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UK health officials prepare for Omicron surge at hospitals

LONDON (AP) – England’s National Health Service (NHS) 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 United Kingdom 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 hospitalisations 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 yesterday.

“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 hospitalised with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on December 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 January 18.

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

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a Covid vaccination centre. PHOTO: AP