Hospital occupancy was forecast to be far worse by now under scientific modelling used to inform the roadmap out lof lockdown, analysis shows.
Although there are concerns about hospital numbers, with Covid in-patients rising to just over 1,000 this week, the figures are still far less than the Government feared might happen when it announced its release dates in February.
The chosen dates ended up being in the middle of two scenarios modelled by experts, with scenario three seeing the stages of release pushed back two to three weeks later than current timings, while scenario two released a few weeks earlier.
Yet even under the cautious scenario three, in which Freedom Day was moved to July 5, hospital occupancy was forecast by the University of Warwick to be around 1,750 by now, while Imperial College suggested it would be closer to 7,000.
For scenario two, in which the release date was moved forward to March 31, Warwick predicted 3,000 patients in hospital by now and Imperial 11,000.
Covid hospitalisations in England: Modelled vs reality
The figures were based on the transmissibility rates of the Kent variant and did not include any extra spread caused by the Indian variant, which was causing little concern when the roadmap was drawn up.
According to the Government’s dashboard, hospital admissions across the country are largely flat, although there have been significant increases in some hotspot areas.
On Thursday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said that surge testing and increased vaccination in hotspot areas were proving successful, with cases in Bolton, Bedford and Hounslow in London now coming down.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the country was on a “knife edge” and it would take another week to see if the variant was causing a troubling increase in hospitalisations and deaths.
Warwick University models suggested Indian/Delta variant would overwhelm NHS
But she said that it was clear that people who had been fully vaccinated were largely protected from the new variant.
“We definitely do have increased transmissibility and so all of the numbers are rising, but they are still very small numbers,” she said.
“This is the first variant we’ve had with a largely vaccinated population and we need to see that we’re on top of the variant rather than the other way around.
“It’s very clear that the over 60-year-olds are generally not getting ill, these are the double vaccinated and high vaccine uptake. Cases are appearing in the unvaccinated or single dose, so the key message is make sure everybody gets two doses.”
Figures show that cases are largely rising in the under 40s. Latest Public Health England data show the case rate for 20 to 29-year-olds is currently 121.0 per 100,000 population, compared to just 6.7 per 100,000 for the over-80s.
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Professor Tim Spector, part of the King’s College London team which has been monitoring the pandemic since the first wave, said that Britain is now experiencing an “epidemic of the unvaccinated”.
“Official confirmed cases are now around 7,500, which is the highest daily figure since late February,” said Prof Spector.
“However, when you dig into the data, it’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.
“The good news is that fully vaccinated people have much greater protection. Vaccines are working and we want to encourage people to exercise caution, especially if they feel at all unwell, until they’ve been fully vaccinated. The race is on to fully vaccinate the whole population to save lives and return to normal life.”