According to data collected by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, South Northamptonshire was one of the first areas to suffer a cluster of cases, with more than 926 cases per 100,000 people – the highest in the country.
However, the hospital admission rate at the Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust is not experiencing a similar surge.
As of December 12, its rolling admissions rate was steady at about 11 per cent of the January peak, broadly matching those trends of high cases but lower admissions seen in South Africa.
The area is helped by very high vaccination rates – 83 per cent of people have had a second jab and 50 per cent have had a booster, compared to the national average of 40 per cent.
Vaccination rates are particularly high amongst the over-60s, the most susceptible to serious illness, with over 90 per cent boosted.
However, despite this advantage, it is notable that while South Northamptonshire has seen case rates reach record levels amongst the younger adults, they have actually started to decline amongst the over-60s.
Nationally, the rise in case rates is likely still to prompt an increase in hospitalisations, even if it turns out that the omicron is inherently milder than previous variants. However, this has been disputed by the Imperial College London modelling team.
The NHS is in a better position than last year, however.
On December 14 2020, one in six patients in ward beds had Covid in England.
This year, the number is just one in 20 – a number it has been at fairly consistently since the end of July this year.
Just 12 of 134 trusts have more than one in 10 patients in beds with Covid, mainly in less vaccinated spots including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Northampton.
At this point last year, 100 trusts had that many Covid patients.
It is unclear how much this will increase in the coming weeks, but it is likely that areas where vaccination rates are relatively low, such as London, will see higher pressure on hospitals.
The jury is still out on omicron’s capacity to cause serious illness, but overall the situation allows for more wriggle room than was available last year.
In other ways, however, the NHS is struggling to cope. Latest statistics showed one in four ambulances waited outside hospitals – the worst on record – while accident and emergency waiting times hit a record high in September. Waiting lists are in their millions.
If hospital cases rose to even half of the peak capacity seen in January, when one in three beds were taken by Covid patients, it would likely have huge impacts on normal procedures.