being admitted to hospital getting very large and certainly going over the 1,000, maybe up to 2,000 a day, that we’ve managed to keep the Delta variant below.
“It was sort of below 1,000 since July without any restrictions, but I think that is going to be very, very difficult or are very unlikely to happen.”