U.K. health officials build up hospital capacity to prepare for Omicron surge

Click to play video: 'UK health secretary says no new COVID-19 restrictions in England before New Year’s'
UK health secretary says no new COVID-19 restrictions in England before New Year’s
WATCH: UK health secretary says no new COVID-19 restrictions in England before New Year's – Dec 27, 2021

England’s National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as the highly transmissible Omicron variant fuels a new wave of infections.

The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, 32 per cent more than the previous day. While early data suggests Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than earlier variants, public health officials think the sheer number of infections could lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

In response, the NHS will begin setting up “surge hubs” this week at eight hospitals around England, each with the capacity to treat about 100 patients. Staff are preparing plans to create as many as 4,000 “super surge” beds should they be needed, the NHS said Thursday.

Read more: Omicron is raging in the U.K. What can Canada learn?

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“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act, and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place,” NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said in a statement.

The number of people in England hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on Dec. 24, government figures show. Wednesday’s number was the highest since March 1. The figure is still well below the peak of 34,336 recorded on Jan. 18.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted implementing new restrictions on business and social interactions during the holiday season, instead emphasizing an expanded vaccine booster program to control the spread of Omicron.

Click to play video: 'U.S. COVID-19 Omicron variant spread dampens new year cheer'
U.S. COVID-19 Omicron variant spread dampens new year cheer

Mass vaccination centres at sports stadiums and museums have reopened after research showed that two doses of the vaccine weren’t enough to protect against Omicron.

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Across the U.K., almost 58 per cent of people ages 12 and over has received booster shots, including 325,087 who received a third dose on Tuesday, according to the latest government data.

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