Number of over-50s in hospital with Covid is rising but ICU admissions remain low, says minister

Ministers “are concerned” about the increasing number people aged over-50 who are being admitted to hospital with Covid, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said.

He said new Covid restrictions very much rely on the spread of infection in this age group, which the Government is monitoring closely.

But Mr Zahawi also told Sky News that the number of patients in ITU with the virus is declining.

He added that there was “nothing in the data” to suggest new restrictions were needed.

“The hospital numbers of people in hospital with coronavirus has begun to rise in the over 50s, which we are concerned about,” he said.

“But on the whole actually the number of people in ITU has come down which is good news.

“But we keep a very close eye on those numbers and those patients in hospital at the moment is very important.”

Mr Zahawi did not know the number of Omicron patients currently on ventilators, but said the data suggests the new variant is less severe than the previous Delta strain.

He said: “On the whole we are not seeing the same pattern as with Delta where we had a much greater number of people on ventilation.

“And there appears to be a shorter period of time of people in ICU as well and those who are being admitted with Covid rather than for Covid is also about a third of that number.”

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Boris Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, his first since Christmas.

Minsters will review the latest data on the spread of Omicron, as case numbers in the UK continue to soar and Covid hospitalisations in England is now nearly double the level it stood at when the Cabinet last met.

But no new restrictions are expected to be implemented, i revealed last night, with the Prime Minister unlikely to bring Covid rules in line with the other devolved nations.

Mr Zahawi said the Government continues to look “at the data very carefully” and will assess the situation at Wednesday’s review.

“The review is on Wednesday and at the moment there is nothing in the data that would suggest to me, to us that we need to go further,” he said.

“But we have to be careful with that because obviously if we see more leakage of infection in the over-50s, because most of the surge in infections in Omicron has been in the under-50s then there is more likely that those people end up with severe infection and hospitalisation.”

The Education Secretary also reiterated that the Government’s priority is to keep schools open, as headteachers and school leaders prepare to welcome pupils back to the classroom from tomorrow.

All secondary school students in England will be required to wear facemasks in class as well as communal areas when they return in the New Year.

Pupils will also be expected to take lateral flow tests on-site and take a test twice a week from home.

Mr Zahawi confirmed that a fresh channel of testing is already in place for schools, as Covid tests continue to remain scarce across the UK.

Headteachers have also been advised to start preparing for Covid staff shortages by merging classes into larger groups and considering “flexible” teaching options.

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